The Butterfly Effect, Borders, and Economic Development


Borders are fascinating constructs whether they are real, physical, or perceived. Life and culture can be defined or significantly influenced by borders. In my life borders have played an influential role. When living in southern Arizona life was impacted and influenced by our shared border with Sonora, Mexico. What happened on one side affected the other. While most think of the plight of undocumented workers there's also the reality that shoppers cross the border daily pumping billions of dollars into the Arizona economy. At the shopping malls you'd find many cars with license plates from Sonora.

The impact of borders was also felt when we moved just across the US-Canadian border into Vancouver, British Columbia. It was truly stepping into a new world and culture (and country). Life on either side affected the other. Before our car died we'd make weekly trips into the US to shop or buy groceries.

Recently I picked up the book The Devil's Highway written by Luis Alberto Urrea. To say I devoured it would be an understatement. In two days I read most of the 256 page book. The story arc of the book follows the tragedy of 26 undocumented workers who illegally entered into southern Arizona. Only 12 made it out alive.

Interestingly though is how Urrea follows the story of many of these people and traces their origins to the state of Veracruz in southern Mexico. In essence, rather than it being a story of much suffering and death (which it was), it also cracked open the painful reality of what would lead 26 men to leave the humid jungles near on the Gulf of Mexico to pay exorbitant amounts of money to hire passage into the US, travel thousands of miles, and risk it all in hopes of a brighter future.

At the end of the day isn't it about economics?

The economic conditions were such that the only hope for a better future for them, and more precisely their families ... moms, wives, and children, was for them to leave and seek to pick up work in the United States. This is like was theorists call the "butterfly effect." "In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state." In other words, what happens in one place impacts others. Economic conditions in one place (like Veracruz), plus the shortage of people willing to work menial jobs (i.e. agriculture) in the U.S., means that in order to get from Point A to Point B means that a border needs to be crossed.

The purpose of this post isn't to get into the politics behind how the different political parties view the border, but to look at the topics of cause and effect as well as the role of economic development which plays a vital role in the strategy for Intrepid. Yes, we want to see churches planted and people to come into a life-saving and life-changing relationship with God through Jesus. And at the same time we want to figure out (most often on the fly) how to support and catalyze new businesses to strengthen local economies.

In many places why do people want to get out? Economics. In places like Portland why are tens of thousands of people flocking to the metro area each year? Economics.

Obviously we cannot reverse regional and global trends, but we can at least work to help one person, one family, one community, one region. This obviously is a plan and strategy for the long term, but we have to start somewhere.