I am an active member of a liberal/progressive Presbyterian church in Tempe, Ariz.  For most of 29 years, I have been heartened by the men and women who pass through our church as members or visitors with a track record of social justice, peace and human rights work.

   Margery McManus Leach has been a paragon of the earnest and tenacious citizen of the planet with a fearless heart for the welfare of humanity and the end of tyranny of the poor and defenseless. The twice-widowed grandmother, one-time librarian and poet came to our church in 1991 and spent her winters in the Valley until 2007 when she permanently settled in her summer place in Gloucester, Mass.

 People like her find human cruelty and heavy-handed governing something the world must know about and condemn.  She said she had a conscience that dictated it could not be silent when she saw injustice.

 Margery’s latest book is “On Being Born  Again and Again – How Grief, Gratitude and Faith Led to New Life.” It chronicles the 88-year-old activists’ tireless work since the mid-1970s to try to gain a first-hand awareness of injustice, poverty and denial of democratic rights in Latin America and Asian and Pacific countries.  I previously read and wrote a newspaper feature on her first book, “Sanctuary in Phoenix! A Narrative History of the Valley Religious Task Force on Central America and Its Role in the Sanctuary Movement in Phoenix Arizona, 1981-1998.” She had the willingness to set aside everything to join delegations and travel to remote villages where armed government soldiers or militia had to be reckoned with.

 Early in “On Being Born,” Margery writes, “Now, after Don’s death, the search for a worthy purpose and ways of expressing gratitude for the continuing gift of life took on more urgency. An early spur to my quest for purpose came with a renewed interest in Christian missions.”  A son-in-law stationed in South Korea invited her to see that country as well as Japan. She did so in 1976 and instantly caught a bug for traveling, learning and taking stands on the plight of people. In 1982, she was on a National Council of Churches-sponsored seminar in the South Pacific.  U.S. nuclear testing on the islands had caused cancer. Decades later, people had tumors in their necks and “babies (were) born looking like jellyfish.”  She returned to the U.S., ever-researching the issue, and starting to make public presentations.  And so her odyssey began.

  A prolific writer of letters to the editors of newspapers about her findings, Margery spent much of her winter months each year as a volunteer with the Religious Task Force on Central America, as well as CAMBIO (Central American Bureau of Information and Outreach). She was able and willing to sign up to go on international fact-finding and peace witness trips, places like Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Cuba, Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The disciplined and detailed journals she kept allowed her to richly chronicle each trip  in the book.

  She writes, for example, of a trip in 1995 to Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico beset by struggle with the oppressive government as people sought land reforms and the quest of the Zapatista National Army of Liberation to gain greater democracy among the people:  “On Sunday morning, December 3, we left for San Carols Hospital in Altimirano. The current sister in charge  reported that the government had moved camps outside communities, but soldiers still came in. Excuses were made for entering such as offering soccer games or to buy bread. They came in numbers out of proportion to the population. They befriended or harassed, depending on the community. Molestation of women had become more frequent, and recently alcohol and prostitutes had been brought in along with sexual diseases and AIDS….”

  Margery’s heart for refugees, for the rights for self-development of all people and for peace over violence are reinforced again and again in her book.  The title of her book about being born “again and again” describes her repeated decisions to leave the comforts of her homes in New England and the Southwest and once again check out trouble spots, suck things in and go tell the story to others and raise awareness. She was a new being after each eye-open trip, that much closer to God’s truth.

 I take some pride that I took her once on a “water run” to the deserts of Arizona.  She accompanied me and a West Valley man on a Humane Borders trip to the Organ Pipe National Monument south of Ajo where we filled water tanks so that migrants crossing the desert might find the water and avoid hydration and even death. She wrote, “This was my opportunity for me to enjoy the desert once again and see what was involved in providing water that could save the lives of desperate immigrants.  Before signing on, I warned the leader that I wouldn’t be of any help hauling as this entailed pushing a wheelbarrow with two large jugs from the dirt road maybe a quarter of a mile to the water stations….When we went to the second station, because I had a hard time keeping up with those pushing the wheelbarrows, I stayed back at the road. It was lovely communing with nature as I waited for my partners to return, but I knew I was not likely to go again.”

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