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Learn about migration and labor trafficking through the eyes of migrants

In 2020, travel to Central America or Asia to get to the heart of these urgent issues

By Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Many Central American families maintain hope that by migrating their families can have a better life. (Photo by Tracey King-Ortega)

LOUISVILLE — In the spirit of the Matthew 25 invitation — choosing welcome and standing with people in need — the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and World Mission are collaborating to co-lead upcoming travel study seminars on the complex, interconnected issues of migration and human trafficking.

Travel study seminars to different parts of the world through the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program have for many years offered opportunities for Presbyterians to learn firsthand through the people and partners most impacted by conflict, injustice and oppression. As participants return home to the U.S. informed and transformed by their experiences, they are ready to share stories and bear witness to all they have seen and heard.

“The connection between these two seminars examining the root causes of migration and human trafficking was intentional,” said the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “Central America gives us the perspective of the global South, the violence migrants are fleeing and the U.S. policy on our southern border. Asia looks more at labor issues and trafficking.”

Each seminar will provide a firsthand perspective through the eyes of those in Central America and Asia who feel forced to leave their homeland to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Both seminars will focus on ways that faith-based communities in the U.S. can make a positive difference by advocating for justice and human rights for migrant workers and their families.

Central American Migrant Trails

The Central American Migrant Trails seminar — Feb. 17–28, 2020 — is a 12-day exploration of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. This journey, co-led by World Mission staff members Tracey King-Ortega, regional liaison for Central America, and Leslie Vogel, regional liaison for Guatemala and Mexico, will help concerned Presbyterians better understand why an unprecedented number of Central Americans are setting out on the migrant trail north with children in tow. Participants will examine the potential and actual consequences of U.S. policies, including mass deportation.

Apply by Nov. 1. After that date, applications will be considered as available space allows.

Travel study seminars help participants to learn firsthand about complex issues such as economic pressures and migration. (Photo by Tracey King-Ortega)

The seminar is for “people in the pews” as well as presbytery and synod leaders and lay leaders, Vogel said. “Participants will broaden and deepen their understanding of the complexities of migration issues,” she said. Once they return home, “sharing broadly about their learnings and experiences within their congregations, community groups, friends and colleagues may lead to becoming more engaged in some aspect of ministry with or on behalf of migrants wherever they may live in the U.S.”

“Migrants are found all over the United States, not only at the southern border,” Vogel said.

She said further engagement might include:

  • Working with asylum-seekers to ensure they have adequate legal advice and representation
  • Providing shelter for families in transition
  • Engaging in visitation for those detained while awaiting asylum hearings or deportation proceedings
  • Engaging in legislative lobbying on behalf of reforms in U.S. immigration laws.

“Having the facts, stories and a deeper understanding of the issues, will help people in our churches speak up and out against the media sound bites that dehumanize and simplify a very complex and changing landscape,” King-Ortega said. “As U.S. citizens, we have the responsibility of being well-informed voices that push for changes in these abhorrent policies and practices of our government.”

The Central American Migrant Trails seminar, set for Feb. 17-28, 2020, is a 12-day exploration of Central America’s Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Teresa Waggener, coordinator of the PC(USA)’s Office of Immigration Issues, encourages Presbyterians and others to see and learn more about immigration issues firsthand. “In the U.S., all we have to do is open a web browser or turn on a television to have our minds filled with statements and opinions about those who go on the move, especially if they are arriving to our nation,” Waggener said. “Those statements always paint a general picture and are deeply based in a perspective that centers around the U.S.

“But we [in the Office of Immigration Issues] know that people have their own individual stories. They are not statistics or numbers. They are not ‘waves’ of people of one like mind and singular intention.

“Going to the places that originate migration, meeting people, hearing how much they love their countries, how they fight to stay, what finally places them on the move and what they endure on their journeys takes us out of that dangerous habit of grouping people together and making assumptions about them as a whole,” Waggener said. “When we meet people, by God’s grace, we cannot help but experience the Imago Dei in them. We become connected. We can take their stories home with us and remind others, who then become connected as well. That connection will save us from complying with cruelty at home and abroad.”

Philippines and Hong Kong
The two-week Philippines and Hong Kong travel study seminar  — May 1–15, 2020 — focuses on the root causes and current challenges of forced migration and labor trafficking. The trip includes two days of travel, seven days in the Philippines and five days in Hong Kong, where families hire mostly Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers. Along with Peacemaking staff, the seminar will be co-led by the Rev. Cathy Chang, World Mission’s regional facilitator for addressing migration and human trafficking in Southeast Asia. Since 2015, Chang has served as a mission worker, along with her husband Juan Lopez, at the invitation of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and other Asian partners. Apply by Jan. 1, 2020. After that date, applications will be considered as available space allows.

Next week, Presbyterian News Service plans to publish a more in-depth article about the Philippines and Hong Kong travel study seminar.

For more information about either seminar, including a sample itinerary and link to an application, visit the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s travel study seminar web page or call 800-728-7228, ext. 5805.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s travel study seminar series is made possible by gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering.

Refugee Ministry Overview

How Refugees Come to the U.S.

Opportunities to Educate and Foster Meaningful Dialogue About Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Immigration

“Locked in a Box: Rediscovering Our Humanity in Immigration Detention,” a 24-minute film

Human Trafficking

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