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New PC(USA) mission network launches this week

Migration-focused entity features PC(USA) partners in Central America

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Max Böhme via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — A meeting to help launch a new migration-focused mission network will kick off Tuesday in El Salvador. The Central America Migration Mission Network (La Red de Misión y Migración en Centroamérica) will include partners from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and several U.S.-based PC(USA) entities, including six presbyteries, three congregations and seven ministries. In all, more than 50 participants representing U.S. and Latin American partners will gather March 19-27 to determine how best to build an intercultural solidarity network around migration issues and justice.

The Calvinist Reformed Church of El Salvador (IRCES) has spent the last two years organizing stakeholders and leading the discernment process for forming the new network, with the support of PC(USA) mission co-worker Joseph Russ. The network is a creation born from a General Assembly resolution proposed by the Presbytery of the Pacific on behalf of the church in El Salvador, a PC(USA) partner church, and approved by the 223rd General Assembly in 2018.

According to Russ, the genesis of the overture dates back to 2014, when almost 70,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America arrived at the U.S.-Mexican border. Many were deported back to El Salvador. That country was not equipped to deal with the large number of returnees, so the ecumenical community, including IRCES, came together to donate various supplies to support the returnees.

Joseph Russ

“That was the conversion moment when the churches committed to addressing migration,” said Russ.

Since then, IRCES has worked with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the International Red Cross Committee to develop a shelter for returned migrants and internally displaced personas and has worked with ecumenical partners to respond to root causes and advocate for change in El Salvador.

The 2018 proposal came to PC(USA) from a network of organizations in northern Central America and southern Mexico who joined together to do more than humanitarian support and national advocacy, but also address the root causes of migration and the policies that affect migrants in transit and upon arrival to their destination in El Salvador, other Central American nations, Mexico and the United States. Efforts paused, in part due to the Covid pandemic in 2020, but since 2022, IRCES has worked with Russ to consult with different stakeholders, organizations, NGOs and churches in Central America, Mexico and the U.S.

“Based on conversations over the past few years and more recently, we’re getting closer to an actual proposal that will identify the key issues this network is going to tackle, what strategies we’re going to use, and who will direct the work,” said Russ. “This meeting marks the first time most of these partners are coming together in person to learn, build community, and develop strategic planning for the future. The first half of the week will be mainly learning, site visits and community building, and the second half will be focused on strategic planning for the network itself.”

PC(USA) ministries sending representatives include the Office of General Assembly, World Mission, PDA, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Ministry Engagement and Support, Presbyterian Borderlands Ministry and the Young Adult Volunteer program.

Frontera de Cristo, United Methodist Committee on Relief, and the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (Centro Evangélico de Estudios Pastorales en Centro América, or CEDEPCA) are just a few of the ecumenical and regional partners sending representatives to the meeting.

The conference agenda includes consulting and listening from experts on migration, people who have performed research for human rights organizations and policy proposal writers. It also includes hearing from people who have lived the migrant journey, including those who have transited through different countries or have lived in the U.S. as a migrant and/or been returned to Central America.

“We believe the church has a prophetic word to share on the issue of migration and can add value to the conversation that goes beyond just providing support and advocating for human rights,” said Russ. “The church goes a step further. Jesus did not say ‘just tolerate or just fulfill the human rights of your neighbor.’ Jesus said, ‘love your neighbor,’ and that is the vision we need to be sharing.”

Aspirations for the new network, shared by some participants leading up to this week’s conference, include:

  • Coordinating across borders for consistency and reform
  • Building spiritual and emotional practices to be able to face the difficulties of migration
  • Telling stories and spreading counter-narratives
  • Advocating for fair, consistent and humane asylum policies.

The network is currently developing resources for education and advocacy grounded in migration theology for congregations looking to engage on migration.

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