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New World Mission appointment fulfills a General Assembly mandate

Northern Triangle position will serve Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Joseph Russ

LOUISVILLE — Joseph Russ’ appointment as Presbyterian World Mission’s coordinator for migration issues, advocacy and mission in the Northern Triangle of Central America, a new mission co-worker position, is the fulfillment of an overture passed by the 223rd General Assembly, held in St. Louis in 2018.

The overture was proposed by the Presbytery of the Pacific with the goal of creating mechanisms for the U.S. government to hear the voices of church leaders from Meso-America and to train local leaders and invest in peacemaking in the Northern Triangle to reduce migration and reintegrate people who are returned to El Salvador from the United States.

The Northern Triangle includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Russ will facilitate a faith-rooted advocacy witness in Central America coordinated by the Reformed Calvinist Church in El Salvador and World Mission’s Office of Latin America and the Caribbean with other church partners in the Northern Triangle of Central America and southern Mexico.

The position is a direct response from a call by the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador to draw attention to the crisis and suffering of migrants, victims of human trafficking, social violence, the violation of human rights and particularly of youth in the Northern Triangle of Central America and Southern Mexico.

He will coordinate World Mission partnerships in the region with the advocacy and policy work of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, the Office of Immigration Issues, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

“The Northern Triangle of Central America has faced troublesome levels of violence over the past several decades, from U.S.-backed civil wars to deportation of gang members to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” said Russ. “Because of our country’s involvement in the region, I feel called to help undo some of the harm we have caused.”

Russ will work to develop a regional mission network and will be instrumental in assisting the network in identifying key issues and articulating the spiritual, social, economic and environmental dimensions of these issues to make them accessible to local churches and individuals with a particular interest in Central America.

As soon as restrictions are lifted, Russ will travel to his home base of San Salvador, El Salvador, and will be hosted by Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador (IRCES). San Salvador is the capital of the country with a population of 6.2 million people (UN 2011). The country struggles to cope with a dense population, social inequality and high levels of violence, all of which influence migration.

A native of El Segundo, California, Russ was already working in Central America when he applied for the Northern Triangle position, having just completed work as a public relations and fundraising specialist for the Santa Marta Anglican Center, an emergency shelter for LGBTIQ+ young adults in El Salvador facing homelessness and violence.

He also served as logistics coordinator for Outward Bound California and was a volunteer for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition’s Global Relations Team, where he coordinated international teams from the Philippines, Chile, Zimbabwe and the U.S. to develop and facilitate intercultural competency training for United Methodist Church General Conference volunteers. He also spent three years as a competency training public relations specialist for Cristosal Global School of Human Rights, a collaboration between The Episcopal Church in the United States and the El Salvador’s Anglican- Episcopal Church.

Russ will receive a master’s degree in Latin American Theology from the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador.  He is currently finishing his thesis on the theology of migration from the perspective of people deported to El Salvador. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, where he majored in religion.

The Rev. Dr. Valdir França

According to the Rev. Dr. Valdir França, World Mission’s coordinator for the office of Latin America and the Caribbean, World Mission’s global partner, the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador (IRCES), participated in choosing Russ to fill the position.

IRCES executive board member Carmen Diaz sent a note to França and Tracey King-Ortega, a mission co-worker based in Nicaragua, with their appreciation:

“Dear Tracey and Valdir,

 As IRCES, first of all, we want to thank you for the opportunity to have participated in this process. It is the first time that we have done so with such formality. This feels like a good model that has been adopted for this occasion and could be replicated, improving and institutionalizing for future candidates, not just with us (but) with other partners.”

King-Ortega said that the partners prayed that God would bring them the person they needed, “and Joseph was their first choice,” she said.

“Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred in 1980 for speaking out against oppression and injustice, but his spirit lives on,” said Russ. “I am honored to walk alongside the people of Central America as they live out his legacy and strive for peace and justice.”

Russ can be reached at Joseph.Russ@pcusa.org.

To support the ministry of Joseph Russ, a gift can be made in his honor. Click here to give to ministry and mission. Mission co-workers are notified when a gift is made in their honor.


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