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Presbyterian Peacemakers, delegation visit border ministry to collaborate on migration

Visitors observe collaboration on the dynamics of people on the move

by the Rev. Katherine Cunningham | Mission Crossroads

From left are Efi Latsoudi, Noemi Sánchez and Milagro Mejía. (Contributed photo)

In October, a PC(USA) delegation that included three international peacemakers from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program journeyed together to Frontera de Cristo, located in the twin cities of Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona, for four days of interconnected collaboration on the dynamics of people on the move.

One of the three peacemakers was Efi Latsoudi of Lesvos Solidarity, a grassroots organization based on Lesvos Island in Greece, which focuses on a strong advocacy presence for the rights of refugees and runs housing, educational, employability, psychosocial and medical programs. Latsoudi came to learn about migration in this binational context. Lesvos Solidarity is a partner program for the Southern Europe Partnership Network.

The other two peacemakers were Milagro Mejía and Noemi Sánchez of the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador (IRCES). Milagro is an ordained deaconess, Salvadoran theologian, lawyer, and member and founder of IRCES. Noemi puts her faith and skills into practice by assisting IRCES colleagues in coordinating youth workshops and community activities that promote peace and teach peaceful interpersonal skills. They were accompanied by Joseph Russ, a mission co-worker who focuses on migration issues, advocacy and mission in the Northern Triangle of Central America.

Water barrels are filled in the desert. (Contributed photo)

The Rev. Dr. Valdir França, area co-coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean in Presbyterian World Mission, also participated. I joined the delegation as the Southern Europe Partnership Network representative. Also represented was the binational Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program led by James Martin and a visiting group of Unitarian Universalist young adult volunteers based in Tucson, who joined our group in Agua Prieta.

The delegation was assisted by Miriam Maldonado and the Rev. Mark Adams, mission co-workers serving with Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry that seeks to demonstrate gospel values by building relationships and bridges rather than walls. According to its website, the ministry’s goal is to not only address the immediate needs of those migrating and seeking refuge (i.e., shelter, resources, education, emotional support and medical care) but also to “address the root causes of mass migration, creating safe and prosperous opportunities that allow our sisters and brothers to stay in the land they call home, if they so choose.”

It was in the spirit of this affirmation that the delegation met with the ministries and community collaborations of Frontera de Cristo. These included the Migrant Resource Center, Centro de Atencion Migrante and Agua Para La Vida, a program of a non-governmental organization that is part of a mental health, migrant support system and catering program for the residents of the program. Agua Para La Vida conducted a hike to the border wall along areas used by migrants and their coyotes, who are part of the organized human trafficking of migrants, as well as explaining the water jugs they fill along the migration routes. Maldonado accompanied the group and provided translation for us.

A memorial at the wall in Agua Prieta. (Contributed photo)

Guided by Adams, our delegation visited the wall on both the U.S. and Mexico sides, especially observing the artwork that the people of Agua Prieta have placed along the iron pilings of the wall, turning it into a canvas of remembrance, resistance and messaging, as have other communities in the world that have had such walls imposed on them. In Arizona, we observed the surveillance system installed by the border policing, which is capable of extremely close and highly sophisticated monitoring of the border, also known as the “silent wall.”

The visit concluded with a public forum called “Choosing Welcome: In the Face of Policies of Rejection” held Saturday, Oct. 14, at Café Justo y Mas. The forum was co-sponsored by the Universidad de Bienestar Benito Juarez, Southern Border Communities Coalition, Tucson YAVs, Presbyterian Borderlands Ministries, Frontera de Cristo and Café Justo y Mas. Latsoudi, Mejía and Sánchez all presented their perspectives (with wonderful translators from World Mission and YAV staff who were with us all weekend), along with three responders from different contexts. There is a video being made of the forum that should be available soon.

One of the clear conclusions to this amazing gathering at the borderlands is that many more visits and connections in global contexts will include multiple voices, centering those who are part of people on the move and the solidarity programs and ministries that accompany them, is an important framework among partners, including the PC(USA).

The Rev. Katherine Cunningham is coordinator for the Southern Europe Partnership Network and a retired PC(USA) pastor.

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