‘The Word of God can reach us through the migrant’

A faith leader, a human rights defender and a migrant address border ministry conference

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A portion of the ornate sanctuary at La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Church in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora, Mexico — A “narrative of hate and rejection” is spreading across Mexico in response to the caravans of migrants from Central America and elsewhere, a Mexican lawyer and human rights defender told the 150 or so people attending the “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire” celebration of 35 years of work  and service by Presbyterian Border Region Outreach. One of the five ministries, Frontera de Cristo, hosted the conference, which was held last last week.

Perla del Angel, who works closely with CAME (the Exodus Migrant Attention Shelter) in Agua Prieta, spoke Saturday in the ornate sanctuary of La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Church adjacent to the shelter. She said that late last year, in the early days of the new administration of Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the common attitude displayed by the government was, “Let’s receive them as they continue their journey.”

“But the perspective of the community has changed,” she said. “We started discriminating against people who aren’t Mexicans, and that strengthens the narrative of the government.”

“Mexico is doing the work of the United States, and it’s doing it very well, unfortunately,” she said. “We are going backward as a nation.”

The CAME houses migrants from a number of places, including Venezuela, Cuba, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. “They say this house is the only safe place where they’ve been,” she said. “If we don’t do our work, we are complicit in what’s going on.”

Over the summer, Mexican National Guard troops tried to enter the shelter to learn the names of the people inside, she said. But shelter leaders denied them entry. “Nobody has let them come in, and we will continue firm in that,” she said. “We are in a peaceful struggle — the struggle to defend human rights for the dignity of people. We are in a struggle without weapons. Our weapons are the rights of people and the love of the community.”

Migrant detention centers in Mexico “have doubled and tripled their capacity,” she said, and the few organizations with access to the facilities “have reported how inhumane they are.”

“I hope you go back with a small commitment,” she told the crowd, “to see people as human beings, to see in each person someone worthy to be heard and respected. We all need to do our part.”

Participants also heard from a Cuban migrant staying at the CAME while he and his family wait to seek asylum. The man appeared with his wife and children. He said he and his family left Cuba fleeing racial and political persecution. “God gave me this color I have,” he said. “I was looking for the best possible solution for my family. We go forward with the hope we will be accepted.”

The Rev. Ramon Garcia Sanchez, who’s on the board of directors for Frontera de Cristo, one of five border ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has since 2010 been the pastor of the Voz del Desierto (Voice of the Desert) Presbyterian Church in Hermosillo, Sonora.

“The law and the prophets teach us we have a historic responsibility to right this history,” he said. “It’s a great and historic responsibility — not just what we can see, but to create space in this world for the Kingdom that’s coming.”

“As a Mexican, it pains me to hear this testimony about how we have been unwelcoming,” he said. “We as a church have not been quick to respond. We didn’t expect so many, but here we are. We are grateful for pastors and friends who are doing something.”

The Christian response to policies that restrict immigrant rights can take two forms, he said.

“We can pay attention and we can care,” he said, “and we can voice our opinions around the policies our government should have.”

“Cláudio (Carvalhaes, who spoke during a Friday workshop) reminds us that God reveals God’s self in darkness and suffering. This takes us out of our comfort zone, and many of us aren’t doing enough. That fills us with sadness and shame.”

“This is a time for reflection and analysis,” he told participants. “It’s time to put on the table goals we can achieve so that we can leave our mark on us and the generations to come. I invite you not to see just the present, but to think about envisioning a better future for everyone. That’s why Jesus came — to transform our reality.”

“The Word of God can reach us through the migrant, the person who is suffering. May we all live this transformation — because I think we need it.”

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