Presbyterians respond to urgent global needs
By Kathy Melvin | Mission Crossroads Magazine | Photos by Mark Adams
The root causes of migration are many. The answers are sometimes elusive. But Presbyterian World Mission, its mission co-workers and global partners are working together to find those answers.
Although forced migration is a global issue, there has been a strong focus in the U.S. on those seeking asylum from Central America.
According to the blog Lawfare, which is dedicated to national security issues, about 265,000 people left the northern triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in each of the past five years, with the majority headed for the U.S. There has been a sizable increase to about 508,000 people from those three countries headed north in the first eight months of 2019.
About half of the migrants coming from Central America say economic reasons forced them to leave their homes. The northern triangle includes some of the poorest countries in the world, with a long legacy of inequality and most of the money and land concentrated in the hands of a small, elite group. Violence and insecurity, as well as vulnerability to the impact of natural disasters, are other key factors.
Mission co-worker the Rev. Mark Adams has lived on the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998. He believes that Christians are called to see the migrant issue very differently.
“We as the church are called to respond in faith and not fear. It’s not just the current administration, but previous administrations as well, who have led us to respond in fear about issues of migration,” said Adams. “We as the church have to say no, we are not going to respond in fear. We must remember, whether people are coming for economic reasons or family reasons or fleeing violence and seeking asylum, these are people created in the image of God and we’re called to love and not to fear.”
Adams said that the church must look at the reality of migration as primarily a human issue, not a political or ideological issue. “I think it is imperative that we always keep it focused on humans and faith and how we live out our faith amid the realities we face,” he said.
“If there’s a crisis, it’s a crisis of people fleeing violence and seeking refuge in a country that has historically been a beacon for refugees from throughout the world. Right now, our country’s leadership doesn’t want to be a beacon of refuge and has decreased the number of persons we are resettling,” Adams said.
There is talk of closing all U.S. borders in 2020.
Kristi Van Nostran, a former mission co-worker in El Salvador, is now working as an immigrant accompaniment organizer for two Southern California presbyteries, Pacific and San Gabriel, to coordinate activity and resources. She has seen the issue from both sides.
“You risk all by staying or you risk it all by leaving,” she said. “I think that is what many people don’t realize. We live quite comfortably in the U.S. We can’t fathom a situation where we would risk our lives, risk our children’s lives to take a journey that uncertain. That is key. No one would do that if it weren’t their last resort. I’ve heard so many times, ‘We don’t want to leave. We don’t want to leave our extended families, our homes, our land, our country, our language, our heritage, but we don’t feel like we have any other option, and there is no one who will protect us here.’ ”
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has recently begun a new accompaniment program to support the human rights of migrants in Agua Prieta, Mexico, adjacent to Douglas, Arizona. The established accompaniment program in Colombia has shown that the visible presence of accompaniers from the U.S. serves as protection from the cartels that try to intimidate and extort money from migrants. In Agua Prieta, the intimidation there has increased exponentially, to the point of indirect threats of violence.
Adams asks Presbyterians to pray for the men, women and children seeking asylum; for a government system unprepared to respond to their needs; for alternative solutions; for elected leaders struggling to find common ground; and for counselors, pastors, social workers and doctors who are physically and emotionally exhausted by the pain they see. I
It’s also important to learn and spread knowledge of the issues surrounding migration, Adams said. He recommends taking the following three actions:
View the film “The Genesis of Exodus: The Roots of Central American Migration.” View the comprehensive story map for the film. Use the Reflection Guide to aid in understanding the content presented in the film and the accompanying story map, and to assist in mobilizing action. These and more resources can be found on the website of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Immigration Issues: genesisofexodusfilm.com/thefilm.
Contact the Casa Mariposa Detention Visitation Program to find out how you can write to people who are in immigration detention to remind them that they are not alone. Contact the Rev. Elizabeth Smith, one of the CMDVP coordinators and member of the Frontera de Cristo board, to find out ways you and/or your church can provide hope for those who are awaiting immigration hearings: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call elected officials and urge them to:
- Prioritize the reunification of families through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Respond in a humanitarian way to a global humanitarian crisis.
- Ensure that asylum seekers have full and fair access to due process.
- Restore a commitment to refugees by increasing the resettlement goal to 75,000.
- Maintain budgetary commitments for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
- Resist the funding of more wall construction.
The Office of Public Witness posts legislative updates and ways to find elected officials: capwiz.com/pcusa/home.
The U.S. Office of Immigration Issues offers additional tools: pcusa.org/immigrationadvocacy
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission and also available online at pcusa.org/MissionCrossroads.
Kathy Melvin is director of mission communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Photos by Mark Adams, a mission co-worker who has worked on the Arizona-Mexico border for two decades. Kristi Van Nostran is a former mission co-worker in El Salvador who now serves as immigrant accompaniment organizer with the Southern California Presbyterian Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry, a growing network of Presbyterians around Southern California in ecumenical collaboration with the Matthew 25/Mateo 25 vision, striving to follow Christ’s call to welcome the stranger by opening churches, homes and hearts to people seeking asylum.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Matthew 25, World Mission
Tags: arizona-mexico border, central america, Kristi Van Nostran, Mark Adams, migrants, pacific presbytery, refugees, san gabriel presbytery, southern california
Tags: central america, co-worker in el salvador, el salvador, fleeing violence and seeking, former mission co-worker, former mission co-worker in el, immigrant accompaniment, immigrant accompaniment organizer, kristi van nostran, mark adams, mission co-worker, mission co-worker in el, mission co-worker in el salvador, mission crossroads magazine, office of immigration issues, photos by mark, photos by mark adams, presbyterian world mission, seeking asylum, southern california
Ministries: World Mission