From accompaniment to advocacy: Reflections on Central America migration
em>The reflections you will encounter over the next few weeks come from Gettysburg seminarians who traveled to Honduras and Guatemala earlier this year in order to better understand the conditions driving so many to leave their communities. The words you will read are excerpts from reports the students wrote as part of the class that brought them on this trip. The videos were recorded for ELCA Advocacy. Each entry highlights something the author learned when they met individuals from communities the ELCA accompanies or is in relationship with. We hope these reflections show the amazing power that individuals have to move from accompaniment to action by walking and advocating alongside affected communities.
We would like to thank Gettysburg Seminary and all of the students who shared their stories with us.
(All names and locations referred to in these reflections have been changed to protect community members.)
Protecting our environment and protecting each other – by Kayla Edmonds
“La lucha” “The struggle”
…The most surprising part of our trip to Central America was the massive impact that climate change plays in migration. Due to climate change the communities that had two growing seasons now only have one…If the crop doesn’t come through then they either have to go without or take out loans.
What exactly does accompaniment mean?
A friend of mine explained it to me by using the story from the bible the Road to Emmaus. In the road to Emmaus story, two of Jesus disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus when Jesus appears to them and walks alongside them. We are not Jesus in this story. I don’t think I can emphasize this enough. We. Are. Not. Jesus. We are one of the disciples and our neighbors in Central America are the other disciple. And as we are walking along together, Jesus comes and walks along beside of all of us.
Statistics vs. the real story
We see statistics all the time on migration. Rarely though do we ever hear the stories of those who have migrated or tried to migrate. These people are not numbers; they are real people who are simply trying to provide for themselves and their families a better life. I wasn’t sure what to expect from our trip to Central America, I had never been out of the country or even on a plane for that matter…
Through this trip I realized just how small my world and my view of the world truly was. And for that I am truly grateful. I am more aware of the world outside of my little world and of the need to walk beside of our brothers and sisters in Central America and beyond. Nothing has ever impacted me as much as this trip did, and I look forward to seeing how this experience will shape and change my future ministry.
Reflexiónes de una peregrina – Reflections from a sojourner – by Jennifer Crist
“El sacrificio” “The sacrifice“
We began [our visit] by watching families and jovenes arriving at the end of their attempt to migrate…As we waited outside for the buses of deported migrants to arrive… I wondered who might arrive on the bus that had just been deported from the US due to increased ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids…
There were many more families traveling together than I expected… One could transport these families to somewhere like Disney World, stepping off of the shuttle bus after a long day of lines and rides and eating; carrying backpacks and sweaters. But these families were not returning from any vacation. Instead of their backpacks carrying all that they needed for one day at the park, their backpacks were carrying all of their possessions, everything they needed to traverse multiple countries. I wonder what I would put in my backpack? What if my backpack got stolen? What would I do? Unfortunately, I imagine most of these families have faced these questions…
Our final visit of the day was to … a neighborhood claimed as a territory of the MS-18 gang… A twenty-five year old woman, named Luz, spoke about her journey north to Mexico, where she worked until she felt she could no longer be separated from her baby who remained in Honduras. As she talked, she often paused, expressing her gratitude to God. She spoke of the reasons she left, as being intimately interwoven with the violence of the neighborhood: “Here the colonia is very dangerous. Living here limits us. There is not work, because when they hear we are from this area, they don’t hire us. We can’t get a loan, because of our address here. One doesn’t LIVE like this, with insecurity and fear.”…Despite all of her negative experiences, she spoke of the hope she had felt when CASM [the Comisión de Acción Social Menonita] connected with her. She said, “Thank God… No one ever helped me like that before.”
“Arroz Blanco” “White rice”
Despite being tired from a long day and food preparation in the hot, dark kitchen, I was pleasantly surprised by a migrant passing through, named Marco…Both of our childhood families were very poor. My mother would prepare white rice with a little bit of milk and sugar for us for dinner; Marco’s mother would prepare arroz blanco with a little bit of coffee and sugar for him for dinner. We both only realized as adults that this was because our mothers were poor and couldn’t afford better dinners. To this day, he and I both adore white rice prepared the way our mother’s had prepared it when we were children. White rice is our comfort food. As I watched Marco depart the next day, I embraced him and whispered, “¡Te cuidas!” as I thought of his mother and of my oldest Guatemalan sons. Though our experiences had been similar in childhood, I was born in a different geographical location, not needing to make a perilous journey to a better future. While I could freely travel into and out of his country, he had to endure violence and hardship in order to enter mine. A wave of guilt washed over me as I watched him depart with his backpack…
“La Lucha“ “The struggle”
[I] found myself reading about Jesus in the desert being tempted by Satan. As I read about Jesus enduring many things (hunger, humiliation, etc.), I was reminded of stories that I had heard of hardship in traveling to El Norte….stories of hunger, violence, and violation of basic human rights. After Jesus endured the temptation, Luke’s version simply has Jesus returning home. And that is the reality of many migrants as well. I imagine when Jesus returned home, he was tired from his journey in the desert, but he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the writer of Luke, Jesus did not go home to rest from his journey in the wilderness, but instead he began his public ministry of teaching. And as Jesus stood up in his “home congregation” and revealed his authority from God, he also announced his job description to those who were gathered: to bring good news to the poor and to liberate the oppressed. Jesus was focusing on justice and mercy.
After returning home…
As I finish this [reflection], the community I have been gathering as a mission developer, Communities of Hope, is preparing to gather in a coffee shop in Harrisburg, PA. We will sing, hear God’s Word, and share a meal together. However, we also intentionally decided that at every worship service we would have an advocacy component within our liturgy. I will share one of the stories from Honduras (listed below) with the community tonight.
¿Por qué están aquí? – by Chris Schaefer
On our first full day of travel in Honduras, we had the opportunity to visit with a small Lutheran community that gathered regularly at a home in [a] small village. While there, several gentlemen shared their stories of attempts to migrate north to Mexico and the United States. They demonstrated great candor in relating many of the trials, hardships, and set-backs they had experienced before leaving their families and friends behind… After the gentlemen wrapped up their accounts, a patriarch of the village stood up and asked our group, “¿Por qué están aquí?” or, “Why are you here?”
He continued by expressing some confusion as to our purpose because after all of the questions and answers exchanged between our groups he was still unsure why we would come all this way to ask about information that we already knew, particularly regarding why folks were migrating and what faced them on their journeys. Many of us had to admit that we were actually fairly ignorant about the causes of the immigration crisis… The patriarch’s question struck a chord with me, though, and forced me to reexamine my reasoning in accompanying this group, as well as why our group was there as a whole.
Seeing the faces of our neighbors
The staggering statistics that surround these stories are often too vast to comprehend and fully internalize, but the story of an individual allows and enables us to see the faces of our neighbors and better live out our calling as Christians to love and care for all of our neighbors, regardless of whether they live right next door or in a country far from our home.
As we continued on the trip, my preconceived notions about the intelligence and abilities of those living in the Northern Triangle were continually shattered and rebuilt in a way where I could better see the true nature of partnership in community and how these strangers living in a foreign land demonstrated true discipleship…
Kindling a stronger sense of love, compassion, and justice
I drew great inspiration and strength from our interactions, and because of that, a stronger sense of love, compassion, and justice has been kindled within me, and I am quite certain that the Holy Spirit was present and active in, with, and among us.
Their strength and courage and trust in God in all things has helped tear down walls of fear and anxiety that surrounded me. I feel strengthened and invigorated to live out my calling as a Christian and I plan to take the stories that were so trustingly and generously shared with us and pass them to others so that the Spirit may work through them as the Spirit has worked in me.
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