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From accompaniment to advocacy: Reflections on Central America migration

The reflections you will encounter are 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.)

A call that all Christians have – by Chris SchaeferChris Schaefer2

The power people of faith have to connect and listen12227638_10103242770848189_7953080954390039971_n

A reflection by Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, Assistant Director for Migration Policy

As a new(ish) U.S. citizen, I am always curious about what drives so many of us to be advocates in this country. These reflections remind me that when people of faith spiritually connect and truly listen to others, even those whose language we might not speak, God gives us an amazing power for good.

I am humbled that these seminarians chose to share faithful reflections about their trip to Central America, and I am proud that they viewed advocacy as part of their responsibility as faith leaders. I also know that there are thousands
of others who are out educating friends and neighbors about issues affecting their communities, visiting their elected officials to discuss their concern for brothers and sisters who live in poverty, and work in ministries that provide hope and support for people throughout the world.

As you read these reflections, I hope you take with you a sense of the amazing power that exists in sharing what we learn through accompaniment with others in community and with those in power so that we may live in a world where everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

In the final reflection of this series, we will hear again from Chris Schaefer. Chris traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with his elected officials about his experience in Central America. His movement from accompaniment to advocacy serves as a great example of the impact people of faith can have in affecting positive policy change.

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.

“I knew how much they were giving up” – by Ariel Williams


He wanted to be home – by Patrick Ballard

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. 


Responding faithfully to the targeting of Central American families for deportation

By Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, Assistant Director for Migration Policy

UPDATE: The Department of Homeland Security has continued to target Central American children and families for deportation since January. On May 12, 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that they plan to strengthen the efforts to detain and deport vulnerable children and families in May and June. Although further information has not been released, as a church, we continue to stand with the churches and organizations we accompany in the protection of children, families and all vulnerable communities in Central America.

Para ver esta respuesta en español, vaya aqui.

This month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began operations to track and deport Central American families that arrived in the U.S. after January 1, 2014. We know that at least 121 individuals have been taken into custody and reports have surfaced of children being pulled out of homes in the middle of the night.

As a church grounded in Biblical mandate to respect the human dignity of all of God’s creatures, we stand strongly against prioritizing vulnerable children and their mothers for deportation. These tactics neither honor our faithful calling to love one another nor respect the dignity of our neighbors.

Additionally, we join Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) in our concern for ensuring access to justice in the U.S. for these families who must navigate a complex legal system, often without necessary support. This December, our own presiding bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, witnessed first-hand the uncertainty and stress faced by children and families in Chicago’s immigration court.

The ELCA lives out God’s calling to send us into the world by accompanying displaced children and families in the U.S. and in Central America through our companion relationships with churches and faith partners. Through these relationships, we receive critical insight into the realities faced by children and families who are forced to leave their communities due to targeted violence (as outlined in our report, Our Communities in Crisis).

Today, violence in countries where these children and families targeted by DHS will be deported to remains unbearably high. El Salvador is currently facing murder rates not seen since its civil war in the 1980s. The Salvadoran Lutheran Church recently reported seeing up to 30 families displaced in one neighborhood over the course of only a few days. Honduras continues to have some of the highest murder rates in the world, and in Guatemala, the United Nations reports that two women are killed each day.

As a church with faith partners working with deported children and families in El Salvador and Honduras, we know that deportation does not serve to deter children and families from leaving their communities.

In a statement from the Mennonite Social Action Committee (CASM), an ELCA partner working in a repatriation center for children and families in Honduras, they explain that “during this process of receiving deported [children and families], we have witnessed the harsh reality that [deportation] brings for these people and their families. [Families] have to come back to the same realities of extreme poverty, lack of opportunities, violence and lack of citizen security that led them to leave the country in the first place.”

Through our relationships in Central America and because of our church’s history that is deeply rooted in migration, we will continue to support our partners in the region and in the U.S. through witness, accompaniment, prayer and advocacy.

“We must advocate with our governments and authorities for the humane treatment [of migrants], and to launch fair processes for people who should be welcomed as asylum seekers, not for political reasons, but for their safety and security.” said Bishop Medardo Gomez from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in a call to acknowledge the rights and vulnerabilities of those fleeing Central America today.

Our partner, Church World Service, suggests the following resources to respond to this issue:

Know Your Rights

If you are tied to immigrant led congregations, it is imperative to educate all immigrant communities on know your rights resources. The most important information is DON’T OPEN THE DOOR to Immigration Customs Enforcement or anyone else if they do not have a warrant signed by a judge.

AFSC- Know Your Rights- Conozca Sus Derechos

United We DREAM Know Your Rights

Guide to sharing your story of rights abuses, raids and deportation


Report When A Raid Is Happening:

HOTLINE: 1-844-363-1423


Call the White House

White House Comment Line directly at 1-888-907-2053.

“I’m from City, State, Congregation/Community and as a person of faith, I urge President Obama to immediately STOP plans to deport Central American children and families. These individuals are fleeing violence and should have access to legal counsel so that they can apply for asylum and protection in the United States.”