Migration, Mission, and the Great Global Family
By Jim Perdue*
The Hebrew prophets forecasted that a savior would come one day and his name would be “God is with us.” Centuries later, on the early disciples’ walk to Emmaus, they discovered that sometimes the other, especially a poor migrant, turns out to be a fresh new revelation of “God with us.”
One day, Abraham and Sarah were sitting in their tent. It was the hottest part of the day, a time when one should not get caught out in the sun. As they looked out, they saw three strangers walking in the distance, apparently unable to find shelter. So, Abraham got up and went out to get them. He and Sarah brought them into the shade of their home to rest; they shared water, food, and relaxing conversation. Often, this is how migration ministry begins.
Maria Natividad Granados, a Methodist woman in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, serves food to Cuban immigrants in that city’s Plaza Benito Juarez, March 2017. Hundreds of Cubans are stuck in the border city, caught in limbo by the elimination in January of the infamous “wet foot, dry foot” policy of the United States. Many of the city’s churches have become temporary shelters for the immigrants. PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
Later, Abraham and Sarah would receive a marvelous gift from those migrants, but in the meanwhile, the three needed a place to recover from the demands of their journey, to relax “at home” for a while. When working with migrants, often the church goes out into the sun to get them—and then, for a while, it welcomes them and treats them as its own family. In God’s eyes, they always were family.
To migrate is to move from one area of the world to another to live and work. There are approximately 250 million migrants crossing borders and living elsewhere in today’s world. Millions of those are from or in the United States, Mexico, and Central America; others from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia also pass through these countries en route to the United States.
Global Ministries works with four categories of migrants, each with its own needs and rights. If you are exiting your homeland, you are an emigrant. Before people are forced by circumstance to emigrate, we work with our partners in Mexico and Central America to protect their right to stay in their home country in safety, security, and prosperity. This means addressing the causes of emigration, such as destitute economies, rampant poverty, wars, and widespread violence.
Second, if you are coming to live in a country other than your own, you are an immigrant. Immigrants have the right to be welcomed, included, and have access to the umbrella of rights within the receiving country. Immigration ministry within the United States is coordinated by our denomination’s Interagency Migration Task Force; but we also work directly with partners throughout Mexico that help immigrants there be welcomed and accepted, receive humane treatment as needed, and have access to legal rights and protections.
Near Nogales, Arizona, a migrant sneaks along a section of the border wall constructed by the US government along the US border with Mexico. Local residents and critics of the wall claim it has little effect on illegal immigration. PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
Third, if you are crossing one country en route to live and work in another, you are a transmigrant. Transmigrants have the right to pass securely, receive humanitarian assistance, and be protected from harm. We work with partner agencies throughout Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to protect the lives and rights of transmigrants.
Fourth, if you are legally obliged by your arrival country to return to your place of origin, you are a deportee. Each year, at least a quarter of a million deportees are returned from the United States to Mexico and Central America, most to Mexico. Another 100,000 more are deported each year from Mexico to Central American countries. This places a heavy strain on those weak or poor countries.
Deportees have the right to return to their home country, be welcomed, and receive assistance to reconnect with their culture. Again, we defer to the Interagency Immigration Task Force in work with those who are imprisoned or are in process of deportation in the United States, but we also work with partner agencies in Mexico and Central America to protect the lives and rights of deportees and help them readapt in their home countries.
Throughout the world, people are beginning to express more fear of and hatred toward immigrants. They assume that migrants “choose” to enter other countries. However, most migrants are involuntary, people in desperate straits forced to leave their home countries for reasons of economic survival, personal safety, natural and humanmade disasters, or to return to their home country as deportees. For the sake of survival, the only real decision these migrants make is when they will migrate.
Why and How We Are in Mission
Global Ministries focuses its migration mission on the most vulnerable people in each category above. These include the destitute, poor, indigenous persons, women, children, and persons of non-heterosexual orientation.
Our strategic approach to participating in this, God’s mission, is to forge mission partnerships with ecumenical, civil society, educational, and some governmental agencies locally throughout the migration corridor. This allows us to accompany, or to conduct our mission in company with, the migrants themselves. People have always traveled in company for mutual protection and companionship. This makes the journey safer and more bearable for each traveler.
The Hebrew prophets forecasted that a savior would come one day, and his name would be “God is with us.” Centuries later, on the early disciples’ walk to Emmaus, they discovered that sometimes the other, especially a poor migrant, turns out to be a fresh new revelation of “God with us.” Those who work with migrants discover this each day.
Migrant Accompaniment “On the Ground”
Our mission is to walk with our mission partners in Mexico and Latin America and together to walk with migrants in local areas, treating them as integral links in the development of the region and as people of integrity—with fundamental rights and access to protection under national laws, international laws, and regional agreements.
Apart from the United Methodist Mission in Honduras, there are no United Methodist churches in Mexico or Central America; however, we have many dependable ways to forge and work with partners to leverage our mission resources and follow our unique calling as The United Methodist Church.
Honduran men deported from the United States arrive at a church-run center in the San Pedro Sula airport. The migrants were flown to the airport aboard a US government flight, then bussed to a remote section of the airport where the Catholic Church operates a Center for Attention to Returned Migrants. PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
First, we already have mission personnel located in ministries within Mexico and Central America. They help us find our way around, and some of them are also working to address the root causes of migration from the areas where they now live and work.
Second, we have excellent working relations with ecumenical partners and autonomous Methodist churches in Mexico and Central America. Our ecumenical partners, especially Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans, have been involved in migration mission for decades. Our Methodist partners have a much younger but growing migration mission. They are stepping up to mission with those deciding to emigrate, those who are transmigrating, those deciding to immigrate to Mexico instead of risking crossing into the United States, and those being deported daily from Mexico and the United States.
Our work with Methodist and ecumenical partners in the region is a fast-growing and dynamic task, as we watch the Holy Spirit move among our sisters and brothers in mission with migrants, and as we begin to accompany them. Churches are everywhere in the migration corridor, and they are critical to our mission with people deciding to migrate, their families that are left behind, and those being deported back into local communities but with no supporting “family” for the transition.
Third, we are developing and coordinating a network or partners among
• local and national civil society organizations throughout Mexico and Central America,
• international nongovernmental human rights and humanitarian aid organizations whose missions match our own;
• rights and relief organizations related to the United Nations;
• regional international rights organizations;
• some governmental relief agencies, such as USAID; and
• a select number of Central American and Mexican universities and Mexican postgraduate research colleges that are studying the causes of migration and treatment of migrants. They are developing creative programs to address the causes of migration and the rights of those who migrate.
Fourth, we work in partnership with other departments of Global Ministries, as well as with ecumenical partners and partner agencies within the United States and Europe. These partners place Mission Volunteers, Global Mission Fellows, US-2s, and global missionaries with us and our partners as our way of accompanying them in the strategic development of mission with migrants at the local level throughout the region.
Finally, we look to annual conferences, local churches, and mission organizations, like the United Methodist Women, to encourage called and qualified candidates to apply for mission assignments with our migration mission or that of our mission partners. You can find more information on the Global Ministries’ website, especially the page for Generation Transformation. In the articles that follow, you will also discover both gripping stories and ways that you can learn more about the region, its possibilities, and its needs.
The Rev. James (“Jim”) Perdue, who is based in Arizona (Advance #150298), serves as a Global Ministries’ Missionary for Migration in Central America and Mexico.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.