Global Mission Fellows Serving in Migration Ministries--Mexico
Everyday Migration Stories and the Church’s Response
By Amanda Cherry*
Mexico is a country full of different types of migration: out migration, in migration, through migration, return migration, internal migration, and seasonal migration. These migrations are so ubiquitous that examples of them often show up in my everyday life in Mexico City, whether or not I’m looking for them. Taxi drivers hear my accent and tell me that they, too, used to live in my home country, the United States.
Reaching Out to Migrants
The work of the Methodist Church of Mexico—Iglesia Metodista de México A.R. (IMMAR)—is to determine how to respond to these different migration flows. The church has already organized a variety of responses. Pastors all over the country accompany Mexican migrants and their families on a daily basis. In the north, the IMMAR partners with several organizations that help international migrants who end up for a time in their communities—some attempting to cross into the United States and some returning as a result of deportation.
Amanda Cherry (far left) with several students from the Seminario Metodista “Dr. Gonzalo Báez Camargo” by the old train station next to the Methodist church in Apaxco. PHOTO: JORGE HUERTA
Here in Central and Southern Mexico, where I am based, there are several initiatives to support migrants in transit on their way north. Mostly from the Northern Triangle of Central America—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, traditionally, migrants have ridden on top of the cargo trains, nicknamed la Bestia (“the beast”), that run in different routes from the southern border to the northern one. Lately, migrants walk on more of the journey (or take local transportation) because of: increased police enforcement measures; train company security tactics (including faster train speeds and private security officers who carry guns and won’t let migrants get on); and Mexican cartels, local gangs, and misguided individuals increasing violent attacks.
However, many still follow the train tracks, using them as a map. Several Methodist churches located along the route of la Bestia developed ministries to meet the needs of these migrants. Churches in Apizaco, Tlaxcala, and Salamanca in Guanajuato supply food to migrants along the train tracks. The Methodist church in Celaya, Guanajuato, supports a shelter for migrants, providing food and clothes. The church in Apaxco, in the State of Mexico, opens the doors of the church and offers migrants dinner and breakfast, a place to sleep and shower, toiletries, and clothes.
A Call to Migrant Ministries
My role is to integrate into work that is already happening in my region and to see how I can support, encourage, or help grow these ministries. That has meant getting to know not only the existing migrant ministries of the IMMAR but also other migrant programs and ministries in the area and academics or professionals who study migration or advocate for migrants. In visiting churches, I offer a theological grounding for work they are already doing or are in the process of forming.
A mural in a migrant shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas. PHOTO: AMANDA CHERRY
I also provide logistical support when needed, such as helping to secure funds, thinking about how to structure the ministry, and researching the context. One of my favorite parts of my job is teaching classes on migration and theology in the Methodist seminary Gonzalo Báez Camargo. I offer current and future pastors new readings, ideas, and ministry tools to complement their own experiences with migration and ministries with migrants.
*Amanda Cherry is a Global Mission Fellow serving for two years as a migration ministry coordinator with the Methodist Church of Mexico, based in Apaxco. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Cherry (Advance #3022198) has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and a Master of Divinity degree from Boston University.
Life on the Border—El Faro Church
By Venancio Reyes Pacheco*
In 2016, I was accepted as a Global Mission Fellow to serve in Tijuana, Mexico, as a mission coordinator for the El Faro (“Lighthouse”) frontier ministries, a project of the Methodist Church of Mexico. I began working for the first time with deportees and other migration issues. At first, being in a place very different from home and learning about a different culture was hard. But with the help of God and all those around me, I adapted quickly.
My work in Tijuana is divided into two main activities. The first is a program called Assistance Integrating Deportees (AID), created to deal with the issues Tijuana faces in receiving deportees, many of whom do not feel themselves to be Mexican because they have lived all their lives in the United States. Often, they are depressed and traumatized by deportation, and many find escape from their situation by losing themselves in alcohol or drugs. The program is primarily focused on helping them reintegrate into Mexican society.
El Faro (“Lighthouse”) frontier ministries, a project of the Methodist Church of Mexico, conducts a communion service at the wall, the border between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California. PHOTO: VENANCIO REYES
We start with an interview at the El Faro church and an antidrug examination. Then they are brought to our center where they receive psychological therapy to help reduce their longing to return to the US. If they want to stay in Tijuana, the second step is to help them obtain official documents. Since many left Mexico as young children, they have no proper documentation. Finally, we help them find employment so they can earn money and eventually move into a place of their own. In all these activities, we accompany them with spiritual support and work with them through devotionals and Bible studies.
The other part of my job is with the El Faro church on the border each Sunday, when a pastor comes “from the other side,” as the Mexicans refer to those coming from the US. We organize a binational worship service at Friendship Park, where families from both sides get together to see their loved ones. We give a message of hope and faith, serve communion, and offer food for those who arrive hungry. While they eat, we share God’s word with them.
Raúl Gonzalez, from Tijuana, joined our program after he was deported from the US and his life hit rock bottom. He’d served time in jail and had turned to drugs. All he needed was a push to get back up. The program helped him each step of the way. Now he works at the call center, has moved to his own apartment, and is active in the border church, becoming a witness for others. His is one of many success stories.
*Venancio Junior Reyes Pacheco, from Barranquilla, Colombia (Advance #3022245), serves as a Global Mission Fellow with the Methodist Church of Mexico in Tijuana. Reyes holds a bachelor’s degree in languages from Atlantic University (Universidad Del Atlántico) in Barranquilla. This article was translated from Spanish by Donald D. Reasoner.