Open Arms and Hearts to the Migrants

(leer en español)

by Carlos Martínez García, CIEAMM

It was a decade of celebration and reflective exercise. The Mennonite World Conference chose the 2017-2027 decade to evaluate both the Protestant Reformation and the radical Reformation, and the influence of both movements in the emergence of peace-building Anabaptism. During the mentioned decade, every year,  Renewal will take place in different parts of the world. In 2017 the meeting was held in Augsburg, Germany, last year in Kisumu, Kenya, and right now the headquarters are in San José, Costa Rica.

The theme for the event in Costa Rica is “Justice on the Way (Road): migration and Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The Anabaptists / Mennonites of the sixteenth century and subsequent centuries had to constantly migrate in search of freedom to spread and practice their beliefs. These migrations were made under very adverse conditions. In addition to the historical and biblical theological framework that will be presented in Costa Rica, different speakers were asked to share experiences on the current issue of migration and how the communities of faith identified with Anabaptism are responding. In my case they asked me to share “how my church or churches in my region have experienced migration, or ways in which they are responding to the needs of the displaced.” Please find below what I prepared to share at Renovación (Renewal 2019):

Caravans of thousands of Central American migrants arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018. Although for many years the country has been a transit route for those who migrate from Central America with the hope of reaching the United States of America (USA), for the first time organized groups demanded that the Mexican border be opened so that they could enter and travel safely through the country.

In general terms, the Mexican people understood the reasons of the migrants to flee their countries and look for a better future. Historically, millions of Mexicans have migrated to the United States. Currently, a high percentage of them live there with fear because they do not have residence papers. Their contribution to the US economy is important; calculations two years ago showed that ten percent of the economy depends on the labor force of Mexican migrants. In addition to their economic contribution, these migrants bring cultural diversification to the USA. The city with more Mexicans, second only to Mexico City, is a North American city: Los Angeles, California.

Although there were sections of Mexico that had hostile thoughts and actions towards the caravans of migrants that arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018 and the first months of this year, the broadest sentiment was solidarity. There were campaigns to raise aid and provide migrants  with clothes, food, medicines, medical attention and accompaniment in their walk to the north.

In the Conference of Anabaptist Mennonite Anabaptist Churches of Mexico (CIEAMM), through the Pathways to Justice Ministry, calls were made to coordinate with other organizations and churches that wished to give assistance to respond to the needs expressed by the migrants. This is an important point; it is necessary to listen to those who we want to serve so that solidarity is prevalent and focused on the needs of migrants and not on the goodwill of people who sometimes give help when it is not what migrants need . Once the type of aid required by temporary refugees in Mexico was determined, the information and addresses of collection centers were shared by different means to send the aid packages.

The coordinator of the Ministry of Justice of the CIEAMM is a member of the New Life Christian Community Church, where I am a pastor along with Óscar Jaime Domínguez. His name is Fernando Sandoval. He invited and encouraged the community to raise funds and purchase products needed by migrants. To meet these needs, he visited the place opened by the government of Mexico City to house thousands of displaced Central Americans, mainly from Honduras and El Salvador.

Fernando talked with men and women of different ages. He requested permission to record his testimony with the cell phone, in order to share the recording in New Life Christian Community Church. What he heard and saw moved our community, as each story told was a tragedy of suffering that allowed us to understand why people decided to leave their homes in order to try to cross into the United States. In addition to poverty as a cause to leave, they mentioned the violence suffered and the fear of being victims of all kinds of abuses that denigrate human dignity.

The church community gave contributions that Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) took to the migrants. The response from the community was surprising as they decided to open their arms and hearts to those who were vulnerable in their passage through Mexico. We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the love of solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, visits the incarcerated (Matthew 25: 35-36). We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.

In the task of bringing the help (materials) to the migrants, there was cooperation between Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) and a group of teachers and students of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. There they found out what CIEAMM and New Life Christian Community Church were doing to serve the migrants, and Professor Jamie Pitts shared the information with the group at AMBS.  The result was an offering that they sent to Pathways to Justice to use in a way that would be most effective and convenient. The Sendas de Justicia ministry purchased the items that were given to migrants and informed donors of how the donation was used. We firmly believe that in Christian stewardship, the accountability and proper use of the resources that conference and brothers and sisters in the faith entrust to us is indispensable.

Solidarity with migrants has a history in the experience of New Life Christian Community Church. For some years, the community has contributed donations in kind (food, personal hygiene items) to Casa Tochán, which is a refuge and legal defense for migrants whose goal is to enter the United States and are seeking protection while in Mexico. In the past, the brothers and sisters have collected different products that are delivered to Casa Tochán.  These are a product of our understanding that we are followers of a migrant like Jesus, who was born in conditions very similar to those lived by families that undertake the exodus, forced by the hard-hearted powers of this world.

Open arms and hearts to migrants is part of Christian discipleship. Among the migrants, people travel who, like the Syrophoenician woman, help us discover dimensions of faith that we only see when we are fragile and marginalized. Jesus said that that woman’s faith was very great and she set an example of trust in God (Matthew 15:28). And we have found this great faith in migrants.