All Lives Are Worth The Same

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Christ and the Canaanite Woman by Germain-Jean Drouais (1784).

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15: 21-28)

Let me tell you a trade secret: we preachers, theologians, and Christian bloggers have no idea what to do with this story. None. We spend hours every week trying to find ways of using the Gospel text to convince you that Jesus is awesome, Jesus loves you and wants you to know that, Jesus is God and worthy of worship and praise and, as much as we sinful little humans are capable of such a thing, emulation.

And then Jesus has to go and do this absolutely jack*ss thing, refusing to help a poor woman with a sick daughter—all because she isn’t an Israelite? Seriously, Jesus?

Honestly, we’ve tried everything to explain Jesus actions in a way that makes him look good—but our logic just comes back to bite us. All our attempts to use theology, what we know of Jesus’ historical or cultural context, or Biblical exegesis fail to explain his dismissive and cruel behavior. At the heart of the problem is that Jesus is God and God is not supposed to be total jerk. But Jesus is unquestionably acting like a jerk here, and behaving in direct contradiction to the teaching he just gave about false words defiling us far more than ignoring rules of ritual cleanliness. Well done, Jesus. We’re stumped.

And quite frankly, during a week when the world is seemingly falling apart and we need a kind, peaceful, justice and fairness-loving God, Jesus has seemingly failed us, too. Gaza is in shambles—again. Another unarmed African-American man was shot to death in his own neighborhood and the protestors rightly angry at his death were met with a show of weapons, artillery, and civil rights violations that would have made a tyrant proud. Thousands of Central American kids and families continue to cross over the US-Mexico border, seeing asylum from grinding poverty and endless violence. Ebola. ISIS. But Jesus turns to a desperate woman whose daughter needs healing—a mother just like the Palestinian mothers whose children are filled with shrapnel, or the African-American mothers whose children are riddled with bullets, or Central American mothers whose children are walking thousands of miles across the desert to escape violent, merciless gangs, or the mothers of Iraq who are fleeing the ISIS with their children in their arms, or the mothers whose children just tested positive for Ebola—and calls her a dog.

This woman may have knelt before Jesus, but did not just sit there and accept Jesus’ insinuation that she and her daughter were not worthy of help because they were not of the house of Israel. She turns the tables on Jesus, cleverly and forcefully suggesting that she may be a dog, but she is the kind of dog that is worthy of respect. Jesus may come out looking like a half-decent guy after healing this woman’s daughter. The real hero of this story, however, is not the Lord and King of the Universe. It is this Canaanite woman whose name has been lost to history.

In fact, this woman is isn’t just a hero—she is a prophet. Like Abraham who argued with God to spare Sodom and Moses who convinced God not to destroy Israel after they forged the golden calf and worshiped it, this woman joins a short but unforgettable list of Biblical figures who had the gumption to stand up to the Ruler of the Universe.

And she is a prophet for us, too, because she points us at the question behind all the questions that we are all asking ourselves this week amidst all this violence, terror, uncertainty, and rage in the world:

Why are some lives more worth more than others?

For as we debate whether Israelis or Palestinians or Iraqis or the ISIS or Central American refugees or Ebola patients deserve our help or do not deserve our help (and what kind of help they deserve),  whether they deserve to die or deserve to live, this brave Canaanite woman forces us to ask, who do we consider human, really? Who do we consider worthy of life, which lives do we rank in value above others, and which of our values or resources do we rank above human lives?

Is national security worth a few lives? The end of ISIS? The end of Hamas? Are these 50,000 Central American lives worth the $3.7 billion dollars President Obama purposed to help them? Less? More? Is an African-American life worth the same as a white person’s life? Less? The same? The same only if the African-American in question has no criminal record and was pursuing a college degree?

This is the conversation we are having, whether we realize we are having it or not.

Jesus perhaps thought that what was at stake in this woman’s request was the reach of his ministry, what it meant to be a Messiah, or his role as a Jewish religious leader in an Roman-occupied territory that contained people groups and faiths other than his own. But this woman pointed out the truth: these are not the real questions, the real issues, the real concerns.

The question is: Who lives and who dies, and who gets to decide? This woman had the courage to answer this question in the most radical way possible, to courageously look Jesus in the eye and say, “My daughter’s life is worth something.”

She had the courage to look Jesus in the eye and say, “All lives are worth the same.”

Israeli and Palestinian lives are worth the same. African-American and Asian-American and Native American and white American lives are all worth the same. Central American and Iraqi and West African lives and North American lives are worth the same. All lives are worth the same.

Let us stare into the abyss of the world, fellow Christians, and face it with the same boldness as this woman who sought her daughter’s healing—and let it help us to find paths to healings our own. Let us declare, once and for all, that all lives are worth the same.

Furthermore, let us sit down and have real conversations about what it would mean to declare all lives to be worth the same, what it would mean for the unjust socioeconomic systems we support, for the systems of racial or gender or national privilege that we benefit from, for our national security and foreign policy, for our churches, for our governments, for our communities. 

If there’s something to emulate about Jesus in this story, it’s the quickness with which he realizes his mistake and does the right thing, offering this woman both her daughter’s healing and something much greater: an acknowledgment that a Canaanite life is worth as much as a Jewish one, or at the very least, is worth a whole lot more than nothing. 

It seems that Jesus learned something from this woman. After meeting her and healing her daughter, Jesus passes along the Sea of Galilee, healing wherever he goes. Those who were healed, it is written, “praised the God of Israel” (v. 31). Could it be that those he healed were not Israelites? That they were of other peoples? That they came to praise the God of Israel because the God of Israel had, with the help of this woman, learned to reach out beyond his own people, having learned that all lives are worth the same?

May we learn from Jesus. And may we learn from this woman, a prophet in her own time—and in ours.

All real change starts with relationship, all real relationship starts with real conversation, an all real conversations regarding systemic violence or injustice start with informed, empathetic people who want to understand the roots these issues.

Ready to have a conversation about #Ferguson and racial justice and reconciliation in America? Search for #Ferguson in Twitter for up-to-date news and read this amazing piece by Black Girl Dangerous.  If you want a longer read that is absolutely worth it, read this piece from The Atlantic. Or just read everything on this list under #Ferguson.

Ready to have a conversation about Central American refugees? Read my previous blog post and the articles cited. 

Ready to have a conversation about Israel/Palestine? Try starting here.

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The Heartland Presbyterian Church Delegation

We had a wonderful delegation visit us from Heartland Presbyterian Church this past week. We visited important historical sites, had some deep and important conversations, and spent time with the communities of Tablón Cerna and Tablón Centro. We were even able to help deliver 98 water tanks that Heartland donated to these two communities!

Many thanks to the people of Heartland for their generosity in donating these tanks so that the people of Tablón can store potable water to drink, to the delegates who were incredibly flexible during a week with lots of scheduling changes, and to the members of the Pastoral Team who helped to arrange this massive tank delivery and a delegation at the same time!

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The delegation visits the Cathedral in San Salvador as the Archbishop and El Salvador’s President honor the nation’s patron, The Divine Savior of the World. We were so lucky to be there for a few minutes of this once-in-a-year Mass!

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The delegation passes by the Chaparrastique volcano on their trip to visit El Mozote. Chaparrastique has experienced several minor eruptions since December 2013.

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Julia and Priscilla, two of the Heartland delegates, offer a blessing for the tanks. Julia read the Biblical story of the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well and asks him for Living Water (John 4). 

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The three delivery trucks that brought 72 tanks to Tablón Centro.

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A woman signs a receipt to receive her tank. Since she cannot read or write her own name, she signs with a fingerprint.

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The tanks for Tablón Cerna are delivered to the Pastoral House by the truck on the right. These large trucks cannot make it out to the communities, so we transfer them unto smaller trucks (like the one on the left) to take them the rest of the way.

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Members of the Pastoral Team, Directiva, and community of Tablón Cerna apply stickers to the tanks. They read: “Donated by the Heartland Church and the Community Pastoral House with the love of God.”

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Members of the delegation take pictures of the families that received tanks.

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The Story of a Seed Bank

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This year, Berlín is experiencing a drought. But three years ago, the farmers of this area had the opposite problem: excessive rain and flooding destroyed most of their bean crop, leaving them with no seeds to plant. The Pastoral Team, recognizing that this was an emergency situation, put out a call for help. The Iowa churches that we work with and many generous individuals responded quickly, and the Team was able to purchase bean seed for the farming families of Berlín!

Everyone was so generous, in fact, that we had funds left over after purchasing all that bean seed. So the Pastoral Team asked Compañeros, the coordinating committee for the churches we work with in Iowa, for permission to build a seed bank in one of the communities we work with. They enthusiastically said yes, and work on the seed bank began.

What is a seed bank, you ask? A seed bank is a small storehouse in which communities can safely store and distribute seeds (in Berlín, usually bean and corn seeds) for future planting. Each family that chooses to participate elects to store a certain number of pounds of seed in the bank so they can use it the following year. Seed banks have many uses and benefits:

1) Seed banks help families preserve their seeds and keep them safe from excessive heat or moisture. Many communities treat the seed stored in the bank with chemicals or organic compounds to help with this preservation.

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These silos protect the seeds from heat, moisture, and animals.

2) Seed banks can help families that run out of bean or corn seed. Families can “borrow” seeds from the bank and pay it back at a small interest rate—in pounds of bean and corn, of course, not in money.

3) Seed banks help farmers diversify their crops. In many communities, different varieties of corn are stored in the different silos within the seed bank, and families participating may elect to exchange their variety or varieties of seeds for those of their neighbors. This crop diversity is good for farmers—it protects them from losing their whole crop should one breed be wiped out by a plague, disease, or certain climatic conditions (seeing as different seeds are better adapted to certain conditions or diseases).

4) Seed banks help communities preserve and continue planting their native seeds. Native seeds are not just an important part of a community and nation’s history and culture—they are often better adapted to the community’s conditions than foreign seeds, which also tend to be more expensive for families to buy.

In other words, seed banks are incredibly important for rural farming communities. They are also highly sustainable projects, helping farmers to help themselves and work together to keep their communities fed and healthy.

In 2013, the community of Santa Cruz was chosen to receive this seed bank project and the construction began. The community built the seed bank themselves—the only thing the Pastoral Team provided was the materials—and in April 2013, the seed bank was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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The men of Santa Cruz, hard at work building the seed bank. Here in rural El Salvador, people have to mix concrete by hand.

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The mission-co worker and community leaders, along with representatives from the mayor’s office, cut the ribbon to dedicate the seed bank.

This story of this seed bank could have ended there, but thanks to some friends from New York State, it continued. In 2012, a delegation from the Presbytery of Long Island visited Santa Cruz for the first time, and in 2013, they decided that they wanted to partner with this community on a long-term basis. As a way of honoring this relationship, they began painting a beautiful mural on the seed bank. Finally, in 2014, the mural was finished. And it is absolutely a work of art!

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Many thanks to anyone who donated money for bean seed in 2011, for everyone who was supportive of the seed bank project, the people of Santa Cruz for building it, the Presbytery of Long Island folks (especially their artist-in-residence, Deb) and the youth of Santa Cruz for painting it, and the Pastoral Team for coordinating everything relating to this project. This project would not have been possible without the work of many hands–Presbyterian hands, evangelical hands, Catholic hands–we all built this together.

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The inscription above is from Psalms 133: 1: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

Indeed, it is good and pleasant to live together in unity–and it’s even more amazing what we can build together in that unity!

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The Presbytery of Long Island Delegation

Another week, another amazing delegation! We just had an amazing visit from the Presbytery of Long Island (and their friends from other churches in Long Island and El Salvador), who both partner with the community of Santa Cruz and lead dental health workshops in Berlín-area schools. They visited community homes in Santa Cruz, taught the children the story of Noah (and had them perform it as a play!), finished painting a mural on the community’s seed bank, and shared their faith, lives, and stories with the people of El Salvador. They also visited El Mozote and learned about the massacre of over 1,000 innocent people that took place there in 1981.

Many thanks to the people of the Presbytery of Long Island (et al.!), the Pastoral Team for their hard work, and the community of Santa Cruz for their hospitality. We can’t wait for you to visit us again next year!

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The delegation is greeted by a lively band upon their arrival at Santa Cruz.

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Members of the delegation and youth from the community work to finish the mural that they started last year. Photos of the completed bank will appear in a future post–stay tuned!

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Members of the delegation and schoolchildren work on a tissue-paper mural for the Noah’s ark play.

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Younger children color and decorate animal masks for the Noah’s Ark play, while Blanca offers her coloring expertise.

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The delegation members present a family in Santa Cruz with a gift.

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The delegation walks down a steep hill to visit a community home.

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The delegation visits the farms of community members to observe the current drought’s impact on the corn crop. Many in Berlín will lose some or all of their harvest this year.

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The children rehearse their Noah’s Ark play.

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The delegation plays parachute games with the children. 

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The community dances with the delegation on their last day in Santa Cruz.

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The delegation visits a replica of a guerrilla encampment in Perquín, Morazan.

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Thanks for your visit, fabulous people of Long Island!

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The Art for El Salvador Delegation

Last week, we had a small but mighty delegation from Art for El Salvador, an Iowa-based grassroots organization that seeks to use art as a means to uplift impoverished communities in rural El Salvador. For the past several years they have been raising funds to build a school, so we offered to connect them to a school in the Berlín area that was in need of their help. We introduced them to the community of Mediagua, where the community has long wanted to renovate their old, crumbling school building and add new classrooms so that children will have access to grades 7-9. Most children in this community, particularly the girls, end their education at 6th grade because their parents feel that it is too far (and too dangerous) to send them to school in downtown Berlín.

After several days of visiting with the teachers, students, and families of Caserío Mediagua, the Art for El Salvador representatives decided that Mediagua was the right place to build the school!

Of course, the community would love for the school construction to begin in late September so that the children finishing 6th grade in November might have a chance to continue their education next year. But that means that the Art for El Salvador folks have their work cut out for them to raise enough money to begin the school construction in two short months!

Be sure to check out the photos below, but more importantly, head over to Art for El Salvador’s own website here. Their organization has an amazing story behind it–learn about it, share it with others, and please consider contributing to their efforts to improve educational access here in Berlín!

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Niah and Maria, two of the sisters who founded Art for El Salvador, meet with the teachers at the school and members of the Directiva about the project.

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Maria reads a book to the children in the Mediagua school. Kids EVERYWHERE love being read to!

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Oscar, the president of the community, helps a first-grader design a custom bookmark. It was a really fun craft!

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A kindergartener shows off her bookmarks for the camera.

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Members of the Pastoral Team and the delegation walk the streets of Mediagua to visit the community’s families.

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Children laugh as they review a photo of themselves from their house visit.

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A boy poses with the friendship bracelet that he learned how to make.

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The children also enjoyed breaking piñatas and eating cake!

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Piñatas make great hats. Really.

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The community’s vice president poses with his daughter. She is finishing 6th grade this year and will not be able to continue on to 7th grade if Mediagua does not have a new school–and a new paid teacher position–by January.

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Niah, Maria, the Pastoral Team, teachers, students, Directiva members, and the project’s construction supervisors all pose together. This is going to make for a wonderful and important project!

Again, be sure to go look at Art for El Salvador’s site and read about their story here.

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The Unaccompanied Children Crisis

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“The Finding of Moses,” Arnold Friberg

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. [Exodus 2v1-3]

***

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

[from "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus]

Many people have written to me and asked me to provide them with some guidance and information regarding the child refugee crisis at the United States-Mexico border and its relationship to current conditions in El Salvador. I am more than happy to do this—with a few qualifications.

First, I want to admit that I am not an expert in refugees or immigration: like most people, I am relying on the data provided by the U.N., NGOs and other organizations, journalists, and the U.S. Border Patrol. Second, I will admit that most of my experience has been in El Salvador and not Guatemala, Mexico, or Honduras, so I intend to mostly speak to this issue as it relates to that particular country. Third, I will try to provide a citation where there are particular facts or evidence that lie outside common historical knowledge.

Fourth, I will try to cite articles that present a range of opinions about this issue, but I cannot and will not pretend to be unbiased about it myself. It is my opinion as a mission co-worker and ordained pastor that the most Christian way to address this crisis is to help these desperate children however we can—both before they leave their home countries and after they cross the border—including encouraging the government of the United States to provide refugee status to those children who face real danger and violence in their countries of origin.

Lastly, I will gladly welcome a range of opinions, questions, and sources of information about this issue in the comments. But I reserve the right to delete anything I find disrespectful or lacking in basic human compassion and common courtesy.

What is going on at the border?

In the past few years, the United States has seen a rapid increase in the number of children—some of them quite young—crossing the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied by parents or other adult family members. If this pattern continues, Border Control agents will apprehend 87,000 unaccompanied children in the fiscal year 2014. This is twice as many as last year. Tens of thousands of parents have also been crossing the border with their young children.

What is causing this immigration crisis?

First of all, it is not immigration crisis. Some have called it a “humanitarian situation” and others have labeled it a refugee crisis. In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has indicated that many of these children may qualify for international protection needs. Whatever you want to call it, this situation has more in common with the refugee crisis in southern Sudan and surrounding countries than it does with other patterns of northern immigration within the Americas. Since 1983, approximately 20,000 children, often referred to as “the Lost Boys,” have walked across the Sudanese wilderness and into neighboring countries to flee a violent and seemingly endless civil war. Would you say that the Lost Boys of Sudan were (and are) immigrants? Maybe. But they were first and foremost refugees, and so are these Central American children. Largely, these children are fleeing violence at home, not simply seeking better economic and employment opportunities in the USA (though economic issues in Central America are certainly a contributing factor).

How many children who are crossing the border feel that their lives are at risk back home? And what kind of violence are they fleeing?

The UN High Commission on Refugees report on this crisis estimates that overall, 58% of these children from Central America potentially qualify for international protection because they have “suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.” But the percentage of Salvadoran children that may qualify for this international protection is much higher. In fact, “72% of the Salvadoran children [interviewed] provided responses that raised potential international protection needs,” and “sixty-six percent of the children cited violence by organized armed criminal actors as a primary motivator for leaving.”

What kinds of threats are they facing?  The Salvadoran children interviewed stated that their daily lives were plagued by, challenges of evading extortion; witnessing murders; and navigating threats to themselves and their families, friends and neighborsThe girls shared their fears of sexual violence.”

In El Salvador (and other parts of Central America, as well), many of these “organized criminal actors” are gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Calle 18.

But seriously, what is the root cause of all this? Where did these gangs come from?

Bear with me. It’s a long story. But you really, really need to know.

There are many, many complicated interlocking causes driving this crisis. Some, which experts call “pull factors,” include a desire to seek out better economic opportunities in the United States or to reunite with family members who live there. Some also see recent immigration policy changes as another “pull factor” in this crisis, but there is little evidence to suggest that this is a significant issue.

However, it seems that the majority of these children (especially those from El Salvador) are primarily driven by “push factors” to flee their homes, including dramatic increases in gang-related violence. In El Salvador and Honduras, gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (a gang that the Obama administration has labeled as an “international criminal organization”) are recruiting children as young kindergarden—usually by force. Those that refuse to join a gang are threatened with violence or even killed. Young women are often threatened with sexual violence.

But what is the root cause? Fundamentally, it is 100 years or more of bad economic, foreign, and immigration policy on the part of the United States government with regards to Central America.

This is particularly true in El Salvador. From 1980-1992, El Salvador was gripped by an incredibly violent civil war. At least 75,000 people (and probably closer to 100,000 or 150,000 people) were killed, and 1,000,000 were displaced. This is an astounding amount of violence by any measure, but it is particularly shocking in a country with a population of just 5-6 million people.

During this conflict, the United States backed the highly oppressive, undemocratic Salvadoran government whose military forces were responsible for 85% of the war crimes committed during the conflict.  This was part of the United States’ Cold War policy of “containment”: supporting governments around the world, no matter how oppressive, that claimed to be fighting socialist or leftist rebels within their own countries in order to prevent the spread of communism. Towards the end of the war, the USA was sending the Salvadoran government over $1,000,000/day in military aid.

As a result of this American money-fueled conflict, many fled El Salvador and immigrated—either with a valid visa or not—to the United States. There, many settled in Los Angeles and other large cities with large Latino and Salvadoran populations. They quickly discovered, however, that they needed a means to defend the incoming Salvadoran population from already-established area gangs. It was on the streets of Los Angeles and other cities that Mara Salvatrucha and other now-infamous gangs were formed.

After the Civil War, the US government began deporting gang members back to their countries of origin in large numbers. Some gang members were so young when they left El Salvador for the USA that they knew no family in their home country—except those people who were part of their gang. This strengthened ties between deported gang members in El Salvador and allowed gang activity to take hold in the larger cities such as San Salvador and San Miguel, where jobs were (and are) few and poorly paid and poverty and desperation created a perfect environment for gangs to embed themselves in the social and economic landscape.

Twenty years later, these gangs have only grown in size and power, strengthened by ties with gang chapters in the U.S.A. The U.S. policy of continuously deporting gang members back to their home countries does little to help the problem. The Salvadoran government, already weakened by poverty, a shrinking coffee industry, and international trade and aid agreements that do little more than extract wealth and resources from their already-poor country for the benefit of private businesses and wealthier nations, does not have the money or resources to battle these gangs. So children are fleeing for their lives from the gang-related violence, hoping to reach the safety of the United States as their parents or grandparents’ generation did during the war.

In other words, we must be clear here: this refugee crisis is the fault of the United States government and its foolish and outdated foreign and immigration policies—policies that began decades ago. We helped the Salvadoran government tear their country to pieces in the name of “containing the communist threat,” and when Salvadorans fled to the States and formed gangs, we shipped those gangs back here, along with all the violence, crime, and trauma that they carried with them. Now, children are fleeing from these gangs. If Americans want to know where this problem is coming from, we have only to look in the mirror.

What kind of parents would send their kids over the border alone?

Desperate parents who feel that their children’s lives are in danger. Many families are too poor to pay for everyone in their family to cross the border together or to seek out legal help so that their children can travel to the U.S.A. legally, so they send their children alone. It costs thousands of dollars—at least $4,000, one local woman told me—to send someone across the border with a coyote. This is what many families here earn in one year. The process for seeking out legal refugee or immigration status is almost as expensive—and much more involved–with almost no hope of success.

Also, fellow Christians, we know this story. What kind of mother would throw her young child at the mercy of God, natural elements, and strangers in the face of his certain death? Moses’ mother. What kind of parents would carry their young child across an international border in order to protect him? Jesus’ parents. As Christians, we cannot judge these children and their families. Faced with two absolutely insane options, families everywhere will choose the option that they find slightly less insane. We must try to understand this. 

Is it safe to visit El Salvador for mission trips (especially with Our Sister Parish)?

It is as safe as taking a mission trip to Chicago or Los Angeles. Groups that visit San Salvador stay in tourist-friendly areas and only travel with drivers who to stay away from dangerous neighborhoods. San Salvador is a large city, and some areas are safer than others, as is true with all large cities in the U.S.A. If there were gang activity going on in East Garfield Park in Chicago, would you be afraid to visit the Bean and the Art Institute downtown? Probably not. As Americans, we expect other countries to be more violent and unsafe than ours is. But how unsafe you are often depends more on where you are in a country than what country you are in.

Our rural town itself has its share of crime, and there are certainly areas that we avoid visiting, particularly at night. But there is no organized gang violence here (thank God) and there are plenty of people and institutions (including the Pastoral House/Our Sister Parish) who are working to make sure gangs do not take hold here.

Also, as Blanca (a member of the Pastoral Team) reminded me, “They [the gangs] never kill foreigners. [People] didn’t even kill foreigners during the war, except nuns and priests—and that was the armed forces.” The gangs rarely if ever hurt non-Salvadorans. They know that doing so is not to their political advantage.

What can we/I do?

Continue supporting the Pastoral Team and other organizations who seek to end the root causes of violence and poverty in Central America and give people a sense of hope and community outside gang activity. If you are not familiar with Our Sister Parish, you can learn more about our work here.

Learn about what the PCUSA and other faith leaders across the political and theological spectrum are doing to address the crisis.

Learn about what happens to these children when they reach the U.S.A.

Call President Obama and your Congressmen/women and tell them that instead of making it easier to send these children home to places where they might be in real danger (as they are considering doing), they should make it easier for them to have a fair legal hearing for refugee status and to apply for asylum or refugee status from within their home countries. Tell them that, as a person of faith and a follower of Christ, you support sane and fair refugee assistance policies that protect children seeking sanctuary from violence. Not all these children need or qualify for international protection, but those that do should have a fair chance at obtaining it.

While you are on the phone with your Congressman/woman’s overworked and underpaid intern, please tell them you also support immigration reform that makes it easier for Central/Latin Americans (and other immigrants, as well) to travel to the U.S.A. to work and to study. Doing so will allow them to help their families and nations break the cycle of poverty and desperation that make them so susceptible to gang violence–violence that is driving them across the border. The answer to undocumented immigration isn’t less immigration–it is an easier, cheaper, and saner process for legal immigration. 

Finally, if you hear a fellow Christian say, “Those kids are illegal immigrants and we should send them home ASAP,” kindly remind them that Jesus and Moses also fled violent regimes as young children. Also remind them that these are children, for goodness’ sake, and if the greatest nation on earth no longer has room for the tired, the poor, the huddling masses yearning to breathe free, then we should demolish that incredibly hypocritical statue and its accompanying bronze plaque. Because protesting outside overcrowded detention centers and welcoming desperate children to the U.S.A. with chants of, “Nobody wants you,” does not just make us bad Christians. It makes us bad Americans.

Please pray for these children and their families. Could you walk for a hundred miles across a burning hot desert, even if you knew you were doing so to save your own life? As a young woman, could you risk being sexually assaulted every day on a several-thousand-mile journey to escape the same kind of violence at home? Could you do that at 10, 12, or 14 years of age? I don’t think I could do it now.

Jesus was thirsty on the cross—these children are dying of dehydration. Jesus’ feet were pierced—these children’s feet are blistered. Their broken bodies are His broken body. So let’s do what Jesus would do: meet them with lifted lamps at the door.

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Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church

It’s too bad that these folks only visited Berlín for 24 hours, because they were awesome! It is always such a pleasure to introduce a new church community to La Casa Pastoral and Our Sister Parish, especially when the delegates visiting us are as compassionate, friendly, open-hearted, and inquisitive as these folks are!

Thanks to the community of San Isidro for welcoming strangers into your homes to spend the night with you. Thanks to the Pastoral Team, as always, for taking such good care of the delegation and providing for their every need. And many thanks to the people of Brown Memorial for allowing some of your wonderful young people, and their equally wonderful adult leaders, to get to know the Pastoral Team and one of the many rural communities of Berlín. Please come back and visit us again soon!

The delegation meets with the Directiva and committees of San Isidro.

The delegation meets with the Directiva and committees of San Isidro.

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The delegation learns about the importance of seed banks.

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Delegates engage in a lively game of fútbol with the community. Blanca eventually made them restart the game because she thought that 20-some people playing at once was just silly. It was quite fun to watch, however.

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The delegation enjoys an amazing dinner. Thanks to San Isidro for sharing some of your delicious yuca!

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Heroic members of the Pastoral Team get up at 5:30am to start preparing breakfast for the delegates.

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The delegates walk back to the church in San Isidro to eat breakfast.

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The delegates prepare to leave the community. Apologies for the quality of the image–I think it was so humid that morning that my camera lens fogged up!

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