By Sue Smith
Migration isn’t new to Central America.
With a long history of heavy-handed dictators and military presence, of abuses against peasants and indigenous peoples, and the growing influence of drug cartels and gangs, there has been movement of peoples between these small countries for many decades.
And in recent years, we’ve begun to see similar movements of refugees in South America as well. Currently, as conditions in Venezuela continue to become more and more unbearable, refugees are fleeing, seeking food, medicines and medical treatment and safety.
Migration has challenged the churches of Latin America to explore new and different avenues of ministry with refugees. Baptist Conventions, Unions, and Federations across the region have stepped up to the plate to find ways to minister to migrants on their doorsteps.
The churches of Colombia are actively involved in sustainable agricultural projects to help their Venezuelan neighbors. They provide seeds to encourage home gardening, and have also provided chickens to a children’s home to produce eggs as a source of protein. At the border, they work through teachers directly with refugee children to help them maintain their studies.
Through UBACH (Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile), Chilean Baptists are raising funds to purchase 1,000 pairs of shoes to send to the families of pastors and other ministers in Venezuela. They have also initiated projects within Venezuela to offer options to migration by providing stipends to young adults to engage in ministries in their communities.
As more migrants flood into their country, Ecuadoran Baptists cite the growing need to educate their congregations about the needs of migrants and refugees, including the need for counseling and pastoral care.
Parrish Jacome, who serves as the Executive Secretary of the Baptist Union of Latin America and is a pastor in Ecuador, challenges Latin American Baptists to deeper engagement in the refugee crisis. Churches don’t need to simply collect and send things to Venezuela, he said. “For those of us who can, we should go to Venezuela, to accompany them, to pray alongside them, offer hugs. To live the experience with them.”
Through accompaniment, we grow in our understanding of what refugees and immigrants face.
Here in the U.S., we continue to experience a crisis on our southern border, and few people understand the underlying factors that drive migration.
CBF field personnel Greg and Sue Smith work directly with Latin American immigrants and asylees in the United States, and can offer training and guidance to congregations who wish to learn more. They also lead mission immersion experiences to Central America to help others understand the context for migration. Learn more about and support their ministry at www.cbf.net/smith or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.