For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.

[Deuteronomy 10:17-18]

Reviewing the routes the night before departing.
Reviewing the routes the night before departing.

The day after the Presidential election here in the United States, I landed in Guatemala City, Guatemala, to begin a week-long international observation mission on human rights along the Mexico-Guatemala border. I was one of 24 observers from ten different nations that included Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. We represented 20 agencies and organizations, both religious and secular, that are concerned with the issue of human rights. Together with the mission organizers, we totaled over 50 people, and picked up more along the way.

Alaide and me hold up the mission logo.
Alaide and me hold up the mission logo.

I was accompanied by Alaide Vilchis-Ibarra, Assistant Director, Migration Policy and Advocacy for the ELCA. The observers were split into two groups and proceeded along two different routes that are normally taken by migrants who leave their countries of origin as immigrants and refugees.

In all, we visited 17 cities, spoke to representatives from 70 different organizations affected by issues of displacement and violence. Many of these violations were committed against the indigenous people of this region, of Mayan descent. But they were not the only victims. We visited and spoke to peasant and urban people, with little or no educational and work options which would allow them to support their families, constantly threatened by organized crime, misinformation and hopelessness.

2016-11-13-mision-internacional-048The area is full of gorgeously breathtaking scenery, lush green vegetation, rich in agriculture and natural resources; and that is what makes it the target of those forces who are working in opposition to the people in this region: the government, global business enterprises, and organized crime.

In the name of progress, energy, mining, tourism and agroindustry interests want to avail themselves of the territory and consequently, displace the people of these communities who have lived here and trace their ancestry back to pre-colonial times. The dire effects would be contamination of the soil and water sources, creating an imbalance to the ecosystem, not to mention health hazards.

The narratives we heard were heartbreaking. Yet, the people we met have learned to live in the precarious uncertainty of their existence. Some found their strength in their faith, others in the solidarity of their communities, and still others in the hope that they gleaned from our willingness to listen to their stories.

The observers on the day of departure.
The observers on the day of departure.

It was a physically exhausting, emotionally draining and intense time. Over the next few days, I hope to relate some of their stories. My aim is to put a human face on the issues of migration. We here in the United States fail to understand why a person would pick up and leave his or her country of origin to travel here. To many of us, opportunity is wanting a bigger house, a more modern car, or a large screen TV. To the migrant, it is wanting to live in safety, have adequate nourishment, and access to those basic needs that enable us to do more than merely survive.

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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