A God Who Migrates

by Bonnie Klassen

These are reflections that Bonnie gathered while listening to MCC partners from nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, shared during a three-day encounter of 36 people in Honduras focused on the theme of migration. 

A God Who Migrates photo 1
MCC Photo/Anna Vogt

In 2018, media coverage of the migrant caravans or the exodus of Central Americans walking north put the everyday reality of the Latin American-Caribbean region in the limelight for a few weeks as if it were something unusually negative, like a hurricane churning through.  Another “migration crisis.” If we could just build a barrier or fix the causes, we could stop migration.

No. Migration, around the globe, is more like the direction that the river flows. For millions of people, not-migrating means digging in and standing up against the momentum of this water, with a great amount of persistence, deep identity, social support and inner strength, and always at risk. Perhaps some people simply try to quietly bend down beneath the global systemic tidal waves, but often enough these ones get bowled over.

“Migration in Latin America has a first name – forced.”
– César Ramos, Honduras

A God Who Migrates photo 2
MCC Photo/Anna Vogt

In response to overwhelming socio-political and economic forces, pressing down from global to local and back out to global again, migration is an escape valve. Like the pressure-cooker in every Latin American kitchen, the tension bound up within inviable socio-economic contexts must escape, otherwise it explodes. Thousands of Hondurans and millions of Venezuelans walking out of their countries are not exploding. Explosions don’t walk. But this is painful form of nonviolent protest for those who walk.

“Money now guides our lives. Nothing amazes us anymore and we are careless with life. We have lost our traditional connection to the Pacha Mama. Pacha Mama is out of our hearts and just in speeches. We have exiled God from our lives and lost our concern for each other and for the land.”
– Oscar Rea, Bolivia

Pressure comes from global and local economic models that prioritize immediate efficiency and disintegrate into foolishness in the long-term. These models of development have de-valued small-scale agriculture that cultivates food and have pushed millions of people into the city where it is more efficient to count heads, collect taxes and channel people into schools and health care. In a few short decades, the Latin American-Caribbean region has flipped from being 80% rural to becoming 80% urban. The current generation of farmers might keep one foot in the countryside and one in the city, but their children have left the land for good. In another 20 years, who will be left growing food? Who will still know how which side of the yucca (cassava) seed to stick in the ground and when the time is right to plant beans? Then what will all of us across the Americas eat?

“La Bestia is a metaphor – the merchandise well protected inside the train and people without protection and in danger on the outside”
– Manuel Suarez, Honduras

We can’t look for simple causes to address and well-defined issues to fix. Like so many things, migration is complex. I came into this encounter already concluding that people have the right to migrate and people have the right to not-migrate. I could think of some specific, albeit insufficient, strategies to work towards both rights. The Latin American voices around me went deeper than this. “We have the right to roots and we have the right to dignity.”

A God Who Migrates photo 3
Daniela Sanchez (sitting down), Victoria Mamani, Bonnie Klassen, María de Melo, and Oscar Rea. MCC Photo/Anna Vogt

Migration is often portrayed as a problem or a crisis. We must de-mythicize migrants as a threat, as a risk. Linking migration to peacebuilding brings to the surface the potential for transforming reality by connecting people from different places and perspectives, reshuffling the global socio-economic mosaic.

“Building a culture of peace implies changing global power structures across the world because they are violent structures. This is overwhelming. But we can transmit hope in everything we do… moments of hope are moments of peace… We can’t wait for structures and policies to give us dignity and happiness. We have to choose dignity and happiness in our daily lives and create hope.”
– Deyanira Clériga Morales, Mexico

To explain what creating hope means, Deyanira shared the story of a group of indigenous women who had been deported back to Chiapas, Mexico, by the United States. When asked what kinds of workshops they wanted, the women clearly responded that they didn’t just want to learn about defending human rights. They wanted to go swimming in the river, dance and ride bicycles. This was also a defense of their rights.

What then are we called to do? To live together. To listen deeply. To overcome fear. To share pain. To renew faith. To heal hearts. To honor memory. To appreciate each other. To embrace humanity and hospitality. To know God who migrates. To respect diversity. To hold onto gratitude.

“We are people that struggle–we carry that in our blood–but we can also be intentional in building networks of support and solidarity among us.”
– Daniela Sanchez, Ecuador

A God Who Migrates photo 4
Migration Encounter group photo, March 2019. MCC Photo/Anna Vogt


Bonnie Klassen is the Area Director for MCC South America, Mexico, and Cuba.

This post was originally published by MCC Latin America and Caribbean on April 25, 2019 and is also available in Spanish.

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