I’ve noticed, especially as of late, how countless individuals have gone above and beyond to reach out to those affected by the border crisis. Recently, a delegation from the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) El Salvador Committee made a trip to El Salvador and saw the heart of the crisis first hand—the violence, insecurity, and love, that drives parents to send their children to safety.
In this email interview, Kelly Baugh, a member of the delegation, shares her experiences on the trip with Erin Phelps, former LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern.
Erin Phelps (EP): What did you see and learn on your synod’s delegation trip to El Salvador?
Kelly Baugh (KB): The purpose of our delegation trip is to continue building a mutual companion synod relationship between the Metro DC Synod and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in which we learn from each other and grow in faith together. The delegation met with representatives from Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in El Salvador, members of the ACT Alliance, the minister of the environment for El Salvador (an active Lutheran), leaders of the Salvador Lutheran Synod, and congregation members. We learned about the desperate circumstances that have led some families to use all available resources and go into debt to send their children on the precarious journey to the United States.
We were particularly impressed with the kindness and hospitality of the people we met. Families welcomed our group and shared what they had with us. Every place we visited we heard stories of violence, gangs, and lack of opportunity. But in the midst of that we saw life in the church—the friendships and love that these people share.
I learned people are people with feelings and goodness in any situation. These people wanted what is good, just like we do for our families. I learned that we had a hand in their pain, with our foreign policy toward Central America and with the infusion of gangs.
In one congregation, a member of the delegation asked a young man who had a scholarship to study at the university what he saw himself doing in 5 years, in 10 years. The question brought the young man to tears as he was overcome with emotion. Given the peril in which he and his family find themselves living with on a daily basis, he could not think about 5 or 10 years from now. But, the support and love he received from the congregation made it possible for him to answer the question and begin to imagine his future. Our relationship with this companion synod, our friendship, strengthens them. They know they are not alone.
EP: How has the trip shaped the group’s understanding of the current situation of children and family migrants from Central America?
KB: We processed, with heartfelt compassion, the plight of families and children as they try to navigate through a maze of bad situations to get the best for their families. We heard the stories of the immigrants. We heard the stories of the unemployed. We heard their struggle and desperation. Families did not want to risk everything to send their children on this dangerous journey to the United States; they felt they had no choice. It was a choice made from a parent’s desperation to keep their child safe. Home was no longer a safe place due to the violence and threats from gangs.
EP: What does your team plan to do next?
KB: We are still working on it. But we plan to visit our congressional representatives to share our experience from the mission to El Salvador and advocate for compassionate and humane treatment of the children and their families. We also plan to educate our fellow congregants about the situation in El Salvador through a Sunday school series on how we can better serve the immigrants in our community.
Another delegation from our synod will travel to El Salvador in the summer of 2015 and we welcome others to join us!
EP: What advice to you have for Lutherans who are interested in engaging with churches in Central America and advocacy efforts related to immigration?
KB: Do it. They need the friendship and support – and so do we! But, be warned that as you engage with the wonderful people of El Salvador, you will never be the same. Their stories of hope despite challenge will stay with you and will change you.