CCDA Global Connections presents: Who is My Neighbor, a six-part blog series recounting stories and impacts from a trip to Central America, written from a CCDA perspective.
Part I: Journey Beyond the Border Wall
by Sami DiPasquale
“El Paso? El Paso… Ah yes, I came through El Paso about 20 years ago.”
That’s how my conversation with José began after I introduced myself and revealed that I live in El Paso, Texas. José and I were meeting in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and it was the beginning of a 12-day journey through Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala for members of CCDA.
José went on to tell me that twenty years ago he had made his way from his home country of El Salvador to San Francisco, and he arrived at the US border desperate and hungry, having recently been robbed. He found his way to a house in El Paso where he was warmly greeted by strangers. He was offered food and a place to sleep for a couple of days while he figured out his next steps.
I smiled as he recounted his story, suspecting that he had stayed at a place I know well, a house of hospitality for migrants in El Paso. Jose’s eyes lit up when I mentioned the name “Annunciation House,” certain that this was the place he had stayed after I showed him a picture. In a short amount of time he revealed that the two days spent in El Paso, and the hospitality he received there, had a significant impact on him, especially as he reflected on his life and dreams on the bus journey from El Paso to San Francisco.
I was deeply moved by José’s story and found myself wiping away tears the rest of the day. I was grateful for the reminder, the tangible encouragement, that the work in El Paso with sojourners was not isolated; that the asylum-seekers I periodically volunteer with are not just a stream of faces passing through town, from a mysterious source to an unknown destination. They are individuals with names and stories that have a beginning and a continuation and maybe, more often than we know, a powerful and miraculous progression such as José’s.
Our encounters along the way matter. The hospitality that José received in my city had factored into his story, into his journey, and in a small way into the vision God has planted in his heart to return to Central America to serve in one of the most marginalized communities in Honduras.
I had the opportunity to meet José in Tegucigalpa through an effort of CCDA Global Connections to provide vision and learning opportunities for members of CCDA. Our group was journeying through Central America to meet people like José and hear their stories, to learn more about our neighbors to the south who are being pushed to migrate and risk all for a better life in the US.
José’s story represented to me an antidote, a beautiful and unlikely alternative, to what too often is a common tragic story. Instead of a cycle of poverty and violence it stands out to me as a cycle of grace.
We journeyed to understand the contextual realities that are push factors involved in the decision to take the treacherous trail north. We journeyed to cultivate strategic relationships, discover signs of hope and envision our role in God’s restorative story. This was the second such trip (the first was in the Middle East) mobilized through CCDA Global Connections to meet with Christian community development counterparts in contexts outside of the United States. Hopefully there will be many more trips to come.
Over the course of twelve days in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Guatemala/Mexico border we visited an incredibly wide variety of people serving in some of the most impoverished, neglected and dangerous communities in the region. We visited churches, youth centers, researchers, government officials, businesses both big and small, former gang members, human rights workers, farmers and a movement of youth workers. We encountered saints whose spirit and words will remain with us for a long time to come. Over the course of our journey our hearts were broken by the poverty, gang violence, and corruption that quickly became so evident. And yet we were incredibly encouraged by those standing strong in their communities, and also challenged by the words given to us to share with the church in the US.
José’s story represented to me an antidote, a beautiful and unlikely alternative, to what too often is a common tragic story. Instead of a cycle of poverty and violence it stands out to me as a cycle of grace. We heard of the familiar pattern of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, making the treacherous journey north, and struggling to survive in neglected and under-resourced communities in the US.
Some get caught up in gang involvement, imprisoned for crimes, and deported back to Central America where they often perpetuate more criminal gang activity in their home countries, which in turn leads to an increase in poverty, violence, corruption and disintegrated families.
José similarly fled the violence of civil war in El Salvador. Yet instead of ending up isolated and hopeless in the US, he was embraced in his new city by a community of friends. Over time he joined their movement, InnerCHANGE, a CCDA-member organization and Christian order among the poor. He began serving others in the community who were struggling with poverty, loss and addiction. José and his wife eventually felt called to Nueva Capital, an impoverished and dangerous colonia of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Unlike some who return to Central America against their will, wreaking havoc, José returned to take his place in a vision of restoration, healing and justice. Jose returned as part of a positive solution.
José expressed his desire to communicate to the church in the US that the hospitality we offer matters. The kindness we show or withhold matters. The embrace we offer those who end up in our communities’ matters. The community development efforts we invest in matter.
A dear sister in Guatemala shared, “Don’t see immigrants as a problem but as a blessing. Migration is giving you the opportunity to love your neighbors, touching and hugging those that no one wants to touch. Every person that crosses your doorway is an opportunity to be part of the Kingdom. Jesus is either going to reward us or demand an account for our actions.”