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Church leaders explore ways to help migrants in Mexico (UM News)

June 24, 2022

A group of leaders from the Methodist Church of Mexico and The United Methodist Church traveled to southern Mexico April 16-23 to meet with groups working with immigrants crossing the country’s southern border.

Though there is no Methodist presence in southern Mexico, the leaders are seeking ways to partner with other denominations and organizations in the area.

Tens of thousands of migrants from different countries entered Mexico through its southern border last year. Mexico’s Commission for Refugee Assistance reported that more than 100,000 asylum applications had been submitted in 2021 — the highest figure yet reported and more than twice the number submitted in 2020. That doesn’t take into account the numbers who enter without declaring asylum.

Many of those same migrants will eventually find their way to northern Mexico or the U.S., where Methodist and United Methodist churches have ministries to help them.

“We would like for churches to work together to make the walk of the migrants as easy as possible, and pastoral support is so important,” said Bishop Raquel Balbuena Osorio of the Methodist Church of Mexico.

The Methodist group’s trip began in Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala — the route for a number of nationalities traveling through Central America. The team attended Easter Sunday services at Seventh Baptist Church and Second Church of the Nazarene. Both churches have formed faith communities with Haitian immigrants and host services in French and Creole.

Pastor María Marroquín of Second Church of the Nazarene said she doesn’t have enough words to express what the Haitian ministry has meant to her.

“Seeing the state of need in which they come, the difficulties and limitations that they live with here, but you can see them in the temple on Sundays, with overflowing joy and gratitude for what they have received,” she said. “They fill us with a lot of hope.”

They visited several shelters and institutions that provide support to migrant families in the south and center of the country, including the Catholic-run Bethlehem Diocesan shelter.

Father Cesar Augusto Cañaveral Pérez, the shelter’s general director, said that he welcomes the opportunity to partner with The Methodist Church.

“When we work together, you don’t talk about religious difference; we all work together for the same objective,” Pérez said. “We are fulfilling some of the commands of the gospel: to give food to the hungry and accept the foreigner.”

Claudia Berenice Cruz Mérida, director of Immigration and International Policy for the Tapachula City Council, told the group that her city — which she calls “the gateway to migration” — also welcomes potential partnerships with the church to promote safe, orderly and regular migration.

Sergio Luna, the shelter’s director, said that migrants following the train route likely don’t have money for other means of travel and are only looking for somewhere to rest a while, perhaps a meal and a shower or first aid.

“I consider our work to be humanitarian aid,” he said. “The flux of people is constant and this route is very dangerous. They suffer physical aggressions, kidnappings and extortion.”

The Rev. Joel Hortiales, director of Hispanic/Latino ministries and border concerns for the California-Pacific Conference, said, “The immigrant is a person, not a number. You feed them and treat them like a person.”

Hortiales described the trip as an educational one that highlighted the complexities of immigration and pointed out that migration “is not from Mexico only, not to the U.S. only, but is worldwide.”

The Rev. Toña Rios, a pastor at Baldwin Park United Methodist Church in Baldwin Park, California, and a native of El Salvador, said visiting with migrants in the shelters was “heartbreaking” for her.

“When I see them, I see me. I have seen their struggles to find housing and food,” she said. “I want my brothers and sisters from the U.S. to understand at least 1% of the reality we live when we come from the other side of the border.”