Immigrants bring mission field to U.S.

by Alfredo Ballesta, Guest Columnist |
Five migrants from Central America end their protest -- outside the National Migration Institute (INM) in Mexico City August 16, 2014 -- after demanding reforms in the U.S. immigration laws, which regulate the illegal exodus of children into the U.S. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

CANELONES, Uruguay (Christian Examiner) – What could be so important for you to leave everything behind – your family, your friends, your job, your comfort zone – to put your life at risk and start all over again?

Whatever your answer, it would need to be something really big.

So, what's big enough to cause thousands of Central Americans to immigrate to the United States every month?

G. M. is a young man from Honduras. He's 21 years old, proud of his mixed-African heritage and loves to play his African drum whenever he can. He moved to Mexico and set up in a community outside of Mexico City, but his goal is to live and work in the U.S.

He and his family left Honduras because of poverty and violence.

He's not the only one.

Around 50 percent of the people his age in his ethnic group are moving away from their homes, trying to get to the U.S., and many are bringing wives and children with them.

There are jobs in Honduras and Mexico, but salaries are really low.

"Our money is not good. We don't have enough resources at home," G.M. said. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation.

Most of them have seen parents and grandparents spend all their lives working really hard just to pay the bills and provide, barely, for the needs of their families.

Vacations are a dream. Christmas or birthdays are a luxury -- a typical present in the U.S. costs about two years of salary for most Central Americans. Days off, even for sickness, just aren't possible.

It is not just adults who seek relief.

During the first half of 2014, 47,000 children traveled on their own to the U.S., mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They're running away from poverty and insecurity to the safety of school systems where they can study, work and live safely. The news of such "luxuries" sent home by each successive wave beckons more to come. Now, U.S. authorities fear the number of children under 18 emigrating from Central America could reach 90,000 for the remainder of the year.

All of these newcomers, adults and children, consider the U.S. the land of opportunities. They feel the sacrifices of leaving behind families and friends, and facing uncertainties and dangers are worth the chance to change their lives. It doesn't mean they don't love their families or that they won't miss them. Many will start sending money back home as soon as they have a regular income. But the different lifestyle is a big enough reward to take the risks in order to come to the USA.

This situation is a critical challenge and important opportunity for Christians. God is bringing the mission field to our front door. Legal or illegal, these immigrants are people in need, the broken-hearted for whom God cares.

When they arrive, everything is new for them, and they try to learn the culture where they live. A small minority might balk at changing language or other elements of their fomer culture. But the new generations, those who study in American schools, relate to being Americans and want to blend in. Most of them are open to new things, and many are ready to listen about Jesus.

So, church, wake up! The harvest is at our doors.

Alfredo Ballesta is a pastor in Uruguay with contacts throughout Central and South America. He is the spanish editor for GTN News, a Christian media outlet in southeast Texas, and the prospective pastor of a spanish-speaking congregation in Beaumont, Texas.