Since 1946, local faith communities have been at the heart of CWS responses to forced displacement. When we conceived of this research in 2019, it was because of our conviction that local faith communities remain as essential in welcoming the stranger in today’s global migration context as they were nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
And yet, while our own connections to regional and national ecumenical networks in Latin America and the Caribbean are strong, we ourselves had not cultivated many relationships with grassroots faith communities – the church in the neighborhood – specific to migration. We knew, anecdotally, of many responses taking place with respect to the Venezuelan migration crisis. In looking to learn more about the work of Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal communities that comprise our faith base, we found a gap in documentation – and, it seemed, in broader recognition – of these important efforts to offer support to Venezuelans fleeing terrible conditions.
So, we embarked on a journey to understand where, how, and why local faith responses were being organized. Along the way, we reaffirmed the strong motivation of faith communities to care for the vulnerable. We learned about creative approaches to mobilizing local resources and volunteers. We met congregational leaders using their social capital to engage others, including migrant faith leaders, so that activities could be sustained and broadened. Many described a morally rooted commitment to accountability in providing care, not unlike standards for humanitarian assistance. We did not think it when we began, but this journey felt like one of rediscovering our own roots as an organization.
In early 2020, not long after interviews were completed, the coronavirus pandemic became our global reality. Guayaquil, one of the locations where interviews took place, became the region’s first epicenter. Migrants working in the informal economy are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s impacts. Local faith communities have responded where they can, by offering temporary shelter to migrants facing eviction, or by calling governments to extend critical social protections to all persons in need, regardless of nationality. They have extended care and concern to Venezuelan migrants who are once again in transit – many facing acute distress, unable to stay where they are, yet without alternatives other than ones that lead back to the very same distress.
Times of crisis are when we most need to infuse action with hope and with faith. In the words of our President and CEO, Reverend John McCullough, “The faith community has something powerful to offer to people when their hearts are breaking. No other community can speak better about hope than we can because no one knows the power of empathy more than we do; and no people is more capable of inspiring others to believe that there are solutions to the world’s most complex problems because we believe that in God all things are possible.” We hope that this report shines a light on the important roles of local faith communities in accompanying Venezuelan migrants; and we have faith that in seeing these efforts, we can also see a future that is free from the distress and suffering that so many people on the move face today.
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