Reflection: A renewed commitment to the marginalized
As people around the world continue to struggle with a dismal economic outlook, we find ourselves asking how our church can encourage society and governments to take meaningful strides toward just monetary relationships and trade policies that respect brothers and sisters at home and in other countries.
How can the church challenge our governments' economic policies to serve not only our interests and needs but also be part of God's redemptive project of resurrection and reconciliation? If we are a people of resurrection, how can we proclaim a message of reconciling relationships in the world? And how can we as Christians change our personal economic practices to be less conforming to savage capitalism and more conforming to the pursuit of just peace?
We are an intergenerational group of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers, a pastor, a social worker and a researcher, all of whom participated in a learning tour to Mexico in October 2008. The tour was focused on women and migration issues, and was hosted by MCC and partner organizations in Mexico. We spent four days on the northern border of Mexico and five days in the southern state of Chiapas to learn about the dynamics of these border regions.
When we asked migrant women why they risk so much and make the decision to leave their children, their homes and their families to migrate, the answer was devastatingly similar for all: "We have no other choice."
U.S. and Canadian economic policies toward all of Latin America and the Caribbean have been harmful to the region's poorest over the last 20 years. The effects of these policies are being seen on the children of today. Children are growing up without parents because both have migrated to the United States to work. They are caught in a web of growing violence and social breakdown. Migration from Central America and Mexico to the U.S. and Canada skyrocketed from 1994 to 2000, increasing by 300 percent. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, bringing overproduced, oversubsidized North American agricultural products into Mexico. Small-scale, local agricultural production has been devastated.
The rules — perhaps myths — of free-market economics do not take into account human need or social welfare. These rules seek to provide the most efficient framework in which those who are able to compete are able to win, and win as much as possible. After witnessing the resulting humanitarian crisis in the two border regions, we need to ask: Is this economic system consistent with Jesus' steadfast denunciation of violence, division and destruction? Is this the economic system of a reconciling God?
The migrant women we met told their stories and entrusted us with their testimonies and with their dignity. For these reasons, we who saw injustice and heard the cry of a people are saying to the church: Now is the time to rethink how we do economics, keeping in mind the widow, the foreigner, the orphan, the oppressed, the marginalized, as Jesus taught us to do. In solidarity with them and women around the world, we invite Anabaptist churches in Canada and the United States to consider three commitments:
1. To challenge ourselves and others to strive toward personal consumption and purchasing habits that reflect a Christian ethic of integrity and compassion;
2. To work toward creating sustainable and reconciling communities so that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a world that is better than this, and not a world on the brink of destruction because of insatiable needs for nonrenewable and "cheap" resources;
3. To call on our church leaders and governments to promote economic practices that create instead of destroy, uphold justice and not oppression, and promote equality and not exploitation.
Eileen Viau, Spring Mount Mennonite Church, Pa.
Linda Gehman Peachey, East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, Pa.
Emma Frederick, Franconia Conference, Pa.
Lynette Mast, Park View Mennonite Church of Harrisonburg, Va.
Luann Good Gingrich, Mannheim Mennonite Church, Ontario
Rebecca Bartel, Veraguas Brethren in Christ Church, Bogotá, Colombia
Marion Meyer, Mexico City