Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
As I endured emergency surgeries and harsh chemo and radiation treatments throughout 2016 and 2017, I sometimes wondered if I would survive another day. When pain exceeded what I thought I could endure, I initiated important conversations with God, my family, my friends, and the Food for the Hungry Board of Directors. I never knew if one of those chats would be the last time I talked with someone.
Even as a Christian, the idea of death scared me. It’s an unknown experience, and we humans fear the unknown.
During those uncertain days, I often thought of Joshua 1:6. Be strong. Be courageous. Trust God’s promises.
I have survived.
My wife and I celebrated Thanksgiving with a couple who now face another kind of fear. The wife entered the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in January 2001 shattered her life in El Salvador.
More than 2,500 aftershocks terrorized El Salvadorans during the weeks that followed the initial quake, one a magnitude 5.7. Deadly mudslides followed. More than 1,500 people died, and thousands were injured. Homes, schools, and other buildings collapsed or became uninhabitable. Sanitation didn’t exist. People lacked food, clean water, and healthcare. Disease became a major concern.
Americans are generous people and invited El Salvadorans to live temporarily in the U.S. until their communities could be rebuilt.
While my friend has become a U.S. citizen because of her marriage, many recently received notice that their protected status will end in 2019.
They must go home.
But where is home? After nearly 20 years in the U.S., these refugees from El Salvador have homes, jobs, and community connections. They already overcame the struggle of resettling in a foreign land and assimilating into a new culture. For many, their children know no other home. When they return to El Salvador, they may not have family or communities with whom they can once again start over.
In my years of working in relief and development, I’ve seen repatriation like the people of El Salvador now face. When they go home, they’re viewed as newcomers, maybe even with hostility. People fear these outsiders will take their jobs or expect welfare handouts.
If they were educated in the U.S., their credentials mean nothing in El Salvador. Their children often can’t speak the local language or get into Salvadoran universities.
Food for the Hungry already was looking into working in El Salvador before we heard that the Salvadoran TPS would expire, but now we’re moving with a new urgency to help these people who are likely being exported back to what they consider a foreign land and culture that is totally different than where they’ve been living. I challenge you to help us help them.
How Christians Can Help Their Transition Back to El Salvador
As you consider how you might help, I encourage you to have empathy and compassion for these people without letting it become pity. Jesus would look at something like this and implore you to open up your heart. These are people created in the image and likeness of God. Listen to them. Love them. Reach out to them. Become mindful, prayerful, sensitive. We can’t take people away from the suffering, hardship, and difficulties they face, but we can help in significant ways.
As when God told the exiled nation of Israel to ignore false prophets and settle down in Babylon, our strategy with El Salvadorans resettling in their homeland will be to help them get settled. You can help in this endeavor.
Learn. Research organizations that do the kind of work in which you want to be a part.
Pray. The plight El Salvadorans face needs God’s intervention and peace.
Give. Food for the Hungry is in the business of helping people. We help refugees, and we help people resettle. We’re exploring how we can help the people who must now resettle in El Salvador, and we’re active in many other parts of the world where refugees have fled. You can give to our work here.
And If You Need Encouragement
In Joshua 1:6-9, God tells the Israelites who had been exiled to Babylon to have courage. As I endured months of cancer treatments, God reminded me to have courage. The people repatriating to El Salvador must have courage. And if you face a struggle right now, I want to encourage you to look to God and have courage.
Courage to surrender to God’s processes — you may face discomfort, confusion, and challenges that seem daunting. Still, submit to God. You may come to the end of the process as a stronger person in some aspect of your life.
Courage to trust God – He won’t take you to places that He can’t help you navigate. When the hills seem too high and the valleys too deep, pause to ask for God’s provision and guidance. You may be surprised where he takes you. And remember He is good.
Courage to ask others for help – even though problems shove many people into a desire to isolate themselves, don’t succumb. You don’t have to go it alone. Swallow your pride and ask friends, family, or co-workers for help. If you lack those relationships, find a hotline that deals with your kind of issue.