From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Re: MCC offers assistance to Iranian earthquake victims

From Mennonite Central Committee Communications
Date 19 May 1997 11:16:16

TOPIC:  MCC offers assistance to Iranian earthquake victims
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Pearl Sensenig
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

AKRON, Pa. -- Lentils and cooking oil supplied by Mennonite Central
Committee (MCC) to the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) are
likely being used to aid victims of Iran's latest earthquake.   The IRCS
is the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

Iran is particularly prone to natural disasters -- last year 200
earthquakes occurred there, as well as numerous floods.  As a result,
MCC provides the IRCS with an annual grant and with food and other
items the organization can stockpile so it can respond quickly when
disasters strike.    

 On May 10 a quake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale devastated
northeastern areas of Iran.  In a May 13 fax to MCC headquarters, the
Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) reported 1,613 people killed,
more than 3,712 injured and more than 10,000 families left homeless.

In April Ron Mathies, MCC's executive director, visited Iran and
observed the IRCS had MCC-supplied food in stock -- food that is
now likely being used for the earthquake victims.  As well, just days
prior to this earthquake, an MCC shipment of 400 metric tons of
lentils left a Canadian port bound for Iran.  This food, supplied
through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, was originally intended for
refugees, but may now go to earthquake victims instead.

This year MCC has promised $70,000 Cdn./$50,000 U.S. to the IRCS
for emergency response.  MCC is now requesting donations to help
meet this commitment.  Mail checks, designated for Iran, to your
nearest MCC office. 

Since 1990 MCC has contributed money and material goods -- food,
blankets, laundry soap and medical supplies -- valued at $3.5 million
Cdn./$2.5 million U.S. to the IRCS.  The IRCS used this aid to help
refugees from neighboring Iraq and Azerbaijan and for victims of
natural disasters within Iran.  As well, following the Persian Gulf War
MCC sent a doctor and a medical social worker to Iran for three
months to work in an IRCS field hospital for Iraqi refugees.

MCC first became involved in Iran in 1990 when an earthquake killed
an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people.  This began MCC's seven-year
relationship with the IRCS.  In 1995 Sadreddin Sadr, MCC's primary
IRCS contact, spent four months as an international partner-in-
residence in MCC's Washington office.

In addition to humanitarian assistance, MCC is planning a student
exchange program with Iran to begin in 1998.  During his April visit
Mathies signed an agreement with Iranian officials that will enable
North American MCC workers to study in Iran and Iranians to study in
North America.

The goal is to establish closer people-to-people contacts between
Muslims in Iran and Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in North
America, despite government policies that restrict many other forms of
interaction.  The student exchange with Iran is modeled after a similar
MCC program that took place in Eastern European countries during
the Cold War era.

"This education exchange with Iran offers opportunity to build bridges
mutual understanding and trust," says Mathies.


pls16may1997TOPIC:  As Muslim fundamentalists gain power, Iraqi Christians face precarious existenc
Canadian aid delegation shows Western Christians care about Iraqis
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Pearl Sensenig
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

BAGHDAD, Iraq --     During an April trip to Iraq, a delegation from
a Canadian Christian humanitarian agency was asked for an interview
on state-controlled television.

Some members of the group -- in Iraq to determine an appropriate
food-aid response to that country -- hesitated because they feared what
they said would be manipulated in favor of President Saddam
Hussein's regime.

A Christian relief worker living in Iraq urged the group to agree to the
interview because it would show Iraqis that Western Christians cared
about them, regardless of faith. In particular, it might help reduce
some Islamic groups' intense dislike of the church.

In the end the delegations agreed to the interview. "It's a way of
showing that we believe God's rain falls on everybody," said a
member of the delegation.

It was a reminder of the sensitive relationship between Christians and
Muslims in the country and the growing power of more fundamentalist
Islamic groups in Iraq.  

"Christians, being a minority, are in a delicate position," says Ed Epp
who directs Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) Middle East
programs.  About 5 percent of Iraqis are Christian. This includes
mainly Chaldeans linked to the Roman Catholic church, Syrian
Orthodox, the Assyrian Church and some Protestants.

Epp was a member of a Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) delegation
that travelled to Iraq in April.  U.N. sanctions imposed more than six
years ago have crushed the country, and malnutrition is common. 
MCC, through CFGB, is considering additional food aid to Iraq to help
alleviate hunger.  In 1996 MCC sent 57,600 cans of meat to Iraq to be
distributed to hospitals, orphanages and other institutions.

Although Iraq's current regime is secular, it is under growing pressure
from some Islamic groups to embrace their religious ideals. 

The precarious position of Christians in many Middle Eastern countries
is why MCC works closely with indigenous churches there, says Epp.
"We don't want to undermine them."

This can be difficult for Western, church-based organizations like
MCC. "One bishop in Jerusalem told me the biggest problem Middle
East churches have is Western Christianity," he said.

Seen from afar, Christianity and Western government policy often
appear closely linked. "The problem church organizations like MCC
have is separating themselves from Western agenda."

That shouldn't surprise North Americans, he said. "The same thing
happens to Muslims here." For example, immediately after the
Oklahoma City bombing, some speculated that an Arab power was
responsible.  As a result some Muslims in the United States were
beaten before the American president stepped in and pleaded for calm.

Christians in Iraq have honed their survival skills after centuries of
living as a minority.  They look after each other. When the CFGB
delegation went out to eat, more often than not it was to a restaurant
owned by a Christian.

A bishop in Iraq runs a medical dispensary out of one of his church
buildings.  All are welcome, he said.  But not all are comfortable. 
During a recent visit there, Epp saw a Muslim woman who preferred
to wait outside.

Preferential treatment based on faith is a common suspicion. In a
conversation with a high-ranking government official, a member of the
CFGB group hinted that a shipment of seeds for Iraq, sent from the
West had been rejected because it came through a Christian agency.

The Iraqi official was quick to point out that this wouldn't happen
with him in charge because he too was a Christian.

Over the years, MCC has discovered that to maintain its effectiveness
in countries like Iraq it must be seen as taking a position that moves
beyond the politics in the region. Sometimes this means challenging
official U.S. and Canadian government positions.

"It's like one bishop told us when we asked how we could help the
church," said Epp. "He told us, `You can help the church by
supporting the people.'  And that's what we try to do."

In Iraq, MCC works closely with the Middle East Council of Churches
and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, both of which are scrupulous about
spreading relief supplies equally among the various faith and ethnic
groups in the country.  The Red Crescent Society is the Islamic
equivalent of the Red Cross.


Rick Fast, MCC Canada Communications


Rick Fast was a member of a Canadian Foodgrains Bank delegation
that visited Iraq from April 1 
to 11.

MCC photo available:  Pictured is a ward in Baghdad's largest
pediatric hospital, which now lacks even the most basic medical
supplies.  In mid-May MCC sent Dr. David Wiebe of Kearney, Neb.,
and Dr. James Snyder of Cambridge, Ont., to this hospital for three
weeks to perform surgeries and to help Iraqi surgeons upgrade their
skills.  Prior to entering Iraq the two doctors spent several days in
Jordan shopping for some $28,000 Cdn./$20,000 U.S. worth of
medical supplies to carry with them.  MCC plans to send two more
surgical teams to Iraq later this year. (MCC photo by Rick Fast)
TOPIC:  Honduran Mennonites acted when it was dangerous to act
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Emily Will
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduran Mennonites recently turned
what are likely the concluding pages of a life-changing saga.

In the 1980s these Christians risked their lives and reputations to help
Salvadoran war victims who had fled to their country in search of
refuge.  Now, some 15-plus years later, they assisted the last 42
refugees -- living where the Mesa Grande refugee camp once stood --
on their return to El Salvador.

"It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to participate in this
last stage of helping the refugees," commented Honduran Mennonite
pastor Isaias Flores.  "We felt we were able to serve these people who
were foreigners here.  It was an opportunity for the church to be a

Flores served as president of the national church during much of the
war.  He and his wife, Berta, accompanied the last group of refugees
on their April 4 trip home, as did Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC) workers Clair and Galen Litwiller.   The Litwillers serve with
the Honduran church's Social Action Commission in the border
community of Tambla.

Honduran Mennonites of the San Marcos Mennonite Church became
involved with the refugees partly because of their close physical
proximity to the camps.  They could see the needs of the thousands of
people displaced from their homes and fields.

But the decision to help was not an easy one.  By 1980s' Cold War
logic, the Honduran government considered all Salvadoran refugees
communist.  Thus, anyone wanting to help the refugees became

Mennonite leaders learned their names were on a military list, and an
insider cautioned, "Be careful where you step."  Mennonite workers
were often stopped and interrogated at military checkpoints.  But they
are thankful they suffered no more than intimidation -- and disapproval
from others, including some Honduran Mennonites who did not live as
close to the situation.

^From other quarters they gained respect. The church is now known as
a group who acted compassionately when it was dangerous to act.

MCC worked in partnership with the Honduran Mennonite Church in
the Mesa Grande -- and Colomoncagua -- refugee camps, which were
under the direction of the United Nations High Commission on
Refugees.  The commission assigned the Honduran Mennonites and
MCC workers the coordination of construction of latrines, housing,
schools, workshops and warehouses.  Later supervision of agriculture
and communications systems were added. 

Of the final 42 refugees who returned to El Salvador on April 4, more
than half -- 27 of them -- are under 18 years old.  The 16- and 17-
year-olds were infants when their mothers fled.  "How sad that they
have lived as strangers in another land for so long," comments Galen
Litwiller.  The Litwillers, from Paxton, Ill., attend Faith Evangelical
Mennonite Church in Bloomington, Ill.      

Most of the Mesa Grande refugees returned to El Salvador in the late
'80s.  This small group remained in Honduras hoping for an
opportunity to migrate to a third country; they were hesitant to return
to an uncertain future in their country where their relatives had been
killed and where they had no land.  

MCC provided $1,700 Cdn./$1,200 U.S. to assist with transportation
for the 42 returning refugees.

Some 25 MCC workers served in the Honduran refugee camps for six
months or longer during the 1980s and early '90s.  Many others served
for short-term periods, especially during the initial emergency stages of
the refugee settlement.


^From reports by Daryl Yoder Bontrager, MCC Honduras


MCC photo available:  Abraham and Porfirio Luna disassemble their
house at what was the Mesa Grande refugee camp in Honduras in
preparation for their April return to El Salvador.  They will use the
building materials to construct new houses in their homeland. (MCC
photo by Galen Litwiller)TOPIC:  Sharing the blessing with victims of Zaire's civil war
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Pearl Sensenig
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

BUKAVU, Zaire -- Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) provides a
way for North American and European Mennonites to share God's
blessings of abundance with those who are less fortunate.

In mid-October 1996 war arrived in eastern Zaire when an ethnic
minority's rebellion evolved into an alliance of political opponents
determined to end President Mobutu's dictatorial reign.  Laurent
Kabila, long-time Mobutu opponent, guided this alliance.

 "When two elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled," states an
African proverb.  As Kabila's rebellion moved north through Bukavu,
on to Goma and points north, we witnessed firsthand the destruction of
these two fighting elephants.  To complicate matters, the region had
more than 15 Rwandan refugee camps; some harbored people
implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  Kabila's troops forced the
refugees to flee into the forest or return to Rwanda.  Armed elements
among the refugees pillaged Zairian villages and mission stations
surrounding the camps.

For Zairian farmers and villagers this war and the ensuing rampage by
refugees, who had ironically been their neighbors, have been
devastating.  Hoes, machetes and farm tools were stolen; crops were
dug up and eaten.  Schools, health clinics and churches were looted
and destroyed.  For Zairians struggling to survive a 10-year economic
crisis this latest disaster could have been fatal.

MCC helped feed those who would have the most difficulty: widows,
orphans, handicapped, elderly and chronically poor.  However, MCC
also recognized the importance of helping the region's farmers begin
producing food again.  We used $21,000 Cdn./$15,000 U.S. to
purchase seeds and tools for victims of refugee looting around four
MCC-created refugee camps:  Muku, Mushweshwe, Bideka and
Izirangabo.  We distributed hoes, machetes and seeds -- bean, soybean,
cabbage and onions, as well as cassava cuttings.  We also gave tools to
farmers north of Bukavu who are cultivating land that was formerly a
refugee camp in Katana.

Several towns south of Bukavu and Uvira -- Fizi and Baraka -- have
remained largely unserved by aid agencies.  Although MCC has not
traditionally worked here, we felt called to share our resources in this
area too.  MCC provided farmers there with 500 hoes and seeds.

In addition to seeds and tools, MCC also purchased a three-month
supply of medicines worth $17,000 Cdn./$12,000 U.S. for health
centers in the four former MCC camps, replacing medicines looted by
refugees.  This included antibiotics, anti-malarial, vitamins and
minerals, as well as wound treatments and disposable syringes.  Four
health centers in Bukavu and three centers to the south also received

Sighs of relief and cries of elation greeted the seeds, tools and medical
supplies.  In Katana women farmers danced for joy, clanging their
hoes with sticks and singing.  It was humbling for us to witness the
hope these simple hoes represented.  Would we have been moved to
dance for joy upon receiving a $5 hoe?

In Luke 14:12 to 14 Jesus tells who we should invite to our feasts. 
Often we invite those closest to us, those who share the same standing
in life, those who can reciprocate.  Christ says we should be inviting
the poor instead.  They cannot pay us back, or return the invitation. 
But by inviting the poor to share our blessings, we will again be

In Zaire those benefitting from MCC's gifts cannot reciprocate
materially -- by sending funds or supplies for victims of the Red River
floods in North Dakota or Manitoba, for example.  However, Zairians
can and do reciprocate in another way.  Time and again, beneficiaries
have bestowed blessings on us -- on MCC and its supporters, those
who gave of their time and money so that such gestures are possible.

In Zairian culture one does not pronounce a blessing, or a curse
lightly.  While the farmers, widows, orphans and chronically poor of
Zaire are often the voiceless ones, they have time and again
communicated to us a simple yet profound sentiment, "May God bless


Fidele Lumeya and Krista Rigalo, MCC Zaire


MCC photos available:
(1)  Two women in Muku, Zaire, display the MCC-donated soybean
seeds they received to help offset the food crisis in eastern Zaire due
to civil war.  (MCC photo by Fidele Lumeya)
(2)  Justin, youth president of the Mennonite church in Bukavu, Zaire,
helps distribute MCC-donated hoes to farmers (MCC photo by Fidele
(3)  Zairian pastor Simon Kabambi unloads MCC-donated medical
supplies in Bukavu, Zaire (MCC photo by Fidele Lumeya).TOPIC:  Letter from Zaire:  Miracles do happ
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Pearl Sensenig
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

Editor's note:  This story updates article #2, "Please pray for our
friends in eastern Zaire, in the November 22, 1996, MCC news
service packet.  In that article, MCC worker Krista Rigalo
described friends in Bukavu, Zaire -- a Zairian pastor, a Rwandan
pastor, a Zairian doctor, a Rwandan refugee student, and Zairian
Tutsi -- so that North Americans could better pray for people
caught in Zaire's civil war.  In article #2, "Updates on prayer
requests for people in eastern Zaire," in the December 6, 1996,
MCC news service, Krista revealed that the Zairians -- Pastor
Kabambi, Dieu Donne and Zaina -- were blessed with relatively
speedy solutions to their problems.  At that time the Rwandans --
Pastor Jean Damascene and Violette -- remained missing.  In this
article Krista describes their fate.  

BUKAVU, Zaire -- Soldiers once fought wars on battlefields far from
civilians.  Now wars are fought in urban areas with local populations
getting swept up in the fighting.  In October 1996, when Zairian rebels
captured eastern Zaire, our friends in Bukavu were held hostage by
war and by circumstances beyond their control.  My husband, Fidele,
and I had evacuated to Kenya where we were held hostage by the
unknown, by our fears and by what we imagined might be happening
in Bukavu.

When Fidele and I finally returned to our home in Bukavu in January
1997, we met up with many Zairian friends who had fled Bukavu and
were now returning.  These reunions were joyful, but incomplete.  The
Rwandan refugee camps Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) had
supported, where we had worked, were now empty.  It appeared the
Interahamwe, Rwandan Hutus involved in the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda, had forced the refugees to flee west into Zaire's forests,
killing those who refused.  

We longed for news of our Rwandan refugee friends, particularly of
Pastor Jean Damascene, his wife and four children who had lived in
Bideka refugee camp and of Violette, a university student who had
lived in Bukavu.  Pastor Jean Damascene had worked with Fidele in
MCC-supported peace programs in the Rwandan refugee camps;
Violette, whose brother had been killed outside their house in Rwanda
and whose mother had been missing for more than two years, had
"adopted" us as her surrogate family.  

We heard of Rwandan refugees returning from the Zairian forests
where they had fled, mere shadows of human beings - hollow-eyed,
with swollen feet, shredded clothes and skeletal bodies.  As we live
less than a kilometer/half a mile from the border, we often saw U.N.
trucks headed for the Rwandan border, loaded with refugees going
home.  Was Violette on one of those trucks?

We heard of groups of refugees heading on foot through the dense
forest with impossible destinations in mind - Angola, Central African
Republic.  Was Pastor Jean Damascene in that group?  Would he and
his family make it?  We prayed continually for their safety and for
news of their whereabouts.

One day last month a Zairian colleague was at the Rwanda-Zaire
border, when he saw a familiar face in the crowd of refugees being
repatriated -- Pastor Jean Damascene.  Pastor Jean recounted how the
Interahamwe had forced him and his family to flee.  Eventually the
civilian refugees were allowed to escape as they were slowing down
the Interahamwe.

While much thinner, Pastor Jean Damascene and his family are
relieved to be finally going home.  What awaits them in Rwanda is
unknown.  Has their home been occupied?  Will he be allowed to
pastor in the "new" Rwanda?  How will they be received by neighbors,
friends, family?  While these uncertainties can be frightening, the
reality of that forced flight through the jungle has got to be worse.

But where and how was Violette, we wondered.  On April 18 I was
alone in our house.  Fidele had gone with church partners to Uvira, to
the south of Bukavu, to distribute MCC-donated seeds and tools to war
victims there.  A car pulled up and I ran out to greet the person I
assumed would be Fidele.  A girl stepped out of the taxi.  We
embraced and cried; Violette had come home.

She and Providence, another Rwandan woman, had crossed over into
Rwanda on October 30, the day Zairian rebels seized Bukavu. 
They've since been living in Kigali, Rwanda, trying to reintegrate into
a society that doesn't know quite what to do with them.  It's no longer
an issue of guilt or innocence regarding the genocides; the act of
having fled to Zaire is reason enough to make them suspect.

Violette and Providence had a traumatic time leaving Bukavu. As they
fled for the Rwandan border, Rwandan soldiers threatened to rape and
murder them.  Violette and Providence were spared only because they
were able to give the soldiers the $50 we had entrusted to Violette to
pay our night guard.  What a blessing that she had this money with

Thousands of Rwandan refugees still remaining in the forest continue
to live unimaginable lives.  We see the survivors as they come out and
are repatriated back to Rwanda.  They will have a struggle to re-
establish their lives.  Those returning to Rwanda after November 15,
1996, are considered "suspect" and must wait indefinitely before being
issued identity cards.  In the meantime they can not work, study or
travel.  Rwanda struggles to redefine itself after the genocide, the Hutu
exodus and now the forced return of these same refugees.  It's a
country and culture that continues to need our prayers.

For myself, I feel I've gotten a second wind. Yes, this region is in
incredible turmoil and yes, some days the conflicts are too mingled,
juxtaposed and complex to be understood, let alone "solved."  But we
do have a response.  Prayer does work.  God does listen and respond. 
Violette and Pastor Jean Damascene have proven that to me.


Krista Rigalo, MCC Zaire

pls16may1997TOPIC:  Reflections on experiencing Haiti--in Miami
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Deborah Fast
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

MIAMI--Living in Miami feels like being caught between many
different worlds.  People from so many cultures share this crowded
space.  They are trying to merge, and sometimes not trying, wanting to
retain what is unique while at the same time assimilating into the
larger society.

I sometimes feel caught between two of these worlds.  I know I'm
now living in America, but it's not like the America I lived in before
going to Haiti.  I'm no longer in Haiti, but much of Haiti is
represented here.

Sometimes I miss the "other" America I know--Midwestern small
towns, quiet, tree-lined streets, not much crime, the where-everyone-
knows-your-name kind of feeling.  I don't find that in Miami, either.

You speak Creole?

I met Rose at a laundromat.  I was folding clothes and she was taking
hers out of the dryer.  She spoke Creole with another woman, as did
all the other patrons there that day.  

I spoke up as I went to retrieve my son, Josiah, who was playing in
Rose's laundry basket.  "L'ap fe dezoyd!" ("He's making trouble!"), I

"Oh!" she said, startled.  "W'ap pale kreyol?" (You speak Creole?).

And it went from there.  By the time I was ready to leave, both Rose
and I had several neatly folded piles of laundry in front of us, and we
had exchanged phone numbers at her request.

We now take turns calling each other.  Our conversations slip easily
between English and Creole.  Rose lives in an apartment with her
mother who works two full-time jobs.  Rose is a community-college
student, and would also like to find a job.

She misses Haiti, and says she's lonely here.  She's never once asked
me for money, for a job, for anything--except to talk.  I think she
would just like a friend.  So would I.
Welcomed with "Amen!"

Pastor Brutis runs a small, run-down "convenience store" in Little
Haiti, the neighborhood where we live.  Luni's Market is more like a
Haitian boutique than a Seven-Eleven.  You can step inside, but there
isn't much room to move around.  It's crammed with all kinds of
wares--cigarettes, beer and dusty Coke bottles.

Brutis pastors a small Mennonite church we have visited in Little
Haiti.  Despite its small size, the church has a large sound system. 
Pastor Brutis yelled more than spoke into the microphone during his
sermon, which made his Creole difficult to understand.

But when we introduced ourselves to the congregation they were
pleased we could speak Creole, and welcomed us with a resounding,

No one seemed to mind Josiah roaming around during the service,
climbing the steps to the platform, or playing with the microphone. 
We wondered how Haitians get their children to sit so quietly through
an entire service.  Even in America, Haitian children seem--to us--
more well-behaved than most of their American counterparts.

Haitians struggle here, too

"Wi mwen kwa, nan Bondye, wi mwen kwe, Mwen kwe ak tout ke
mwen." ("Yes, I believe, I believe in God, I believe with all my
heart").  My tears kept wanting to fall as I sang this familiar refrain at
the Catholic Church of Notre Dame in Little Haiti.

For some reason, attending this church took me back to Haiti in a way
different from any other experience I'd had here so far.  The songs I
was singing here among these Haitian people were those I had grown
to love in the town of Rankit, where we lived.

But here I didn't see familiar faces.  Here I would be driving home
after church, not walking, and I wouldn't be stopping at the market to
pick up food for the day.  I knew there wouldn't be neighbors
stopping by to visit--to sit on the porch, sometimes sharing nothing
more than silence.

In Haiti, I often wondered how people kept their faith in God in spite
of the many challenges they faced.  Here in this church I began to
wonder the same thing.  The struggles Haitians face in Miami are
different than those faced by their sisters and brothers in Haiti.  But
they are no less daunting.  Many are separated from family, not by
choice, but by rules and regulations beyond their control.

Many Haitians here face the possibility of deportation as new
immigration laws come into effect.  Many still struggle for the basics
of life--adequate food, housing and medical care.  And in Miami,
Haitians are among the "least"--looked down upon by almost every
other ethnic group.

As I sang, my heart felt heavy, for Haiti and for Haitians struggling on
both sides of the ocean.  But I continued to sing, along with those
around me, and somehow meant it: "Yes, I believe, I believe in God. I
believe with all my heart."


Karen Hursey-McLaughlin


Karen Hursey-McLaughlin, with her husband, Brent, directs MCC's
programs in Miami, Fla.  They recently completed an MCC term in
Haiti.  Hursey-McLaughlins are from Peoria, Ill.

MCC photo available: Karen Hursey-McLaughlin with her husband,
Brent, and son, Josiah.  MCC photo by Tony Siemens.TOPIC:  MCC U.S. Commentary: In push northward, 
DATE:   May 16, 1997
CONTACT:  Emily Will
V: 717/859-1151 F: 717/859-2171

WASHINGTON -- Why do people from Mexico, Central America, the
Caribbean and other countries keep coming to the United States,
despite harsh measures to keep them out?

Very few people voluntarily leave   the comforts of family, country
and culture to live and work in a foreign land -- not knowing the
language and running the risk of abuse and exploitation on the job.

During the 1980s many Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans
undertook life-threatening journeys to the United States to escape the
violence of U.S.-financed wars and death squads.  Haitians also fled a
U.S.-supported dictatorship that robbed and murdered them

The motives for Mexican migration, however, are more complex.
My family and I served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in
Mexico from 1993 to 1995.  As we got to know our neighbors in a
typical Mexico City neighborhood, I was struck by the kinds of work
they did.  Many men drove taxis.  Quite a few families ran small
grocery stores --tiendas -- from their homes.  Many women sold goods
in street markets or ran small street-corner food stands.  Everyone
worked very hard, often holding down two or three jobs.   People
survived by their ingenuity and initiative, and by living together in
extended family households.

Quite a few of our neighbors had worked in the United States and
planned to do so again.  Some families had a member currently
working in the States and sending back money.  Going to the States
forms part of a crucial survival strategy. 

Many of the good jobs our neighbors used to have were eliminated by
Mexico's economic policies.  These included privatization of
government-owned businesses, high interest rates, cuts in government
services and food subsidies, removal of many trade and investment
barriers, and a shift to export-oriented agriculture.

Pushed by the United States, these policies were aimed at paying off
Mexico's international debt, welcoming U.S. products and investment,
and integrating Mexico into the global economy.  The policies
benefitted the wealthy class, giving Mexico the fourth largest number
of billionaires in the world.  But they increased unemployment and
poverty for ordinary Mexicans.  

The policies also benefitted some Americans. U.S. financial speculators
profited from high-interest rates.  U.S.-based corporations used cheap
labor in the maquila sector (assembly plants for clothes and electronic
goods) and increased their market share among Mexican consumers.

But for ordinary Mexicans, the new policies caused credit to dry up,
pushed peasant farmers from their land, and forced thousands of small
and medium-sized businesses into bankruptcy.  Many more Mexican
jobs were lost than gained.

Then came December 1994 and calamity. The peso collapsed.  Our
taxi-driving friends could no longer pick up enough fares to make even
a subsistence living and our neighbors who worked in street markets
saw their sales dry up.  The safety net provided by extended families
gave way.  Street crime escalated and migration to the United States
swelled -- this time met by even harsher anti-immigrant efforts. 

If the United States promotes policies that increase hardship for people
in nearby countries, we can expect more migrants to our nation. We
probably won't succeed in trying to keep them out.  Under these
circumstances, should we want to succeed?


Martin Shupack, legislative associate, MCC U.S. Washington Office


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