Caught Between Violence and Rejection

Rebuilding Hope, January 2015 edition
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Rev. Ellen Jennrich witnessed firsthand the violence that many children in Central America face.

Rev. Ellen Jennrich witnessed firsthand the violence that many children in Central America face and she urges us all to act quickly.

Rev. Ellen C. Jennrich, Chair of Global Partners Team of the Southwest California Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was part of the Synod’s Welcoming Congregation’s mission to El Salvador this past summer.

She shared the following story of Manuel* with the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. CA) during their recent congressional visit. Today, she shares that same story, which exemplifies the unabating routine violence in Central America.

Rev. Jennrich writes:

I first met Manuel in 2009 when he was 16 years old. He and his 15-year-old brother worked at the guest house where we stayed on a mission trip in San Salvador. His father, Paolo, was the driver of our van. It was a joy to see them all when I returned the next year.

“In the fall of 2010, Manuel and his brother were approached by gang members, but refused to join their gang. Paolo met with the leader of the gang and told him that he and his family were Christians, they believed in loving one another, and they would not be involved with gangs. Shortly thereafter, Paolo was assassinated—pulled from his van and shot dead in front of his wife. It has been reported that assassins may be hired for just $12 in El Salvador. Manuel and his brother and sisters continued to help out at the guest house, for several months “hiding out” there for fear of the gangs.

“When I visited El Salvador in August, 2011, Manuel had just left to try to go to the United States. His biological mother, who lives here, had sent money for a coyote to help him with the journey. His Salvadoran family had not heard from him in two weeks. My stay was tense—clouded by the fear that he had possibly died or was beaten up or worse. Finally when I was almost ready to leave there was a phone call—Manuel had been arrested by the Mexican police because he was undocumented and was in jail there. Money was sent and he was released back to his grandmother in San Salvador.

“In 2012, Manuel again tried to reach the United States. This time he was successful and now, in 2014, lives with his mother in the United States.

“Why? Now that more and more children under 18 are crossing our borders, the horror stories continue. The perilous journey, the arrests, the detention centers, the fear of deportation have replaced the fear of being killed or seeing your family members killed. Which is worse? There is no easy answer. But the stories tell us that we must act and act quickly. Political party and stance on immigration issues have to be put aside as we show compassion and mercy to these little ones, who are caught between violence at home and rejection abroad.”

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