Exodus and Central America

2019 CUSLAR stevepavey photos

by Tim W. Shenk
Coordinator, Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations

More and more analysts, activists and migrants themselves are speaking in terms of an “exodus” northward out of Central America. 

Groups of hundreds or even thousands continue to gather at a designated rallying point, usually responding to calls via social media, and form caravans that travel together toward the US border. They seek asylum from organized crime, state violence, violence in their homes, poverty or often a combination of these. 

Calling these migration flows an “exodus” is a powerful framing. Since so many of the migrants come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — predominantly Catholic countries — it seems that this is not merely a metaphor for those on the path. 

Many migrants leave their homes with nothing more than a backpack, a change of clothes and 20 dollars for the months-long trek. But they set out con Dios delante, with God out front. This is the God of the Old Testament who breaks people out of slavery, makes a way in the wilderness, parts the waters and swallows the enemies of the people.

The Exodus is one of the central stories of liberation for Jews and Christians, especially those in bondage, slavery or facing other situations of extreme oppression. The message is that God delivers God’s people, and we must not get weary, though the road to freedom be long. 

Latin American liberation theology is based on this understanding of history and the place of the poor in it. Yet it is not a passive waiting to be liberated. We are God’s hands, feet and mouthpiece in this story, and it is our job to make the prophecy true.

So when we read about the suffering at the US-Mexico border, when we are in contact with migrants who have made the journey north, may we remember the power of Exodus. 

A new wave of prophets is preaching with their feet. They’re announcing the brokenness of the old system with its corrupt rulers and laws that protect exploitation and misery. They’re proclaiming, with their feet, with their faith and not much else, that a new system based on care and compassion can and must be birthed, with all of us as midwives.


CUSLAR has an extensive archive of articles, interviews and reflections on migration, including many reports from ground level.

What, to the Migrant Child, is the Fourth of July? – by Tim W. Shenk

When the Law is Injustice – by Tim W. Shenk

Asylum Crisis on the Southern Border – by Kevin Maldonado

Migrant Caravans: A View from Ground Level – a talk by Margarita Núñez-Chaim

Let Suffering Speak: Reflections on Systemic Crisis – a talk by Steve Pavey

Why Christians Should Be Compelled to Welcome Immigrants – a talk by Amaury Tañón-Santos

Where Do We Draw the Line? – by Tim W. Shenk

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall: Climate Change, Migration and the Militarization of the Border – by Tomasz Falkowski

Bearing Witness to Legislated Suffering – by Rev. Benjamin Perry

Invisible No More: From Mexico to Ithaca, NY – an interview with Gloria Lemus-Sánchez

Immigrant Families will Be a Key in Next Social Movement – an interview with Fernando García

Migration: Moving People, Moving Capital – by Richard Gaunt


Photo: Hope In Focus / Steve Pavey

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