In Your Midst

The Youth Migrant Project

November 2011

Discovering and living Jesus’ call to a life of loving service 

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructs us to welcome the stranger: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25-35). When we read this scripture passage, we are reminded that in God’s eyes there is no distinction between the way we treat God, and the way we treat the image of God found in our brothers and sisters. What we allow to happen to another person, we allow to happen to God. And, as one youth who participated in the Youth Migrant Project said, “We can change this, and we cannot allow this to happen to people who are making a difference in our lives.” To this youth, there was no distinction between the way we treat migrant farm workers—and the way we treat God.

The Youth Migrant Project is a summer long experience that provides senior high youth a unique and challenging opportunity to live in a community of migrant farm families in the Skagit Valley of Washington. Our parish youth group lived and served in a community for a week in July. Their jobs included assisting in the day care centers, working at the Food Bank, visiting the migrant camps, and providing donations.  The days included prayer, community building, chores, and education about the needs of migrant workers.

The Goals of the Youth Migrant Project are:

  • discovering and living Jesus’ call to a life of loving service;
  • understanding the importance of respecting the rights and responsibilities of all people;
  • learning that one does not have to travel to a third world country to work for justice and against poverty;
  • experiencing the richness of the Hispanic culture;
  • gaining valuable experience in a controlled setting to prepare youth for future mission experiences;
  • making new friends, developing and deepening an awareness of their faith;
  • and experiencing the universality of the Catholic Church.

The Youth Migrant Project allows our youth to see the image of the suffering Christ in the migrant workers and their families. Only 1 ½ hours north of Seattle, the migrant workers and their families live in unspeakable conditions. These people who produce much of the food we eat themselves live in extreme poverty.

While the United States struggles with the difficult and important issues of immigration, the migrant farm families—men, women and children—come to this country seeking work and a better life. They come hoping to be welcomed as friends and neighbors but instead too often find themselves marginalized. Our U.S. economy depends upon them.  Experiencing their living conditions first hand, we have to ask, if we are dependent upon migrant farm families, then why must they live in poverty? Are they not due a just wage? “We can change this…,” one of our teens realized.  Betzy is about 10 years old and lives in the migrant workers camp. She lives in despicable conditions.  Betzy and one of our teens (we will call him “America”) in five short days developed a friendship that neither one of them will ever forget. Betzy calls America her big brother. They played, hunted grasshoppers, attended Mass and drew pictures together. America made a t-shirt for Betzy. The t-shirt included his player number and her name. The t-shirt was large enough so Betzy can wear it for years.

Immigration is not just about borders. Issues that come along with immigration are labor markets, language barriers, cultural isolation, exploitation, prison and discrimination. Betzy and America paid no attention to these issues. Rather they were living where there is no distinction between the way we treat the image of God found in human brothers and sisters and the way we treat God.

Our parish youth now know the names and faces of migrant farm families who are suffering just north of Seattle.  The Youth Migrant Project participants served our church by spreading God’s good news to the migrant farm workers and their families.  Our presence as outsiders provided encouragement to the suffering migrant farm workers and their families. Our youth spread good will. Their spiritual transformation was an absolute joy to watch. I wish all of you could have witnessed our youth share of themselves.  It was amazing—truly God’s grace at work!

The Youth Migrant Project is one way we can change this.

Christine Henderson coordinated and led this year’s Youth Migrant Project.  

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