Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A (very important) difference I only just realised

The list I could write of things that are different about living here compared to living in Australia is very long and would range from the trivial but kindof interesting (there is a guy on each petrol bowser who we tip after he has filled us up) to the jealousy-inducing (I take our car to be fully serviced and it cost less than $150) to the ridiculous (items of stationery are really expensive here).

But in the last few days I've realised a very big, and important difference.

That is, there are a huge number of people who live in Mexico who are taking steps to go and live somewhere else - and by that I mean, in another country. Most often, in the United States, but there are other places considered as well - Canada, France, Germany.

Just in the last two days I have spoken to three different people who are about to move, are waiting for their papers so they can move, or are going to move anyway whether they get their papers or not. Interestingly, these three people are from quite different "levels" of society. Two of them you would say have "respectable" and secure jobs.

But as I've thought about other people I have met over the last couple of years, the list of those wanting and planning to leave rapidly grows.

And so I got thinking about these people. Are there generalisations that can be drawn about them as a group?

Some of them have children, others don't. Some have close family members who they will leave behind, others don't. Some have a clear place and job to go to, others will go somewhere and work it out when they get there. Some speak the language of the country they hope to go to, others don't. Some have a relative already in the place they want to go, some will arrive on their own. Some of them have personally experienced a threat to their security, others not.

And so - no, it is very hard to say "the people who want to leave are like ..."

Except in one way. When you get into conversation with people who want to leave Mexico and move north (or somewhere else) there is one word that always comes up in conversation. Opportunity.

They see that moving to the US or beyond will bring new opportunities. In education, training, wealth, security, travel, status - it is all about opportunity.

This is a huge difference to life in Australia. Think about your circle of friends, or your church, or your neighbourhood in Australia. How many people do you know who want to move to another country so they have more opportunity? Virtually none I'd imagine. People move to Australia because of opportunity, not away from it.

I have to admit that realising this has made me sad. It is sad to know so many people want to leave their country because they think (and I suspect in many cases they are right) that another country will give them more opportunities.

It is also a challenge for us here, because those who are leaders in churches are not immune from this desire for opportunities on the other side of the border. Whether they get lucky and are awarded a scholarship to study in the US or find a position in a church there, the reality is that just as some countries suffer a "brain drain" as their best and brightest go overseas to study and research and work, there are countries in Latin America that are, and will continue to suffer a "ministry drain", as those who are busy serving in their local churches head north.

In the face of this challenge, there are two immediate responses.

1. We need to do what we can to train people in their context, without requiring them to leave (and therefore opening the door for the option to never return). The work I am doing here with MOCLAM is critical with that.

2. We need to do what we can to be training up the next generation of ministry workers, because even without planting new churches and ministries, there is a reasonable chance they will be needed in their local church just because of the people who are waiting for a greencard.

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