Christian ministries in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador know they are in for a tough year. The US government has drastically cut aid to the three Central American countries in response to the large number of refugees who have fled north to seek asylum in America. Some of the more than $500 million of US taxpayer money was going to Christian nonprofits working on economic development, anti-corruption efforts, and helping children in poverty in the three countries. Those ministries will have to lay people off, reduce services, and scramble to find other funds.
“The Trump administration shot itself in the foot with these cuts,” said Chet Thomas, director of Proyecto Aldea Global in Honduras, which has been forced to stop a job training program that gave teenagers alternatives to working for criminal gangs. “These projects are designed to … reduce the number of people migrating to the US.”
US foreign aid flows through various channels. In many cases, it ends up funding nongovernmental organizations, including Christian relief organizations in the area of Central American known as the Northern Triangle. Many of these address the conditions that cause people to flee their homes and seek asylum, leading to a crisis at the US border. Some ministries work directly with host governments to train national staff and increase the effectiveness of state institutions. Others focus more on community development, often building connections with local churches that don’t trust their government and don’t have many of their own resources.
Justifying the cuts, the State Department appeared to downplay the role of nonprofit groups in addressing migration. “We expect the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to keep their commitments to stem illegal immigration to the United States,” it said in a statement.
Association for a More Just Society (AJS) lost $2 million in US aid for 2020, forcing it to lay off 42 of 130 people on staff in Honduras. The Christian organization reports it had made dramatic inroads in recent years working with the Honduran government reform its criminal justice system. AJS helped Honduras with an anticorruption sweep of the police force that replaced thousands of corrupt officers and set up several judicial accountability programs.
The group’s focus is on shoring up the integrity in the institutions Hondurans needs to arrest and prosecute criminals, according to Jill Stoltzfus, executive director of AJS. Many Hondurans see no hope in opposing the gangs because they don’t trust the justice system. When they come into conflict with a gang, they feel they have no choice but to flee the country.
That was starting to change as police and courts delivered justice, Stoltzfus said, but it requires consistency. It’s a long process, getting people to trust their lives to systems that have failed them in the past. The presence of a third party has been critical in rebuilding trust.
“So much of this work is trust related,” she said. “Trust is lost when people feel abandoned … which is why AJS isn’t going anywhere.”
According to Stoltzfus, the cuts were “devastating,” but the ministry has also seen God meet its needs. AJC received an additional $500,000 to $600,000 in giving at the end of last year, and some Honduran staff were also able to get jobs with the Honduran government. Still, Stoltzfus said the programs will still look different in 2020 as the organization moves forward with less money and fewer people.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is also dealing with cuts, which makes some recent victories feel bittersweet. In Guatemala, IJM had to layoff 40 percent of its staff, many of whom were Guatemalan. It also had to drastically scale back “Project Sentinel,” which was funded in part by $10 million over four years from the US government.
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Source: Christianity Today