Defend the Human Rights of Migrants: Root Causes

Defend the Human Rights of Migrants: Root Causes

At a time of deepening crisis for immigrants and asylum seekers, the UU College of Social Justice has organized an immersion experience with Cristosal specifically for religious professionals and lay leaders. This journey will help you deepen your understanding of the migration crisis and will support your justice ministry with theological reflection among colleagues. Our Root Causes Journey to El Salvador will be January 20-27, 2020, with UUSC partner Cristosal and lead by UUSC’s Director of Activism and Justice Education Kathleen McTigue. This journey offers powerful experiential learning that will help you support your congregations in acting for immigration justice. Generous scholarship aid is available for religious professionals and seminary students. The deadline to register is November 8, 2019. Read more to hear first hand from Cristosal Global School alumna, Kendall Guthrie, a long-time member of University Unitarian Church in Seattle.


My Trip into the Epicenter of the Central American Refugee Crisis: Human Rights Boot Camp with Cristosal’s Global School in El Salvador

by Kendall Guthrie

When Trump announced his family separation policy last year, I felt compelled to action. While most people focused on alleviating horrific conditions at U.S.-Mexican Border, I gravitated towards the root cause. This past spring, I flew into the epicenter of the Central American refuge crisis – El Salvador  —  for week of human rights boot camp at the Cristosal Global School.

This experiential, cohort-based seminar gathers North and Central American from diverse backgrounds for a weeklong learning community around a human rights-based approach to community development. By week’s end, I not only increased my “book knowledge”, I became part of a cross-border, interfaith community dedicated towards our Unitarian Universalist vision of a “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all”.

Cristosal advances human rights in the Northern Triangle of Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They support people displaced through violence to relocate within their own country. They also work to reduce violence through community organizing, research, and strategic litigation. They envision a world where people are free and safe to live in their own country – or migrate by choice, rather than fear.

Global School mornings involved college-level lectures, paired with interactive exercises. In the afternoon, we headed into San Salvador’s neighborhoods to see human rights-based community development in action. We watched youth workers and police officers partnering to provide teens with leadership opportunities other than gang life – through soccer games and drumming groups. We joined psycho-social support groups for mothers whose sons have been unjustly jailed in the many indiscriminate police round ups of “suspected gang members.” These “shows of force” made these mothers feel more terrorized by the police and had no impact on the gangs. We shivered with the parallels to the Black Lives Matters movement.

In the evenings, our diverse group debriefed over home-cooked meals in the guest house we shared. El Salvador’s political climate felt uncomfortably similar to forces we’ve seen in the U.S. Like Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Future, we experienced life where Trump norms were accepted — that powerful people are above the law, graft is normal, and using psychological and physical violence to maintain power is accepted practice.

We witnessed how one fights against that future. We met so many skilled community activists like my Global School Colleague, Salvadoran Karla Reyes. They choose to stay rather than migrate.  They work to strengthening their country’s civil and democratic institutions. They show how empowerment-based community development not only gives people tools. It strengthens hope to organize against violence. They maintain this hope for justice, in conditions more daunting than we face in the U.S. Now that I am back in Seattle, I am increasing my work to fight for justice and human rights in Central America – and the United States. I am using my professional skills to support Cristosal in Board development. I’ve joined my congregation’s Immigrant Justice Action team. It helps to know my Central American colleagues and I are in this work together.


 Youth Workers and police partnering to reduce violence in their community.     They engaged community members to create this map of safe spots and   crime zones in their neighborhood.



Solidarity included sharing beers with our Honduran colleague at a San Salvador art bar.




 Sharing exhaustion, traveling back from a site visit.




My Global School Colleague Karla Reyes (Salvadoran Community Organizer and Musician). Shown here with one of the hundreds of portraits we saw of The Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Martin Luther King of El Salvador.




Join Us To Flood The Desert!

Join Us To Flood The Desert!


Leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice will be Flooding the Desert with Faith in August. Join Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray (President of the UUA), Rev. Mary Katherine Morn (President of UUSC), Rev. Kathleen McTigue (Director of the UU College of Social Justice) and Rachel Freed (Vice President and Chief Program Officer of UUSC) from August 3rd to the 6th in Arizona for this important action! Read Susan and Mary Katherine’s letter below for more information.

Dear Colleagues,

We are sending this letter to UU ministers and Directors of Religious Education to ask that you consider joining us for a specific resistance action planned for this August 3-6 in Tucson, AZ, called Flood the Desert. This is a strategic act of resistance in response to criminal charges being levied against activists whose humanitarian actions have been focused on saving the lives of migrants who are often lost in the desert.

Many of you will have heard of No More Deaths, a volunteer group that works along the rugged Arizona/Mexico border. It is a program affiliated with the UU Church of Tucson, AZ, and a partner organization of UUSC. Over the past decade, No More Deaths volunteers have hiked the migrant trails leaving water caches; staffed a first aid tent in the desert for migrants who are wounded or ill; and helped recover remains of hundreds who have lost their lives – marking the places with memorial shrines.

Nine volunteers with No More Deaths now face federal misdemeanor charges, and one faces felony charges, for their humanitarian assistance. These excessive charges are part of an escalating strategy to criminalize activism. They are meant to intimidate citizens away from dissent. In response, we are asking ministers and other religious leaders to join us in early August and Flood the Desert.

In an action of direct civil disobedience, religious leaders will assert the right to offer humanitarian aid by stocking water caches and in so doing, challenging the government’s utter disregard for the most basic human rights.

Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.

If you are able and willing to join us, please follow the link above to register.

In faith and solidarity,


Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray                                                 Rev. Mary Katherine Morn

President, UUA                                                                    President, UUSC

Lenten Reflection, Honduras

Praying the “stations of the cross” is a longstanding Lenten tradition all over the Christian world, during which believers are reminded of the last moments Jesus lived through as he carried his own cross to the crucifixion. Throughout Latin America, the Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, is often an elaborate procession, during which a life-sized cross – usually made intentionally heavy – is carried to each inflection point of prayer.

Via Cruces Cross being carried in HondurasThe Via Crucis we followed last month in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was different. It demonstrated vividly the power and peril faced by those whose deepest faith compels them to stand up against oppression. The cross they carried was covered with words —  poverty, violence, hatred, murders, torture, imprisonment – naming explicitly the weight the people carry, under the repressive presidency of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Those in the procession also carried 34 smaller crosses, each one bearing the name of a person who had been shot and killed by security forces in the past two months, since the fraudulent election that ensures Hernandez will continue in power.

I was in Honduras as one of 50 faith leaders who responded to a call for accompaniment, issued by religious and human rights leaders whose lives are in increased jeopardy as they continue to voice their indignation and opposition.  Our Via Crucis was allowed to proceed without interference. But later that day, and throughout our week in Honduras, we witnessed peaceful protests violently dispersed by members of the police and military.

This violence in all of its forms is the very real and present cross that our Honduran siblings carry every day. It is carried as well by human rights champions in El Salvador and Guatemala, and by the thousands of men, women, and children who are driven from all three countries to the deeply perilous path they follow north. If they make it across the US border, the migrants carry the weight of detention, actual or feared, and the uncertainty that shadows each moment.

In this Lenten season, as I remember the Via Crucis in which I participated in Honduras, I am thinking about what parts of the cross are mine to carry as a citizen of the United States. The teargas, water cannons, and live ammunition I saw used in Honduras are all products of the USA. In a very real sense, the Honduran government itself is a result of the approval and recognition our nation offered in the wake of the 2009 military coup, and offered again this past November in recognizing fraudulent elections. I want to stay awake to these truths. It’s by staying awake that we can find ways to act to shift US policy, and thereby shift the weight of the cross from the shoulders that have carried it for far too long.

Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Dear Colleagues,

As we enter a new year, we are more determined than ever to mobilize our UU communities around the core justice values that make our faith so relevant to the current political moment.

Among these core values is our commitment to the worth and dignity of each person, which leads us to resist laws and policies that treat some people as disposable.

Migrants are particularly vulnerable today, not only in border states but all over our country. And one of the best ways I know of for you as a religious leader to galvanize your own ministry toward migrant justice is to travel with the UU College of Social Justice on their Border Witness Journey for ministers and religious educators.

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

I know the power of this program first hand: I joined the 2014 journey, and found enormous support and benefit for my own ministry through the chance to travel, reflect, pray, and strategize with other religious leaders. The next program runs this coming May 8-12, and I hope you’ll be able to join it!

You can learn more and register by March 1st, 2018 at

Thank you.

President of the Unitarian Universalist Association


Carlos and the Guardians

Carlos and the Guardians

Rev. Paul Langston-Daley is the Senior Program Leader for Justice Building at UUSC. In November 2016, he travelled to Nicaragua on UUCSJ’s Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians journey specifically for religious professionals (ministers, seminarians and religious educators).

It had already been a difficult year, and then November came and with it, the election of Donald Trump. I was feeling pretty, cynical about the future. The trip to Nicaragua was scheduled for the end of the month and I was trying, like most people to see some kind of silver lining in what was about to unfold. I was particularly looking forward to being there with colleagues, as we shared this experience together.

I didn’t know much about Nicaragua – I knew some about the Sandinistas and about American interference and involvement in the civil war, but not much else. The study materials provided by the College of Social Justice were outstanding, providing a backdrop to frame the experience, but not requiring more than was manageable in an average schedule. It was engaging, and familiarity with the history, and with the current political climate, provided depth to the trip.

Though there were many highlights – the women of Matagalpa, the lush green mountains of the countryside, the many wonderful speakers who shared their lives with us, worship that helped to ground us each day – the real center of the trip was our visit with Carlos and the Guardians of the River. The Guardians are a grassroots community resisting a gold mine that would destroy their sacred river the Yaoska. I was unprepared for how deeply this meeting would impact me. The sharing of gifts, when we all brought a symbol of something that connects us to mother earth, brought an unanticipated level of vulnerability and caring. My fellow religious leaders brought an incredible depth of sharing as they made offerings to those gathered. Colored leaves, special stones, gifts of nuts, cranberries and honey, all were shared with reverence to nature, the beauty of this place, and at our being together in solidarity. Hearing the Guardians sing, the joy they shared at being in this place, the passion they held for life, the depth of their love for the planet, all of it was palpable. Gratitude was present in a form that was undeniable and we were embraced in that gratitude.

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Reverence for all life is not just a quaint sentiment for these Guardians of the River.  For them, this beautiful, Eden like place is worthy of their protection. The songs they sang brought laughter and tears. We swam in the river, admired the mountains, marveled at the power and wonder of this pristine garden. I was deeply grateful to these Guardians, who know a deeper certainty, who claim a nobler truth, the people who stopped the gold mine. Because they understand that the land and its people are far more precious than gold. Everywhere we went, reverence for and connection to the land was present. The fruit trees, the chickens, the coffee, paradise is here. A deep religious connection to the earth, to all life, abides.

I learned more than I could have imagined, not just about Nicaragua, its people, and their struggles, but about a shared commitment to the earth that knows no borders or boundaries. I learned about the power of a people capable of stopping a multi-national corporation. I began to understand what it might take to return to my own country to face a new administration. I returned to the United States with a sense of hope and spirit.

It has been a little more than a year since my trip, and on the days when I feel things are impossible; when I don’t think I can bear one more tweet, or policy move, or ridiculous statement from the White House, I recall the voice of Maria, a young Guardian of the River.  I remember their struggle, the challenges they faced, the stories of those who resisted, and my spirit is renewed. I am reminded that with love, nothing is impossible.

To learn about future journeys specifically for religious professionals, visit 

Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

In early January I received an email that began with these words:

We are writing you on behalf of Padre Melo, the Jesuit priest who has accompanied the Honduran people for more than 20 years. He is appealing to the international community for an emergency delegation: “We need you to organize people who will accompany us, witness what is happening here, and share it with the world”.

The Honduras presidential election last November has widely been condemned as fraudulent. Since then, people throughout the country have poured into the streets in peaceful protests that have often been met with lethal violence from the state.

The hope in sending an international delegation to Honduras is that our presence will shine a spotlight on the struggle and amplify the voices of those who are being ignored and silenced. UUSC has long been a champion of Honduran human rights groups, supporting our grassroots partners financially and working to lift up the stories and urgency behind their struggles. This brief journey of accompaniment is another way for our organization to show the Honduran people that they are not alone.

I decided almost immediately that I would answer Padre Melo’s call and join the emergency delegation, which departs Wednesday, January 24. While I have never been there before, I have heard of Padre Melo and the courageous work he and many other Hondurans are engaged in to advance fundamental human rights. I also know about the decades of financial and military support our own country has sent to the Honduran government, despite their many human rights violations. And, I believe that under the Trump administration, the thousands of people who try to flee the violence in Honduras are even less likely than before to find asylum here in the United States.

My desire to join the delegation is fueled by multiple interests. I’m driven by my commitment to human rights, as well as my sense of moral compromise as a U.S. citizen—knowing my own country has helped foment the violence from which it refuses to shelter those who flee. But I am also compelled by my faith: by the core values of Unitarian Universalism that remind me we are never really separate from one another. Our interdependent web links us to struggles for human rights and dignity, wherever they occur, and pulls us compellingly, relentlessly, to act as we are able to mitigate harm.

I believe in the power of prayer as a way to ground ourselves and to center our awareness on those who live daily in harm’s way. So, I ask you to pray for the people of Honduras, holding them in mind and heart, and to act on your prayers and concern by speaking out for the rights of those most at risk. I will have more to tell you on my return January 30, but for now I hope you will join me on this journey in spirit, by learning more about what is happening and preparing yourselves to answer future calls to support this critical human rights struggle.

For more information about how you can help, please read the press release from the Emergency Interfaith Delegation to Honduras