What Caused the Caravan? A Report From Honduras

An interview with missionary Jennifer Zilly Canales.

By John Zmirak Published on November 29, 2018

One of the most popular Stream articles in our history was a piece by missionary Jennifer Zilly Canales, on the situation in Honduras that led to the Caravan. We decided to interview her for still more insight about the origins and likely impact of this mass movement of people.

 

How long have you and your husband lived in Honduras? What brought you there? Given the conditions, how long do you plan to stay? Would you feel safe raising children there?

My husband is a native Honduran. He has lived in this country the majority of his life, with the exception of a year-and-a-half that he lived and studied in the United States. I grew up in Texas. I moved to Honduras a few weeks after completing my undergraduate degree in 2012. That was in response to a call the Lord put on my life. Namely, to be a mother to children and teenagers who have either lost their mother or for various reasons are unable to live with their her. I was single when I moved here. I had no plans for marriage. But during my first year here I met my husband. It was made clear to both of us that we were to be married and parent the orphaned/abandoned together for God’s glory.

Both my husband and I feel called to live in Honduras and hope to remain here for the rest of our lives. In these first 5+ years of marriage we have decided to not have any biological children. That’s so that we might dedicate our full energies, time and resources to raising the precious children and teens the Lord has sent us to foster and adopt. We are unsure if at some point down the road this mindset will change and we will decide to have our own biological children. But for the time being we feel completely content parenting our seven children ages 10-18. We are open to fostering/adopting more in the future. This is a beautiful calling. We would highly encourage others to consider serving the Lord and impacting the world around them in this same way by taking in youth who desperately need a family.

A Plague of Lawlessness

Jennifer Canales - 360

You described in your Stream article how the lack of the rule of law plagues Hondurans. Crimes go unpunished, even un-investigated by police. Can you expand on that, and suggest the causes, so far as you can see them?

Yes, lawlessness is rampant here. Just a couple days ago the young Christian psychologist who works alongside of us in our mission school was held up at gun-point. This happened while she was running errands and her cell-phone was stolen. The crime was committed in the parking lot of a well-known supermarket right in front of the guard on duty. He stood by throughout the occurrence. He simply asked our psychologist if she was okay once the thieves left the scene. This type of event (and the ensuing apathy/ unresponsiveness) is extremely common. It only breeds distrust and paranoia in the law-abiding public. I do not know the causes beyond the many rumors I have heard about police/government corruption, etc.

Money from North America

What role do foreign remittances, from Hondurans working in the U.S. (legally or illegally) play in Honduras? Some say they’re crucial to reducing poverty. But I’ve seen others claim that they disrupt the economy, destabilize the country, and drive men to abandon their families.

I can only speak from my very limited personal experience. I know that not all share my views. My husband and I know several families involved in these foreign remittances. I would say that they give differing results depending on the specific case.

If the caravan enters the U.S., more caravans will form in the future.

It is true that some men (and even women) abandon their families in order to go work in the United States and send money back to Honduras. Their motive is honorable. But this ultimately leaves the children (or spouse) without the daily presence, affection and security of the family member who left. We’ve seen many cases of this with people we know. Their mothers left the country when the children were extremely young. The children then grow up with grandparents or other extended family members. Their mom frequently sends them material gifts from afar. This does incredible damage to the youth. They come to associate gifts with parental love while still living without the daily love and guidance of that far-off adult. This is very sad to see. The results continue well into adulthood for those who were abandoned when they were young.

There are other families, however, that have an established routine. One parent goes abroad for a few months at a time to work. And sends money before returning to continue raising the children and being an involved member of Honduran society. I believe this is the better route to go, if one should, in fact, decide to leave the country legally for work.

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If the Caravan enters the U.S., what effect will that likely have on Hondurans? What have you heard people saying?

I work alongside some very well-educated Hondurans every day in the context of our rural mission school for at-risk kids. They seem to believe (as do I) that if the caravan enters the U.S., more caravans will form in the future. This seems very logical. This is why we all hope for long-term change to be brought about on Honduran soil. So that the Honduran people might prosper here rather than desiring to find stability elsewhere.

How Much Schooling Do the Caravan Migrants Have?

How well-educated are the people in the Caravan, in American terms? What kinds of jobs would they be able to do?

I only know a few people who joined the caravan. All of them have a very low educational level. However, there are doubtlessly people with high education levels as well. In our area there is much illiteracy among the adult population. One illiterate man whom we know well decided to join the caravan. There is also a young teen in our area. He has not yet finished his schooling. He left behind his pregnant girlfriend and escaped in the night without saying goodbye to his mother in order to join the caravan. From the research I’ve done, I understand that many male immigrants end up working in agriculture and construction in the United States. So I imagine that those with lower educational levels get channeled into this kind of work. Should they, in fact, cross the border.

One illiterate man whom we know well decided to join the caravan. There is also a young teen in our area. He has not yet finished his schooling. He left behind his pregnant girlfriend and escaped in the night without saying goodbye to his mother in order to join the caravan.

 

How do Hondurans see America? And Americans? What do you think they’re expecting to get or find when they arrive? Will it disappoint them?

This is a very delicate question. So I will try my best to answer well. American movies and television shows are extremely popular here in Honduras. Sadly, the message portrayed in many of them amounts to material prosperity. The movies show a lifestyle that many Hondurans desire (and cannot materially attain here). That sparks envy. In the World Geography class I teach along with our Bible Study I have touched on this subject several times. I try to explain to the youth under our care that the lifestyle painted in a lot of the American films is not realistic. Even for many Americans. Many youth seem genuinely surprised at this. They assume that the life that is portrayed in many music videos, on American television shows, etc, is the norm for all Americans. That it is what immigrants experience upon entering U.S. territory.

I believe that those under our care now have a more realistic view of America. We are teaching them that materialism does not ultimately bring happiness. Rather what brings contentment is an honest life dedicated to fulfilling God’s will. But at large there are many Hondurans who are not very well-informed about America. Also, many Hondurans who are living in the United States (whether legally or illegally) post on social media many of their purchases, banquets, etc. All of that sparks jealously in some of those who have stayed behind in Honduras and do not enjoy such luxuries. In short, some Hondurans have a realistic view of America (and materialism). Others do not. Likewise, some Hondurans see Americans as being mere gift-givers or rich tourists. Others see them as genuine servants, friends, co-workers, etc. It all depends on context and the people involved.

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  • Craig

    Thank you John for a good interview and thank you Jennifer for your insightful comments.

    I agree with your observations and analysis of the situation in Honduras and in CA in general. As Americans with 16 years of residency in northern Guatemala, we have seen the same things that you have observed.

    Perhaps our experience will help some to understand better the situation on the ground in Central America.

    The village where our mission site is located (25 miles from where we live) was by all standards a remote village 16 years ago. One arrived in the village after driving 8 kilometers on a one lane road (not much more than a cart path) to a village of wooden, thatched roofed houses. There was little to no public transportation to the next larger city. The were only four hard-wire telephones in the village. Televisions were found only in the little shops (think convenience store) where people gathered to watch soccer games and drink sodas and beer. There were no more than a dozen vehicles in the village of about 1000 people. The women and girls all wore the typical garb common to their indigenous ancestors. If we wanted to take a photo of someone 16 years ago, it was necessary to ask permission to do so. The people were afraid that photos were something spiritual and that the camera was capturing their spirit.

    Today there is a two-lane road to the village. More than half of the houses are made of cement block with tin roofs. There is daily micro-bus service making three trips in the morning and another two trips in the afternoon. Most families now have either a motorcyle or pick-truck and many have both. Very few homes are without a television. It is not uncommon to see some of the remaining thatch-roofed houses with satellite dishes. There are still a few women who wear typical garb, but the younger generation all dress according to what they see on the television or on the internet. As for telephones, everyone has a cell phone, or two, or three. Selfies abound. Internet access on smart phones has created major problems in the school with one of the biggest problems being pornography in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades.

    Hopefully, this quick comparison will give a picture as to the rapid changes that this culture has undergone and is undergoing. For those who have not experienced a third-world country, please think of the technological and material changes that you have seen in your lives and the lives of your parents, and then imagine compressing all of those changes into a 15 or 20 year time span. That is what this culture has been thrust into and honestly, they are not handling it very well. In the minds of the people here, going to the US is like winning the lottery, with the same results.

    Jennifer is correct. If the caravan succeeds, expect it to never end.

    • Ray

      How about land ownership there? Is it expensive to buy? How about taxes, are they high? How is agriculture doing there? Is agriculture big business? Are there many family farms? If so, Do they always plant way more than they could possibly eat? Are there large farmer’s markets there?

  • Ray

    Our congress caused this.

  • Ray

    An evil horde, rushing to our border like this, is unfair to the people who should be coming to America, legally. It slows down and frustrates the whole purpose and process of immigration. It’s just not fair.

    • Woobiefuntime

      I wouldn’t call it a evil horde because they are doing it legally. It’s not like the Gatlin Boys have come to town

  • John

    Thank Jennifer, for your work and dedication. My wife and I spent two weeks near Tegucigalpa visiting a missionary friend serving there. In order for Honduras to grow economically the laws will have to be changed. For example, we saw a newly constructed concrete building (a home I think), that half of which had sunk into the ground. This made it worthless and unsuitable for habitation. It was sitting literally at a 45 degree angle instead of level. Our host informed us that no one can be held accountable for this faulty construction under Honduras law. How can rational people invest money into such a place? How can housing ever be improved?

    • Jennifer Zilly Canales

      Dear John: Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and then post your comments.

      Yes; I absolutely agree with you that Honduran laws need to be changed urgently if the country is going to be able to prosper someday. We are a legally registered Honduran NGO, and the incredible amounts of paperwork, waiting, etc that are required for our very small organization (coupled with exaggerated demands the government places on us while the government itself does little to fulfill its basic duties) are really over the top and do nothing to help us increase our efficiency in the services we provide in our school. I have many examples of this but will not bore you with the details as they are extremely tedious and even confusing.

      Please pray with us that these changes from the top-down might come about in the Lord’s timing and according to His will so that a healthy level of order, prosperity and peace might come to Honduras as a nation. God bless you.

  • bbb

    When people flee their own country rather than trying to work to improve the situation it means the country is further damaged.
    My concerns spiritually deal with violating God’s commandments that have to do with coveting something someone else has, honoring one’s parents [and children], bearing false witness and stealing and killing.
    Those who left Honduras with the criminals from other nations as well as their own and the paid anti-American terrorists placed themselves and ultimately their families in harms way.
    In America there is a desperate need for another Great Awakening, a Christian revival. It seems the same is true of Honduras.

    • Jennifer Zilly Canales

      Dear bbb: Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and then posting your sincere comments. I could not agree with you more. When people flee their country, their native land is further damaged. Likewise, I share your concerns about the spiritual violation of many of God’s commands. Please pray with us for that Great Awakening, as that is, in fact, what both countries need. Pray for repentance and saving faith in Christ for individuals, families and even those in the highest ranks of government. God bless you, and thank you for sharing.

  • Phyllis Little

    I don’t think the US should be giving assylum to those in the caravan. I know life maybe tough for them in South America, but I feel we are being used to finance their own lives and it is up tohome countries to make better lives for these people. I feel the caravan could really be a front for terrorists (ISIS) et al and women and children aren’t really a large no. in caravan. The US can’t afford tofinancially support these people and I feel they have been put up to cause chaos inour country, probably by Soros.

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