How social media is helping the church reach migrants in Latin America

Traditionally, migration has been driven by labour markets. However, more recently in Latin America it has been motivated by political and economic instability. In addition, climate change is likely to become a big factor driving migration: the UN estimates that of the top 25 nations most at risk for natural disasters, eight are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The number of people migrating across borders within Latin America has increased by 36 per cent in the past 15 years. Photo: Ronny Oliveros

‘The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 9:33–34

Responding to a crisis 

The number of people migrating across borders in Latin America has increased rapidly since 2015. The UN predicts that in just four years, 5.4 million people will have left Venezuela by the end of 2019. That’s around 17 per cent of the population. Many of these migrants are classed as refugees. They often lack access to appropriate health services, shelter, and provision of food and water. 

The ‘As One Born Among Us’ campaign has been set up this year by the Evangelical church to respond to the migrant crisis throughout Latin America. Christian communities are called to follow Jesus’s model and respond with a spirit of acceptance, welcome and love that knows no limits due to race, nationality, language or religion. In doing so it seeks to strengthen the evangelical community’s ability to address, protect and promote the rights of migrants. 

Uniting voices 

The campaign has been launched on the ground through awareness activities in local communities and via social networks. There are organisations working with migrants who are doing a good job, but there is little joined-up work. This campaign aims to bring together organisations concerned with the rights of migrants in order to build a stronger voice within churches, civil society and among decision-makers in the fight against xenophobia. 

Social media, in particular, has been a great way to build networks of people and create awareness of our campaign. Through social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter we have been able to reach more people in less time, overcome spatial barriers and spread our message globally. It’s also allowed us to reach out directly to young people who are one of our main target audiences.

Watch a video about the mission of the ‘As One Born Among Us’ campaign.

Building a social network

We started by following organisations on social networks which are part of the overall campaign and, in turn, they have followed us back and shared our content. A core group of influencers have helped to give the campaign recognition and credibility and helped us to build a solid following. We design attractive posts in order to capture the public’s attention and raise awareness. We have shared stories about migrants in the Bible, support processes and a theological reflection from a migrant perspective. We are also contributing to the formation of policies and strategies of inclusion towards migrant communities and making visible existing good practice by communities and churches already responding to this crisis. Our work is done in a spirit of solidarity and love.

A campaign post on Instagram promoting the ‘Migrant Expression’ photo competition. Photo: Andrea Villarreal

We have had a very positive reaction from young people when we share videos featuring influential people from different countries. These influencers are role models for them. We explained to the young people what the influencers are doing with migrants and the reason why they do it. But our biggest success to date has been posts that allow people to take part directly in the campaign. We did this through a competition called ‘Migrant Expression’ where we asked people to share photographs and projects about them helping migrants. 

More and more people in Latin America are getting to ‘meet’ through our campaign and we now have almost 4,000 followers on Facebook.

Campaign challenges

There have been challenges. Some people have felt excluded from the campaign because information was not available for their countries and in their language. It made us rethink our plan and we started producing publications that included data and influencers from each country. We also started to translate the documents into English and Portuguese so that people in non-Spanish-speaking countries could receive information and feel part of the campaign. 

It’s been surprising to see how the majority of people who have contacted us are not organisations or people supporting migrants, but the migrants themselves. They tell us where they have come from and they want to know how the church can help them. They also want to know how their relatives can be helped, who stayed behind in their country of origin. 

It is very common to find people expressing themselves without filters on social networks. There are many positive comments, including prayers for migrants, but there are also negative comments that must be processed. We respond appropriately to these people and, if necessary, remove offensive comments that affect the objective of the campaign. 

Setting up and running a social media campaign has been a useful experience. In a relatively short space of time we have managed to build a platform to help take our campaign to the next stage. 

You can learn more about the ‘As One Born Among Us’ campaign on their website. 

Find out more about International Migrants Day held on 18 December each year.

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Andrea Villarreal
Andrea Villarreal is Communications Officer for Tearfund in Latin America and the Caribbean.