Tierra Nueva means “new earth”. Compelling reading. How we make “new lives” out of “new earth”.
While military death squads patrolled the mango-laden roads, we learned that real change begins underground: not only with seeds in darker, richer soil, but by engaging the people who are despised, unvalued, unseen in society. Those who are shoved underground. We believe in watering these lives like precious seeds, a new earth waiting just under the surface to emerge. We began as a soil conservation movement–literally making new earth–through the mountain villages of Honduras in the 80’s, getting at the roots of poverty with peasant farmers.
In 1994, Tierra Nueva expanded to the rainy agricultural lands north of Seattle, in the Skagit Valley. For two decades now, we have engaged two underground American communities here: migrant farmworkers from Oaxaca, Mexico who survive in the hidden berry-picking camps outside town, and the variety of men and women locked away in the Skagit County Jail.
We come as chaplains, which means we represent not any governmental organization or program, but rather we come in the name of Love itself. We are not your normal pastors; “pastor” means “shepherd,” and so we seek, find, defend, and walk alongside some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
In migrant communities, we find courageous, hardworking families who have travelled Homeric distances, leaving their native colors and indigenous languages of Triqui and Mixteco, to support both their children here in the North, as well as our agricultural industry.
In the jail, we find the children of deported parents, as well as children of American addiction and abuse, children who grew up under the shadow of racism and police brutality. We build relationships with tattooed men and women, buried under labels like “gang member” and “addict,” and we hear beautiful voices from the underside of America.
We walk with these men and women through their legal sentences, their court hearings, their release and job search and drug recovery and new parenthood. We shepherd America’s “black sheep” out of the underground and discover a new community together with them.
This involves our Family Support Center, for legal advocacy and accompaniment through the system. It involves our Gang Initiative, where gang members on the streets and locked away, deep in maximum-security solitary confinement cells, are our special priority. These tough tattooed youth (“homies”) are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and they grow up learning how to defend themselves and survive in a country that says they are unwanted.
Our work pursues these young men and women in the social dumpsters where they are locked up–jails, prisons, low-income housing–and there we seek to embody the good news of a Love that wants us all.