On Wednesday and Thursday of this week (December 26-27), we accepted into our care 94 refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Over half of them were children. We fed them. We gave them places to sleep for a night or two. We gave them backpacks, clothes, towels, jackets, hygiene items, and other essentials. We made bus arrangements for them, and then transported them to the Phoenix Bus Station. From there, they traveled on to a friend or family member as far away as Chicago or Florida.
Our agreement to help was not a political statement; it was an act of love to people in need.
I know that in our church (and especially because we are a bilingual congregation), we have people of all political persuasions when it comes to border policy, immigration, and asylum issues. I’m leaving that discussion for another time and place. The people we helped had been processed by ICE and were ready to be released. ICE had only two options: Release them to a church or release them on the streets.
We chose to accept them in the name of Christ and love them and help them.
We do this to all people, regardless of their skin color, nationality, faith, background, language, or immigration status. It is what we mean when we say we love people. It’s not just a statement or a motto; it’s a reality that often comes with an obligation to offer time, housing, food, clothing, and attention. That’s the nature of love.
I couldn’t personally show them as much love as I wanted, because I couldn’t speak their language. But I gathered a few stories through translators. This is Juana’s story:
I’m 22 years old and I traveled here with my 6 month old daughter Liliana. I’m from Guatemala. I came to the United States because there is a lot of violence in my town right now. The gangs are fighting with each other and innocent people are often hurt and killed. I’ve been extorted for the last several months. I’ve paid 1000 quetzals (equivalent to about $130, a huge amount in Guatemala) so that no one will hurt me or my daughter. I knew the extortion would continue. The police were powerless to help me. I decided to try and come to the United States where I hope to work and be safe.
The stories are touching and the need is great.
Before I close, I want to thank our members for their response. We had more volunteers than we knew what to do with. And people outside of our congregation showed up in a big way. High School Spanish teachers came to translate. Hickman Farms donated breakfast (and cooked it) one morning. The Fire Department gave us car seats. Avondale City Council members volunteered. Our State Representative (Diego Espinoza) showed up, translated, and even cooked omelets. Gathering Humanity, a non-profit group that works with refugees provided cots, clothes, backpacks, and more. A volunteer from Duncan Farms made repeated trips with groups to the bus station. A Phoenix Synagogue brought us blankets. The Arizona Disaster Relief Team of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention set up a shower trailer and gave us cash. It was truly much more than just a church effort.
I’m not sure what the future holds. We may do this again next week. It is who we are when we say we Love God, Love People, and Follow Jesus!