The Risk Takers Among Us

October 13, 2018

PHOENIX, AZ – First Church United Church of Christ (UCC) is celebrating our common humanity and the resiliency and power of those most oppressed among us.

First Church UCC was forever changed by the presence of 115 immigrants from Central America, mostly from Guatemala, where hunger, drought, and unemployment compelled them to leave their homes to find a way of providing for their families. Many are also fleeing political corruption, gang violence, and drug trafficking. Marginalized and exploited in their home countries, imperiled on their journeys north, these resilient human beings cross our border seeking safety, stability, and opportunity. They are not criminals, yet they are greeted with arrest by US agents. They are held in filthy, cramped border cells where women, men, toddlers, and breastfeeding babies are tagged, caged, and treated like animals. They have no meaningful access to legal advice as they are fed into a system of deadlines, profit-driven detention, and dire consequences for themselves and their children. This administration has fed the fire of anti-immigrant sentiment with fear and with lies, and we will not be complicit by remaining silent.

For several years our church has discretely provided hospitality to migrants as they travel from DHS custody to court appearances and ICE appointments in other states. We have offered housing, meals, assistance in communicating with worried family members, and transportation. We cannot remain silent as we listen to harrowing stories of their brave journeys that brought them to our spiritual community. The nearly week- presence of our latest guests has transformed our campus into the embodiment of the Divine. When made aware that some already had orders of deportation, many of the guests responded: “If God wills it, we will be allowed to stay. It’s all in the hands of God.” We were humbled and ourselves emboldened to walk with them on this leg of their difficult journey.

These strong, courageous women, men and children were traumatized by their days of confinement at the Department of Homeland Security holding cells in southern Arizona. They were served undercooked and inadequately prepared food. They were forced to gather drinking water from the latrine. Sleeping was in the seated position on cold cement floors due to overcrowding.

Our immediate response was providing food and housing, but it became apparent that their needs were much greater. Their medical and health conditions were inadequately managed in detention. Several had been sick for days and in need of prescription medications which were denied them in detention. Four of our guests were taken to the hospital in the first few days of their stay. This lack of attention to basic human needs is unconscionable.

As we shared their presence among us, there was an outpouring of generosity and support through organizations and individuals. We celebrate the hospitality of the Phoenix community who welcomed our Central American neighbors through gifts of clothing, toys, supplies, services, and through monetary donations. Most important, we celebrate the community that gathered here to become the hands and feet of Christ.

This inhumanity will clearly continue until we use our united voices to speak, our hands to share, and our feet to march. We can restore dignity to humanity. Unite! Speak up! Rise up! With few exceptions, we are all the children of immigrants, or are immigrants ourselves. For most of us in this country, someone in our past bravely risked an uncertain journey so that each of us could be here.

For MEDIA: First Church United Church of Christ is open and willing to share our journey with these resilient travelers and let the community know the stories they shared with us.

Rev. James B. Pennington, Senior Minister, First Church United Church of Christ 

Yvonne Harrison, Moderator of Light to the World 

Ellie Hutchison, Community Outreach and Development