written by Rev. Dr. Delle McCormick, Rincon Congregational UCC
Over one hundred church people from a mix of denominations, from all over the country - clergy and lay people gathered at the Good Shepherd UCC and on both sides of the border. This Witness at the Border program is a response to the separation of migrant and asylum seeker families, and the public outcry for action to support these families, to stop the separations at the border, and place pressure on our elected officials to stop the violence perpetrated on this vulnerable population by our US immigration policies and practices. Delegation members spent four days in presentations by faith-based migrants’ rights organizations in Mexico and the US, walking migrant trails, visiting migrant shelters in Mexico, and worshiping and protesting at the border wall. We witnessed the heartbreaking stories, incredible faith, courage, and compassion in our neighbors from Mexico and Central American. And I was so impressed and inspired by participants’ willingness to open their hearts and minds, stretch their energy, and share in “the gospel of the border” – both good news and bad.
We heard one extended family’s story of leaving Honduras due to gang violence, government corruption, and economic crises – traveling, mostly walking and hanging on to the tops and sides of trains – to arrive at the border sick and tired and without any money left. The Church of the Good Shepherd, after hearing of the perils they faced in their country and in transit to the US, decided to sponsor one family of asylum seekers. Then more family members arrived at the border. Then more. And each time, the original family member would call Rev. Dr. Randy Mayer and he and his church would welcome them, providing them with the resources and pastoral care that they needed to accomplish the asylum process. The original family member who reached out to Randy told of being followed in the grocery store by migrants, who she takes home and feeds, and then calls Randy, and the church does what they can to help them. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Sahuarita also has opened a food bank and hosts the Green Valley Samaritans on their campus. You can find more information here
Rev. Ken Heintzelman from Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix, spoke of providing Sanctuary for several people threatened with an order of deportation. His church also receives Immigration and Customs Services (ICE) busloads of asylum seekers every day who have just arrived in the US and need hospitality until they can connect with and travel to be with their US sponsors. The Shadow Rock’s Sanctuary Action Team also has procured funding for a house in Mexico for people who have been in sanctuary and who were later deported. The Shadow Rock community dreams big and acts faithfully to accompany our neighbors in desperate need of sanctuary, in the many forms that takes. You can find more information here
We visited the “comedor”/soup kitchen, run by the Sisters of the Eucharist and the Kino Border Initiative, that offers two hot meals a day to migrants recently deported from the US and those just arriving at the border from points south. Samaritan and Mexico church volunteers help cook, make phone calls to family back home, give out clothing, take people to the hospital and dentist, and provide pastoral support. Click here for more information
One last story: We visited the shelter of San Juan Bosco in Nogales on the Mexico side of the border. The private shelter has been funded and operated by a single family for thirty-six years! We saw a small space on a very steep hill, a meeting room with washer and dryer, dorms for women and men, showers, and a large chapel. While Doña Hilda said that she and her family are Catholics, her church doesn’t support their mission. Imagine opening a migrant shelter in your neighborhood and all that would entail, including the neighbors’ wrath – and they have been doing this for thirty-six years!
Please pray for all those with whom we have met this week, and for those participating in this powerful witness of the Southwest Conference of the UCC.