Communities Supporting Central American Families Seeking Asylum


Since 2014 the United States has received a wave of Central American families that are escaping the violence that is happening in the northern triangle, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  The predictions for 2016 and 2017 are that even more families will be fleeing and seeking Asylum.

The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ and the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans have had two experiences over the last two years that have given us the opportunity to accompany families and help them acclimate and get settled in the community.  What we have learned is that it takes commitment, a broad range of skills, and a compassionate heart that is spread widely throughout the community. 

It is clear that this experience can be shared and multiplied beyond the border communities and into the heart of the United States.  While faith communities have many of the supports mechanisms and skills sets in their congregations, it is quite possible that other types of compassionate, committed communities are ready to take on the responsibility.  Here are some of the things to carefully think through.


The Beginning

If possible it is good to begin the accompanying process with the Asylum family before they present themselves to the Port Authority at the US/Mexico Border.  Each case is unique.  The first time we were called out of the blue by the Border Patrol and asked if we could sponsor a family from El Salvador.  The second time we did a lot of preliminary work with the Kino Border Initiative and had four letters of support for the family: from the local church, the Kino Border Initiative, the Samaritan Humanitarian group and the host family where the family stayed for the first few weeks.  We also had a lawyer review the Asylum Application/I-589 that was presented at the border.  The family was well prepared when they presented themselves.  The minute they were taken into custody, the host family began to call to arrange when they could pick up the Asylum family.   This put pressure on the officials and made it clear that there was going to be a strong advocate for the family.  We feel this had a very positive effect.  The results were that they did not have to post bond, the parent was not shackled or handcuffed while in custody, and the family was released from the detention center after two days.



The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ and the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans have jointly supported and accompanied the Asylum families.  It takes a team of supporters because there are lots of areas that need attention, it cannot be done by a single person or even a few.  There are many issues that arise and needs that must be taken care of quickly.   We have ended up having a cadre of people that have taken on various key roles in particular areas---like medical, legal, education, transportation etc., and then they have enlisted others to help them.

As far as the financial support, we had faith that people would step forward to help the Asylum family.  The Church created an Asylum Fund and people have given one time gifts, others have pledged $40 or $50 dollars a month until the family is established.  In a short amount of time we had over $6000.00 to support the family.  Asylum families are an easy project to contribute to because their stories are so powerful and help us reach for our higher values.  The Asylum families are asked to contribute financially as well and they are very industrious.



While it is not essential that everyone on the support team speak Spanish, it is important to involve a few people that have a fluency in Spanish or the language of the Asylum family.   Members of the Asylum family will have various levels of fluency in English and that should be encouraged, nonetheless it is critical that they have people that they can communicate with that understand their home culture and language.



Ultimately the family needs a safe place that they can call their home.  With both families we have worked with we have had them stay for a short period of time with a host family.  This gave them constant attention and support as they were getting settled into a new and strange culture.  With our first Asylum family we assessed that a more structured community was needed and we were able to locate them in another state with a group of nuns.  With our second Asylum family we looked into finding a house or an apartment to rent.  We decided on an apartment, but there were a number of road blocks.  Since the asylum parent cannot work, and they have no history of employment or pay stubs the church needed to step forward and sign the lease for six months which also eliminated a Security Deposit and a 1st/last month rent.  The church also stepped forward to get the electricity turned on which saved a $250 security deposit.



We were able to furnish the whole apartment for free with assistance from the Salvation Army and White Elephant (Local Community run Thrift Shop).  Individuals helped with sheets, towels, kitchen supplies, and other items.  We held a “Pound Party”(Everyone brought a pound of sugar, flour, toilet paper to and open house) to welcome the family and filled their shelves with the basic necessities.


Medical Care

With both Asylum families there were significant medical and health issues that need to be addressed early in their arrival.  It appears that there were medical issues that had not been addressed for quite some time and in both cases the children had not received all of their immunizations. We have used our connections at a community clinic as well as a clinic in Tucson that is specifically for refugees and immigrants.  Through these contacts the families have been able to sign up for a discount plan where visits and medications are discounted or given for free.  It is important to have at least one person that can over see their medical needs and be a strong medical advocate for them.


Legal Care

We were advised to find a good competent immigration attorney, if possible pro-bono or near-bono.   We had a couple option, a professor of immigration law at the University of Arizona decided to take the case and is providing the legal advice along with a law student.  It is important to move quickly on the legal work because it is very tedious and an initial court hearing is set soon after their arrival and the asylum seeker must appear.  It is surprising how many asylum seekers do not have a lawyer and appear by themselves.  We believe it is a strong message to the judge and the court when the asylum seeker appears in court with multiple community advocates and a strong lawyer.


Psychological Care

It is important to understand that Asylum Families are fleeing terror, abuse, violence, torture, and repression.  They have witnessed atrocities that are sometimes layered upon layers, they have survived and escaped but still carry memories and wounds that are festering.  It is critical to have a skilled mental health counselor that is part of the team that has experience in trauma and understands the journey of refugees and migrants.  If at all possible the counselor should be fluent in the language and the culture because the issues they will deal with are buried deep below the surface.  It is also essential that they have skill in working with children, because the children will need the care as much as the adults.  This work must be done by a professional in a professional setting with regular appointments until some stability is achieved.  The people that accompany the Asylum family need to be aware that the trauma will come out in many different ways and they need to be supportive and caring and try not to take some of the behavior personally.



Our current asylum family has four children ages, 15, 12, 9 and 4.  Since they arrived in the summer our education specialist was able to take the three older children to their respective schools and introduce the family to the principal and staff.  They are now enrolled in public schools in the community and are receiving English Language Development (ELD) classes to help get them up to speed.  Two of the children are preliterate, even in their native language, so their needs are greater for learning educational foundations.  The schools have been incredible as they have made special accommodations and have even set up special one on one teaching in a small classroom setting as well as after school tutoring.  For the 4 year old a visit to a church run preschool in the community was made and they offered to have the child attend two days a week and waived the costs.  The mother has enrolled in ESL classes.



There are multiple transportation needs that begin to arise.  We have created a transportation team of folks that can be called to help transport the family to appointments and other commitments.  This sometimes requires two vehicles because of the size of the family.  It is critical that the transportation team require that everyone use seatbelts and appropriate car seats.


Church and Religious Life

Each migrant family will have different religious needs.  It is important to be respectful of their traditional religious practices and give them options and help them find the right place that will work for them.  Our current Asylum family has visited other churches but has found the Good Shepherd to be a warm and inviting place for them to worship and be supported in their faith.  We have been able to hire an interpreter that has helped them feel more a part of the worship experience.


Food Bank or other Volunteer Opportunities

We were able to connect the Asylum Family with our local food bank.  This was a really good connection because it gave them the opportunity to get food for free, but it also gave the parent and her older son the opportunity to give back to the community.  They both started to volunteer the first week and have felt very connected and supported by the other volunteers.  The point is that Asylum families want to give back and not just be on the receiving end of good deeds, so it is important to find ways that the can do that.  For this Asylum family, the week isn’t complete without spending time serving at the food bank.


Recruiting Churches and Communities to Adopt Asylum Families

With so many Central American Families arriving at the US/Mexico Border it is critical that Churches and communities of conscience step up and find ways to support and accompany Asylum families.  The hope is that groups can begin to explore the possibilities and use this guide to help them think through the responsibilities and how they might move forward.  The Kino Border Initiative located in Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico is a key partner in locating and placing potential Asylum Families.  The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ has a strong relationship with Kino Border Initiative and can help make the right connections and answer questions throughout the process.

If interested please contact: Rev. Randy J. Mayer,  or 520-625-1375.

Via JPANet - Help us define our advocacy work in 2017

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” (Galatians 9:10)

This was a challenging and eventful year for justice advocacy. We know still more challenges await us in 2017, but one thing is certain – Our voices are needed now, more than ever, to uplift the common good and reflect God’s intention of justice, peace and the integrity of Creation.

We continue to need your voice as we vision our work for the year to come!

Your work has made difference in 2016! Over the past 12 months UCC justice advocates, together with our partners, helped lay the groundwork for historic sentencing reform bill that we hope to pass in the next Congress. You successfully fought for a transparent, fair and sustainable approach to trade policy and defeated the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement. And you continue to stand in solidarity with Native American communities by opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Through the UCC Our Faith Our Vote campaign, you registered voters in some of our most marginalized communities, educated your community, and offered much-needed space for people to meet across differences and find common ground. The relationships you have built and the seeds you have planted will reach far beyond any one election cycle.

Drawing on your energy and input, and guided by the powerful witness of General Synod, we will continue to advance the bold, prophetic voice of the UCC in the public square in 2017. Looking ahead, we want to hear from you. What are the issues you feel most passionate about? What are you hearing in your local communities? In what ways do you hope to engage in justice advocacy in 2017? How can we support you?

Help the UCC Washington office chart its policy advocacy work for 2017. Take our survey and help us understand your priorities and passions and needs for the coming year.

As you contemplate your year-end giving, consider supporting the justice and advocacy work of the United Church of Christ with a donation. Your gifts make the work of the Justice & Peace Action Network possible!

A Time of Transition

Lots of changes are happening in the Southwest Conference. Our longest serving staff member has been working with us for 13 months. I am 6 months into my time with you as Designated Conference Minister. Our newest staff member joined the team last March. This issue of The Loop will tell you about ways the conference office is reorganizing to conduct business more efficiently. You are being invited to use different processes for tasks that are intended to make your life simpler and easier, and to play to the strengths of our conference and the skills and efficiency of our staff. We are focusing on strategies that equip congregations and clergy to do their best possible ministry together and in partnership with other congregations and clergy. We need to give ourselves some time and space to traverse the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual dynamics that accompany these changes. That time and space and all that is contained therein is called a transition. While changes happen the moment something becomes different, transition is a process that takes awhile. How much time and how much space will our transition take? Well, that depends on us.

For the foreseeable future, all of us will be trying on for size a new configuration with different processes and strategies. We expect some tailoring will be needed so they fit us better. Like that favorite comfortable garment, we will miss doing things the way they were done before. We will most miss the people with whom we interacted. And so this time will include some grieving, reminiscing, making peace, and letting go. For awhile transition feels like we are living in two worlds, the one that is ending and the one that isn't quite here yet. We'll need to ask ourselves what is so much a part of us that it can't be left behind, and what must be left behind so that we can embrace what is ahead. Transitions can feel overwhelming as we are asked to take on new skills, attitudes, andvalues, or to pursue new outcomes. Conference leaders will monitor the pace of the journey making sure we all get there unharmed. We will encourage one another, and offer one another guidance and wisdom. We will look for ways give each other the chance to really shine! All the while we'll be answering the question, "Where do I fit into this new way of being conference?"

Our challenge as the Southwest Conference is cultivating our capacity to understand and live our covenant together in a way that is no longer experienced as stable, predictable, or even comprehensible. That capacity is, in fact, the single most important factor in predicting whether any organization will increase its vitality and thrive, or if it will die. Expect some anxiety, miscommunication, confusion, and resurfacing of unresolved issues. We will get through all of those things by coming together, pulling together and giving one another lots of grace.

As with every transition a small number of people will find themselves unable to embrace the new beginning toward which we are moving. That's OK. We are still in covenant together and we will still love and care for them. An equally small number of people will find themselves ahead of the curve saying things like, "Finally!" They will need to be patient with the vast majority of us who want to find a way to embrace the new beginning ahead, but who need some time to work through the dynamics that change creates and our own place in the new order.

Our transition will be made easier and the new beginning to which God is calling us will be sustainable as we give our time and attention to our identity, our relationships, and the way we communicate with one another. Remember, we are the Southwest Conference UCC. If any conference can find new ways of being conference and grow into them together for a sustainable future, it's us! We are the most innovative and experimental conference in the United Church of Christ. We have a long history of creating change, helping each other live into it, and doing so with grace. And we have very skilled and capable leaders who have guided groups on similar journeys. We can and will do this.

Knowing who we are, we must live faithfully and playfully in covenant together. This is all about our relationships together. Nothing about transition is intended to put our relationships with one another in jeopardy. How we treat one another on this journey is critically important. And so we'll speak truthfully in love, bear one another's burdens, forgive as we have been forgiven, and resolve to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but esteem one another.

Remembering who we are and living faithfully and playfully in covenant together, we are in conversation together. We'll talk with one another rather than about each other. Communication will be a priority for the conference office. We will do our best to anticipate your questions and provide answers even before you ask. Still, if you want to tell us something, please tell us. If you don't understand, ask us to clarify. If an explanation would help, ask us why. All of us in the conference office invite your feedback, and we are all committed to being responsive to the voice of the conference as a whole. Our goal is over-communication and we will need you to let us know if we are meeting it.

We are living into the next chapter of the Southwest Conference! We are reinventing ourselves. We are seizing opportunities that weren't there before. We are about to be the best Southwest Conference we've ever been.

Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons
Designated Conference Minister

Read the July Special Edition of The Loop.

Can You Help ICM?

ICM food and clothing bank needs our non-perishable food items, gently-used Summer clothing and personal hygiene donations! June, July, & August bring the largest crowds to ICM but their donations slow to almost nothing during this time.

Please help families & seniors in need by contributing to ICM. Everything given is tax-deductible and a receipt will be provided. You may be able to bring your donations to your local congregations, including:

Phoenix First Congregational UCC
1407 North Second Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Church of the Beatitudes
555 W. Glendale Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85021

ICM will also pick up donations directly from you:

Contact or 602-254-7450 x4.

Even a small donation can make a huge difference for someone in need.

Be The Church of The Month!

Beginning this month, churches began receiving an email announcing this contest and the "Be the Church" statement for June, which is "Protect the environment." The Churches will then have three weeks to submit information and any photos or video showing what they're doing (or have done already) to make that statement a reality.

The church selected as a winner for June earns the "Be the Church of the Month" for July. The winning churches and their accomplishments will be featured on UCC social media and, and they'll receive a prize from the "Be the Church" collection from UCC Resources.

Please send us information, photos, and video of the amazing things your church is doing to live out each month's "Be the Church" statement.  Check for each month's statement and submission deadlines!

Do You Want To Connect With The LGBTQ Community?

Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ is a new church in the conference, whose mission and purpose is to support the health and wholeness of at risk lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, questioning, and non-binary youth and young adults. We are a multi-generational diverse community looking to explore what it means to be a postmodern church. Many in our community live below the poverty wage, so every Sunday evening we share a meal together. Rebel & Divine UCC receives food from sponsors, donations, and most importantly other UCC churches. We are grateful for Scottsdale Congregational UCC, Black Mountain UCC, Desert Palm UCC, and Encanto Community Church UCC, for their hospitality in hosting and serving Sunday dinners for Rebel & Divine UCC.  After serving the meal at the conference office at 917 E. Sheridan, all are encouraged to eat with the community and to participate in programming (aka the service).
When other church leaders and clergy connect with members of Rebel & Divine UCC, not only are both communities enriched and served, but God is truly present. This is when, sometimes for the first time, disenfranchised youth and young adults see that there are loving, non-judgmental Christians in the world who love them.

If your church would like to sponsor a meal and is outside the Phoenix area, please consider donating $125.00 (the approximate cost to feed 40 people and provide leftovers to take home).  Make your check payable to Rebel & Divine, UCC, 917 E. Sheridan, Phoenix AZ 85006. If your church is inside the Phoenix area and is interested in sponsoring a Sunday, meal please contact Kelly Kahlstrom at 602-908-5776 after 6:00 pm or Patti Sutherland at 602-568-1432. Come and see the face of God in the LGBTQ community.

Submitted by Patti Sutherland
Scottsdale Congregational UCC Mission Chair
Rebel & Divine UCC Board member

Pulses stopped and souls began arriving in eternity

Pulses stopped and souls began arriving in eternity even before the 911 calls reached help. First responders teetered on the brink of sacrifice. Hostages gave last hugs to dying friends and lovers in hope-to-survive silence. Trauma teams offered heroic efforts even as the blood of the victims they tried to save soaked through their sneakers. When the shooting stopped 49 very innocent people and 1 very guilty shooter were dead. But it's not over.

To a person the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people with whom I've spent these last five days - at vigils, in church, on line, and in person - have been caught off guard by the depth to which this latest American mass murder has shaken them. That includes me.

Pastoral words eluded me in the numbness, and in the anger, and in the gut-wrenching broken-heartedness I felt for the parents and siblings and grandparents and family members of choice who were praying that it was their unaccounted for loved one's cell phone that was dead. For them it isn't over. It will never be over.

Hours before the Pulse murders, Juan David Villegas-Hernandez shot and killed his wife and their 4 daughters in Roswell, New Mexico. But that multiple victim shooting was bumped from major newscasts by the bigger story from Orlando. I am writing this on the first anniversary of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in which 9 black Christian Americans were murdered. Tragically, whatever day I would have written to you is now an anniversary of a mass shooting in our country. Any day. In fact, there were more mass shootings in the U.S. last year than there are days in a leap year. I am sure that for the Hernandez family, and for the survivors of the victims of the shooting that took place on whatever day you are reading this, the grief, the pain, the terror, and the aftermath are just as big as for the families reeling from what just happened in Orlando.

What happened last Sunday will make everything in life so much harder for the victims' and for the perpetrator's survivors. What happened last Sunday will make many things harder in all our futures. If there is one thing I am walking away from the Pulse massacre committed to, it's refusing to love anyone to someone else's death. In some way, I feel that being patient with people who oppose assault weapon bans and common sense gun control laws is loving my LGBT friends and family members to death. I didn't say I wouldn't or don't love them. It's just going to be so much harder for me to be patient with them. Assault weapons threaten all of us. People who have not been thoroughly screened carrying guns threatens all of us. With Orlando, gun control is no longer (as if it really ever was) about the right to bear arms and is absolutely about who lives and who dies.

It's going to be harder explaining to families who've lost ones to violence motivated by sexual orientation, why churches let fear of losing members or income prevent them from becoming or even talking about becoming Open and Affirming. With Orlando, being gay stopped being a matter of whether or not the Bible says homosexuality is right or wrong, and become a matter of what the Bible says about whether LGBT people live or die.

It's going to be harder for me not to be political as a spiritual leader. The Pulse massacre is an attack against LGBT people. It is an attack against Brown people. It is an attack against, not by, Muslims. Life and death are spiritual matters. When politics infringes on any person's right to fully experience life, enjoy liberty, and pursue happiness, and when political leaders engage in or tolerate hate speech, politics has invaded the spiritual realm, and my response as a person of faith and as a spiritual leader must be, "Love wins! Game on!"

Beloved family members and friends of Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-
Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez,Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright, my heart is broken for you. I am confident that I can say on behalf of the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ we all hurt with you, and we share your righteous anger. We too are asking, "When will this stop?" and declare with you, "Enough is enough!!" We grieve the loss of such loving and talented members of your families and of the Hispanic community. We stand with our Muslim friends and neighbors for peace. May our efforts together lead to the peaceful realm for which we long together.

Long after our candles our vigil candles are extinguished, we remain
The light of hope refusing to give in to fear
The light of peace that terror can not dim
The light of comfort in the midst of deepest grief
A beacon for gun controls laws that would have kept weapons out of the hands of Omar Mateen
A conflagration of solidarity for Muslims across our land
The spark of healing for closeted families who missed the opportunity to love them in the wholeness of who God created them to be
Bearers of the flames of remembrance for each member of our family murdered early this morning
The glow of gentle anger smoldering because it happened again, vowing to do all we can so it never happens again.

-William M. Lyons

From the Southwest Conference

Dear Friends of the SW Conference,

As the Holiday season approaches and your family makes its decisions about end-of-year donations, we hope you will consider a gift to the Southwest Conference.

As you may well know, this has been a year of transition for all of us here in the conference office:  John Dorhauer was elected as the General Minister and President of the UCC, Lee Albertson stepped in as Acting Conference Minister, the Executive Board signed a 3-year contract with Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons as our incoming Designated Conference Minister, Barbara Decker (after 15 years with the conference) will be retiring at the end of the year, and we hired Sheri Slaybaugh as her replacement. 

We have tried to maintain our level of service to the churches in the conference through it all as we work with churches looking for new pastoral leadership and churches going through crises.   We have acted as a pastor and consultant to your pastor.  In addition, we have worked with new churches, offered an Innovation Laboratory to teach innovation skills to a test group of churches, hired Ken McIntosh to facilitate innovation and renewal in our churches by the formation of triads and other resourcing mechanisms, and demonstrated some Post Modern worship experiences.

Of course, we also had a wonderful Annual Meeting experience in Sedona, a fabulous camp for our youth and young adults in Prescott, and just recently, a retreat for the clergy.

But all of this takes funding.  The SWC churches pledge their support, and they have been generous and faithful in their efforts.  But we count on all of you to help, too, if you can.  We especially need that extra boost this year for moving expenses to bring Bill Lyons to the Southwest.

Our future looks exciting as we prepare for new leadership, new vision, and new ways to serve the churches of the Southwest Conference!  Your help is greatly appreciated. 

Please send your donation to:
917 E. Sheridan
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Lee, Holly, Barbara, and Sheri