By Theresa Greco
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” – 1 Kings 19:11
Do you know when God is calling you to action? Have you ever felt compelled to a ministry in your heart? Several members of Edmonds United Methodist Church recently answered God’s call by extending hospitality to immigrant women upon release from detention. Each woman, or Guest as the Edmonds UMC group refers to them, is warmly welcomed and helped to navigate the process from release to their destinations with family or friends as they await approval for their asylum.
“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks into pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;” First Kings 19:11
But how did the people of Edmonds UMC choose to answer the call to this ministry? It started with an invitation by the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the ACLU to care for women and men seeking asylum who were recently released from detention. The first step toward answering God’s call was a simple sheet of butcher paper and a felt pen as we etched our names as volunteers to host and accompany a person.
“And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;” – 1 Kings 19:11
Our perceptions and assumptions of immigrant detention were not complete. We found we didn’t know the full story. In fact, we learned that our Guests were the bravest and yet most heartbroken individuals we had ever encountered. Each one experienced pain, torture, abuse and fear at levels we could hardly comprehend. We learned the women had one primary goal and that was just to stay alive, to survive this world. They opened our eyes to the existence of a life without a voice, no options for safety or protection, and finding themselves continually walking from South to North America – trekking high in the mountains to stay alive. Some were not so lucky and the risks great: death by a panther, bodies covered in insect bites from the trek through the jungle, dangerous desert heat, and untrustworthy individuals offering unsavory assistance to finish the journey. The toll on the souls of these women may take years, if ever, to repay.
Several of our Guests applied for asylum and were denied through due process, despite the dangerous and deadly circumstances they endured. With death or torture as their recourse behind them, they chose to cross the border and were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These are their stories, their lives, and their future.
“And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; – 1 Kings 19:12
Our phones rang, and still ring, with requests from the Church Council of Greater Seattle or the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project for help picking up a Guest who will be released in 45 minutes from south Seattle or north Tacoma detention facilities. What else could we do? We answer the calls and welcome our Guests with a warm meal, clothing as an alternative to their jail garb, a prepaid phone, a carry-on bag, and arrange for an airline ticket taking them to their final destination in the US to join their sponsor. We also make sure to escort our Guests to the airport gates, since this is the first time experiencing an American airport – outside of being shackled for prison transport as they were moved to Seattle.
And after the fire a sound of sheer silence. – 1 Kings 19:12
Our most important function in this ministry is our greatest blessing. We get to create sacred space for the women and their words; their tears begin to flow once they feel safe. These brave women we have had the gift of hosting reflect for us the face of Christ in so many ways. It is not what we did for them in this ministry but the blessings we received in their beautiful gifts of community.
Duly recognizing, this effort got off the ground through the people and ministries of Edmonds UMC. On a personal note, a special thanks to the courageous women and their partners who drop everything and in Christ, answer the call: Julia and Dave Eckberg, Kassie Goforth and Andy Perry, Clarissa and Andres Fuentes, and Jennifer and Greg McLaughlin.
Theresa Greco is an active member of the Immigration Ministries Committee at Edmonds United Methodist Church in Edmonds, Washington.