Our work continues during shelter-in-place
Epworth United Methodist Church, Berkeley, California formally voted to become a Sanctuary Church in November, 2018. This means that our church is standing in solidarity with immigrants and other organizations working on their behalf. However, our focus on those in the margins of our society goes back over a decade, with dozens of people physically and financially involved.
Our current efforts supporting immigrants began when Epworth members joined others who successfully demonstrated to close the nearby Richmond Detention Center. Over the past 5 years we have worked with a number of individuals and families from central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Other people with whom we have been involved are from Africa—Cameroon, Guinea and Nigeria, as well as one person from Mongolia in eastern Asia.
A large part of our current commitment to those on the margins happens through the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI), a 501(c)3 non-partisan organization in Oakland, California. With other churches in IM4HI, we are one of a number of Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) Accompaniment Teams, (NEAT), which accompany newly arrived immigrants in the beginning stages of their settling in the U.S. who have no support system. These commitments are typically from 6 months to one year.
This effort (which is called accompaniment) includes, but is not limited to:
Accompaniment to appointments with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Immigration court as well as regular court
Interface with attorneys working to help individuals and families gain asylum
Assistance in accessing community and state services
Fundraising to assist in short term needs for food, housing, clothing and other life essentials
At the present time we are accompanying a woman and her 18 year old daughter from Honduras. We have also offered to provide short-term physical sanctuary in our church to one or more individuals who may soon be released from detention.
In addition to local work in the Bay area, in 2018, two teams of Epworth members made trips to the US-Mexico border to support individuals just released from detention who are headed to sponsors all around the country. This work was done at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, seventy miles west of the Gulf of Mexico and a few miles north of the Rio Grande. This organization was founded in 2014 to assist exhausted asylees being dropped off by immigration officials, with no resources to help them make their way to their destinations. People are given a hot meal, clean clothes, a place to rest and shower, and assistance with travel plans before resuming their journeys. Many families are traveling with young children and receive baby formula and diapers.
In 2019, a team went to the First United Methodist Church, in Tucson, Arizona, 60 miles north of the U.S.–Mexico border. This church assists people crossing the border who have escaped violent situations. They come with no money, nowhere to go and only the clothes on their backs. In addition to assistance with basic needs, the church often works to find sponsors. The Epworth team also took water to locations in the desert established for immigrants making their way north.
For the last 12 years, dozens of Epworth members have been involved in ongoing support of education at Rubèn Darìo, a high school in the tiny town of Nueva Guinea in Nicaragua. (Rubèn Darìo was a renowned Nicaraguan poet, journalist, diplomat and writer.) What began as a medical mission grew to include support of a good school with limited resources. The essence of this interaction has been on forming ongoing relationships between people of the US and of Nicaragua, rather than going in to fix some problem, as has been the focus of much missionary work. In addition to annual trips to learn about the culture and bringing teachers from the school to the states, Epworth has provided much needed financial and material support. This support has included computers, audio visual materials, sports equipment, musical instruments and books. Epworth provides yearly stipends to students who have gone on to University. Some of these students have become physicians, journalists, teachers and engineers.
Many thanks to all of those who have contributed time and funds to Epworth’s immigrant social justice work. Each year as we create a ministry spending plan (budget) for the coming year, we designate a portion of our income for Sanctuary and special offerings are given from time to time. To make a special gift to this and all of the ministries of Epworth, go to EpworthBerkeley.org/donate. If you are interested in becoming a part of the group that receives periodic updates and is invited to join ZOOM calls with supporters, drop a note to Rev. Carletta Aston.
In these days of even greater need, Epworth continues its support of our siblings on the margins of society. We believe it is what Jesus would do, and for us at Epworth, is critical to our calling as Christians.