Oakland church

A Call for Sanctuary & Immigrant Justice – My Response and Invitation 

by Mirtha Ninayahuar

The news of unaccompanied minors fleeing their countries due to poverty, violence, and displacement from their land had saddened me but it wasn’t until Pastor Laurie showed me a brochure with a picture of a little boy caught by a Border Patrol Officer that I was moved to act. Pastor Laurie has been working with Reverend Deborah Lee, Director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI) over the years on the sanctuary movement, and felt called to invite her to come and preach at Skyline, in light of the heartbreaking deportation experiences happening throughout this country and the call, as people of faith, to welcome the stranger, to love one another, to remember that we were once aliens in a foreign land. When Reverend Deborah Lee spoke at our church a few years ago, she inspired me to get involved with the Sanctuary Movement & Immigrant Justice. Included below is an IM4HI information page with links to sites explaining the Sanctuary Movement and what Sanctuary means today. The link to the short video is an excellent history of the movement. The link to the handout “Sanctuary Today” explains four ways Congregations are demonstrating their commitment to Sanctuary. There are also opportunities to volunteer, and national resources.  I hope this information will inspire you to heed the call for a commitment to Sanctuary & Immigrant Justice. I’m very grateful for Skyline Church ‘s support of the immigrants with ongoing food, clothing and toy donations. The following are some of my experiences with Sanctuary work. All the work is done with the support of many unnamed angelic souls.

Part of Sanctuary is the accompaniment of an immigrant family or youth. After receiving accompaniment training, I was paired with young Guatemalan mother and 6-year old daughter. We’ve been together for almost 2 years. Building a relationship of trust was very slow. After sharing some of the hardships in getting special dental care for her daughter, we became close. Our relationship has helped me in ways that are difficult to explain. I get a lump in my throat just trying to find the right words. To see their resilience, strength and hard work gives me strength. The child’s progress in school and upbeat attitude gives me so much joy. Our relationship has nourished me immensely.

Sometimes the accompaniment work seems to be divinely supported. For example, a few weeks ago friends of Skyline Church sent an email asking if anyone at our Church could use a free bed. I forwarded that email to three different contacts serving immigrants/refugees and surprisingly none of them responded. Last week the child’s school teacher asked me to assist in translating during a home visit. The mother and child had recently moved, they have had to move 4 times since we’ve met, and when I arrived for the visit with the teacher, I saw their room had no bed. Their blankets were spread out on the floor. That evening I found out that the bed from the Skyline friends was still available. I worried about the bed fitting in our car. It turned out only the headboard needed to be tied to our car’s roof rack and the mattress with all the rest fit inside the car. The donating family also included bed sheets. Johan and I easily picked up the bed and delivered it. Mom and daughter are very thankful. Everything fell into place so easily and timely. Now I feel the bed was meant for that mother and child all along. Thank you, God! 

Something similar happened a year ago when a call went out from the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant looking for youth beds. My neighborhood email group posted a free twin bed almost at the same time. My daughter and I were getting ready to walk to the address posted to look at the bed when she yelled out “Mom, look out the window, the bed is in the neighbor’s driveway!” That bed almost literally fell at our feet.

I also volunteer at Sunday preschool at the Guatemalan Church in the Fruitvale area.  The First Congregational Church of Berkeley established the preschool and we are always looking for volunteers. The Oakland Public Library has supported the preschool by donating books and allowing me to use their story time materials. These kids amaze me because they are learning English as a third language, Mam, a Mayan language being their first and Spanish their second. Here is more preschool information.

I attend East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition (EBIIC) meetings on the second Wednesdays of every month from 9:00 -10:30 at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley.  EBIIC is a group of faith leaders working for humane immigration reform. 

The EBIIC’s purpose is:

  • to seize the critical moment for national immigration reform
  • to raise the religious voice and deliver a message of specific values and issues 
  • to specifically engage in legislative action, accompaniment of persons facing deportation, education of congregations and community, and relationship building among agencies and churches in the East Bay. 

Advocacy work has lead me to engage in public actions such as vigils at West Contra Costa County Detention Center, San Francisco Immigration Building, Santa Rita Jail, San Francisco City Hall, and Alameda County Courthouse, with the purpose of showing support for the immigrants and refugees, as well as educating the public of the unjust policies  and root causes of people fleeing their countries.

Recently Nancy Taylor and I have joined a Network of Protection & Rapid Response now called Bay Resistance to respond to immigration workplace raids,  and any other mass action needed to support sectors targeted by the new administration.  

Please feel free to ask me about any of the above. Thank you for your support.

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