Posts By This Author

Abiding Presence

by Vicki Kemper 04-01-1987

Women: Witnesses to the Resurrection

'When Aliens Live in Your Land'

by Vicki Kemper 04-01-1987

Late last September it looked like so-called immigration reform, a veiled attempt to deny immigrants' rights, was finally dead.

Children of War: Sharing the Pain of War and the Dream for Peace

by Vicki Kemper, by Michael Verchot 03-01-1987

An Interview with Children of War Tour Members

The Philippines A Year Later

by Vicki Kemper 02-01-1987

There is something mystical about the empowerment of formerly powerless people.

An Elaborate Web of War

by Vicki Kemper 01-01-1987

Like salt in a wound, news of the shipment of official U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras has been painful for many of us.

I Will Not Be Silent

by Vicki Kemper 01-01-1987

Just two days after the South African government dropped subversion charges against him, anti-apartheid church leader Rev. Allan Boesak was speaking as defiantly as ever.

Auctioning our Future

by Vicki Kemper 10-01-1986

For too long we have romanticized the family farm.

'We Will Continue'

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
Sidebar to "Convicted to the Gospel"

It is the first Sunday after Easter, and Rev. John Fife is preaching to children. "Sometimes, to be a disciple of Jesus means to go places you would rather not go," Fife says, accentuating Jesus' words to Peter.

A few minutes later, Fife is preaching a slightly harder message to a somewhat older group: "The risen Christ is to be found in the persecuted and the suffering who live in the faith and die in the faith....To experience the risen Christ, you must stand with the persecuted who live and die in the faith....That's not us, folks," he interjects. "Don't be fooled by what's going on in a federal courtroom."

It was a regular Sunday morning service at Tucson's Southside Presbyterian Church, the congregation John Fife has pastored for 17 years. But less than four weeks later, the hearing and preaching of the Word on that Eastertide Sunday had taken on a new and far more personal application.

Because a federal jury had found John Fife and seven other sanctuary workers guilty for standing with the persecuted of Central America, Southside's pastor faced the prospect of being led to prison, where he would rather not go.

The jury's verdict, and its serious implications for Fife, marked an important juncture in the journey Southside has been on in the four years since all but two members of the congregation voted to make Southside the first sanctuary church in the United States. The worst-case scenarios the congregation had prepared for had become realities, but members of Southside did not despair. The night after the jury rendered its shocking verdict, the congregation had a special service—and a party. For with the guilty verdict, and all the spiritual trials it would mean, came a promise: a fuller knowledge of the risen Christ.

A Stop on the Journey

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
Sidebar to "Convicted of the Gospel"

Ruth Nettles put down her knitting to listen to a young Salvadoran refugee who said he had fled his home in El Salvador in 1981 at the age of 16 after four family members had been shot to death. He had come to the United States hoping to find a life free from terror and fear. Instead, he was testifying as a government witness in the trial of the very people who had helped him.

"I ran out of the courtroom and went to the bathroom and just cried," Ruth says of the experience.

It was such compassion and heartfelt emotion that brought Ruth, 60, and her 63-year-old husband, Kenneth, to the sanctuary trial, and kept them there. Last December, while passing through Tucson on a vacation from their Florida home--pulling their Airstream trailer behind a white Suburban--they stopped in the federal courthouse to see a bit of the sanctuary trial they had heard so much about. After their second morning in the courtroom, they decided to put their vacation on hold and stay until the end of the trial.

Kenneth Nettles is a Southern Baptist preacher who retired from the Air Force with the rank of major after 20 years as a chaplain. His tour of duty as the chaplain for a bomb squad and at an evacuation hospital, where he saw the mutilated bodies of young men, made Nettles begin to question the role of his government. Years later he began to read about Central America and U.S. involvement there. He had seen it all before. "I felt that if the U.S. persisted, it would be another Vietnam debacle."

'With God's Help ...'

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
Sidebar to "Convicted of the Gospel"

In 1985 and 1986, the U.S. government spent an estimated $2 million to prosecute 11 church workers for offering sanctuary to refugees from the U.S.'s "dirty wars" in Central America. After a trial in which defense attorneys were not allowed to introduce evidence of the refugees' or defendants' motives or information on the 1980 Refugee Act, eight defendants were convicted. —The Editors

What is a registered Republican who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 doing in the sanctuary movement? Living out her faith and doing what has to be done, says Kay Kelly, the 62-year-old widow and grandmother who was put under house arrest for her refusal to testify as a government witness in the sanctuary trial.

"I was not a political activist looking for a cause," Kelly says, explaining how she got involved in refugee work. "But when you see these people coming in and you hear their stories...to me it's just the thing to do. All through life I've been taught that you love your neighbor as yourself, you help them, you do whatever is necessary."

Kelly began attending Southside Presbyterian Church with her husband and mother in 1981, shortly before the congregation voted to make the church a public sanctuary. After both her husband and mother died and she had been forced into early retirement from her job at the University of Arizona library—all during the last eight months of 1983—Kelly told Rev. John Fife that she needed something to do. In January 1984 she began working with refugees.

Convicted of the Gospel

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
Inside the Tucson sanctuary trial

During the long, exasperating, painful experience of the Tucson sanctuary trial, several sanctuary workers found themselves turning to their Salvadoran and Guatemalan brothers and sisters—the very refugees they were on trial for helping—for advice and comfort. "How did you react when you were unjustly treated?" they would ask the refugees, who had endured torture, imprisonment, death threats, and the killing of family members. "Were you able to love your enemies, your torturers? It is so hard," the sanctuary defendants would confess to the refugees. Then they would cry together, pray together.

It was as if the suffering and the compassion had, through the trial, come full circle. One refugee, while testifying on the witness stand, was asked to implicate the woman who had helped him. Pointing to 26-year-old defendant Wendy LeWin, he said, "Yes. I remember her with much love."

Out of their common suffering, their common sacrifice, and their common love and respect for one another, both refugees and sanctuary workers found new life, new hope, and new strength for the struggle—even as the sanctuary workers faced possible prison sentences and the refugees faced probable deportation to certain violence and danger in their homelands.

It is such spiritual bonding between North American sanctuary workers and Central American refugees that U.S. government prosecutor Donald M. Reno Jr., who throughout the long trial continued to refer to it as a "simple alien-smuggling case," failed to understand. And it was that quintessential failure, the government's refusal to acknowledge and its inability to grasp the spiritual foundation and glue of the sanctuary movement, that caused its extraordinary attempt to squash the movement not only to fail but to backfire.

A Mutual Ministry

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
An interview with Peggy Hutchison

At the time of the interview, Peggy Hutchison was a United Methodist, director of border ministry for the Tucson Metropolitan Ministry, a graduate student in Middle East Studies at the University of Arizona and married to Michael Eisner. The Editors

Sojourners: What kind of experience has the trial been for you?

Peggy Hutchison: For me it's been like a tragedy and a comedy. There are times when I've laughed so hard I'd cry. And there are times when I have literally cried. Probably the most painful part has been sitting there silently while the refugees have to testify. They are robbed of all their emotions, all of their humanity. They aren't given any dignity and respect. And we had to just sit there silently and not say anything. That was very painful.

I don't like being there. I didn't choose it; none of us did. And though we're 11 defendants, we're very different—theologically and politically. The one thing we have in common is our concern about refugees. The government brought us together, and that's been difficult, to be honest with you. But it's been a blessing, and I think we've learned from it.

Some of the things that we've struggled with for many years working in sanctuary are the same things we continue to struggle with in the context of the courtroom. Through this trial experience, I've relearned the importance of interpersonal relationships. I think that those of us in sanctuary, as well as other movements of the church or of the religious community, have tried to be there with each other when one of us has fallen on the sidelines. We have tried to be present with each other along this struggle.

Conviction And Commitment

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
An interview with John Fife

JOHN FIFE had been pastor of Tucson's Southside Presbyterian Church for 17 years when this article appeared. —The Editors

Sojourners: What kind of experience has the trial been for you, and how do you feel about it?

John Fife: The trial has lasted six months, four days a week, in that courtroom. It's been a very technical legal process, and those of us who are not attorneys don't have a solid understanding of what has gone on. I've dealt with it, these long six months, by trying to be involved, trying to learn about the practice of law, and trying to understand the fine points of what the attorneys are doing and what they're thinking strategically. That's the way I've dealt with it emotionally and in terms of boredom, day in and day out, just sitting in that courtroom.

The most difficult part about it for me was to realize at the beginning that there was absolutely nothing I could do. The attorneys were going to take the case, and we were going to sit there. It's difficult, when people are playing with your life, to just sit and watch all the maneuvering and strategizing that goes on in that arena, to realize that you're just a spectator and you don't have any control over your life during the many months it's going to take for this to play itself out. It's hard to accept that somebody else is really going to make a determination that's going to profoundly affect your life. I'm not one who needs to be in control, but I'd sure like to be a player.

Foundations For The Future

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
An interview with Jim Corbett

JIM CORBETT started bringing Central American refugees into his home in 1981, after discovering that U.S. immigration officials regularly detained and deported them. Corbett shared his experiences with John Fife, and in 1982 the "underground railroad" became the public sanctuary movement. A Quaker and a Harvard-educated philosopher, Corbett was forced into early retirement from ranching by severe arthritis. —The Editors

Sojourners: What are your feelings about the trial?

Jim Corbett: The trial is thoroughly rigged. I don't think they could find another judge in the Ninth Circuit who would be as firmly against us and determined to gain a conviction at any cost as is Judge Earl Carroll. But even if we do get convicted this time, juries down the line will find out the truth.

The strategy that the government has had to rely on involves keeping the jury from discovering what is going on. The government has had to abandon all those tape recordings that were made and use as its star witness a person who is reporting on conversations in English that he admitted he couldn't understand very well. The government has done all that because it could not afford to let the jury discover what is happening. And I think that a strategy based on suppressing the truth is a flawed strategy.

What we're in the process of doing now is establishing a new tier of legal order, one that was mandated at the Nuremberg trials [of Nazi officials] but which has never been systematically established on any kind of institutional foundation. The institution in this case is the church, and the mandate is that communities and individuals are responsible for the defense of human rights, above all when their own government is violating human rights. Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor when the Nuremberg tribunals opened in 1945, emphasized that it's essential to hold ordinary citizens responsible for compliance with human rights and international law when their own government is in violation of those rights. As he pointed out, the only way states have of enforcing international law against one another, when you come right down to it, is through warfare. So if we're going to have a peacemaking expansion of the legal order to include an international legal order, we're going to have to rely on ordinary citizens in communities to do that.

Keeping Heart

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
"The truth will set you free."

Throughout the long sanctuary trial, a black banner hung in the sanctuary movement's media office in downtown Tucson. "The Truth Will Set You Free," it said in big letters cut from colorful cloth. On the end of it someone had tacked a piece of computer paper with the handwritten word, "Eventually."

The humorous afterthought referred, no doubt, to the seemingly endless nature of the trial. But now, after eight sanctuary workers have been found guilty by a federal jury and face possible prison terms of up to 25 years, the one-word footnote offers bittersweet comfort and profound theological insight.

For in the end, the sanctuary trial was less about the issues of sanctuary than it was about control of the truth. It had less to do with U.S. immigration law than it did with selective prosecution and selective presentation of evidence and law. It was more about faith than about crime. It represented injustice rather than justice. And the trial was not so much about conditions of violence and oppression in Central America as it was about the grim condition of relations between the U.S. government and those persons and groups that oppose its domestic and foreign policies.

The guilty verdict was not merely a reflection of the blatant bias of U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll, the corruption of government informant Jesus Cruz, the ruthless and shameless pursuit of convictions by Immigration and Naturalization Service investigator James Rayburn and prosecutor Donald M. Reno Jr., or even the conclusion of 12 jurors, but rather the policies and decisions of larger governmental bodies and more powerful government officials. The investigation of the sanctuary movement was ordered, after all, by top immigration officials in Washington intent on silencing the truth about U.S. policy in Central America.

No Turning Back

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
An interview with Darlene Nicgorski

SR. DARLENE NICGORSKI lived in Phoenix and was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis when this interview appeared. She went to Guatemala in 1980 to help establish a preschool but was forced to flee six months later after her pastor was killed. The Editors

We lack the Bible's inclusive sense, its total concept of who is our neighbor. Our neighbor isn't only those people who speak like us, act like us, and have the same values and economic status as we do. The Bible doesn't say that only when white, middle-class, United States citizens are involved in the process should people become involved. That's a shame, but that's reality, so we have to deal with that. But when they do become involved, they need to understand the full range of involvement and sacrifice. And that what we are doing is nothing compared to the trials of faith borne by the refugees.

Sojourners: What do you think the sanctuary trial is about?

Darlene Nicgorski: I don't see this case really dealing with the issues of sanctuary, because of the limitations of the court. I think this is not only an attempt to silence the truth about Central America and to stop the movement, I really think that the government will particularly try to take on what they consider mainline churches—the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, and other Protestant churches. The Quakers have always been into this sort of stuff, so they're not the same kind of threat. But if the government can, they want to make an example and use this trial not only for its impact on sanctuary but also because the churches are beginning to gain momentum on other issues in which the churches feel themselves in conflict with the government, such as South Africa, the Pledge of Resistance, Witness for Peace, and the peace movement.

The churches' voice on sanctuary and Central America has probably been the clearest voice of any. I think the government has very clearly used this issue as an attempt to intimidate, divide, and separate the churches further for taking a stand that might be opposed to this administration. Doing that with mainline churches is the most effective way to divide administration opponents.

The Trials Of Faith

by Vicki Kemper 07-01-1986
An interview with Philip Willis-Conger

PHILIP WILLIS-CONGER is former director of the Tucson Ecumenical Council's Task Force on Central American refugees. At the time of the interview, he was a United Methodist and he and his wife, Ellen, planned to enter the Pacific School of Religion and the San Francisco Theological Seminary, respectively, as soon as legal proceedings allowed. The Editors

Sojourners: How have you felt about the trial? What have been your impressions?

Philip Willis-Conger: They've run the gamut. In good times I really appreciate all the learning I am doing during this process. But there have been a few really bad times in which I've felt like I have to get out, to escape.

What has impressed me about the trial itself is what a farce it has been. There doesn't seem to be any semblance of impartiality on the part of the judge. But that has developed a climate here in Tucson where there's a general feeling or awareness that the judge is biased, so that people who weren't interested in sanctuary, or were even against it, have become concerned that we're not getting a fair trial. And that has raised their consciousness level.

It's been a real shame that during the course of the trial we have not really dealt with the major issue. The basic issue isn't how our lawyers interact with the judge, or what Jesus Cruz, the informant, says on the stand. The issue is: Who are these people who are fleeing Central America? Are they persecuted? Do they have a right to asylum here? Is the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) breaking the law by not allowing them to apply for asylum at the border? Do church people have the right to respond affirmatively when their government breaks its own laws? These are some of the more central questions.

Truth Dismissed

by Vicki Kemper 04-01-1986

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. --Isaiah 59:14-15

Poor And Getting Poorer

by Vicki Kemper 03-01-1986

Women Struggle for Survival

In the Name of Relief

by Vicki Kemper 10-01-1985

A look at private U.S. aid in the Contra territory.