Sanctuary | Sojourners


In July 24,1982, Rev. David Chevrier risked felony , by declaring the Wellington Avenue Church in Chicago a sanctuary for a young Salvadoran refugee. The congregation was jubilant when the young student stepped into the knave of the church. A bandana and a straw hat covered his face, except for his eyes. As clamorous congregational applause exploded and continued, his dark eyes filled with tears.

Juan is an "illegal alien," wanted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). But Chevrier and the congregation want him also--enough to risk a five-year prison term and/or a $2,000 fine for harboring a fugitive. Juan greeted the crowd, whispering to an interpreter, "Thank you, my friends, for this safehouse. I am glad to be among you."

Knowing the Wellington congregation had sent the INS a letter of intent to break the law by providing sanctuary, I asked Chevrier after the welcome service what would happen if the INS came to arrest Juan.

"We will do all that is humanly possible to prevent them," he replied. "Our resistance will be nonviolent." Chevrier stared through a stained glass window in the now-quiet church and seemed to reconsider or think out loud: "But it's his life if they take him--deportation and likely death. I know he'd be one of thousands they've sent back, and that our interference is a small distraction. But we can't let it happen. They'll have to take him from our arms.

"This is only a beginning; they can't arrest all of us. And if they do, there are 59 churches and synagogues supporting this sanctuary. Others will come, and others will harbor them."

Upstairs in a makeshift room where the congregation was barely able to coax back the plumbing, Juan spent his days with a 24-hour companion. I visited him there.

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