Undocumented Woman Leaves Sanctuary Church After 461 Days

Rosa Robles, bottom right. Image via Church World Service / Flickr

Rosa Robles spent 461 days inside a Tucson, Ariz., church after receiving a deportation order that would have separated her from her husband and children.

She has finally received an assurance from the federal government that she will not be deported, so on Nov. 11, she left the church for the first time in over one year.

Churches to Serve as Safe Spaces After Ferguson Grand Jury Announcement

People gather to march in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread/Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

After a prayer service outside her church turned violent last month, the Rev. Teresa Danieley, pastor of St. John’s Tower Grove, allowed those trying to escape the demonstrations to enter her church.

Now, Danieley and dozens of other clergy members are preparing to once again offer their churches as safe spaces, or sanctuaries.

The grand jury decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot African-American teenager Michael Brown, is expected by the end of the month, potentially triggering further civil unrest. Clergy anticipate some might seek refuge in churches, whether to escape violence or find fellowship.

Organizations such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition, which was formed after the death of Brown, and Metropolitan Congregations United, a group of interdenominational, multiracial congregations from around the region, are in the process of creating a list of churches that are volunteering the use of their space. Many of these churches will be packed with supplies such as food, water, and phone chargers. Medics, legal observers and counselors will also be on hand.

Some believe that unless officers are needed in an emergency, churches should also function as police-free zones during protests.

'Are You the People That Help Immigrants?'

Open church door, Dutourdumonde Photography /

Open church door, Dutourdumonde Photography /

Zach Szmara, Pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., was on a conference call when a young man entered the church. He put the call on hold to walk out of the office and meet him. In broken English, the man said, "Are you the people that help immigrants?" The man had driven more than 20 miles because he heard rumors of a church that loved the stranger.

Szmara said, "In that moment I was both humbled and convicted. I was humbled that our small church had such a reputation. Yet I was convicted that it was only very recently that I could answer 'yes' to the burning question of this young immigrant who came to me."

"I have lived overseas, and there my eyes could easily see the marginalized and the stranger in my midst. But at home in the states, I almost missed it, and almost missed how God has enriched my life because of it," Szmara continued.

The issue of immigration has dominated the headlines for much of this year. As Christians, we believe that – regardless of where we each may stand on the political spectrum – God’s heart for the immigrant is clear. In fact, the Hebrew word for an immigrant appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and the New Testament says in no uncertain terms that however we, as Christians, treat the stranger in our midst, is how we are treating Jesus himself.

Declaring Sanctuary

Rosa Robles Loreto and her family. Photo courtesy Rev. Alison J. Harrington

On Aug. 7 we lit a single white candle at the prayer service welcoming Rosa Robles Loreto into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Almost 90 days later, that candle has been joined by five others, representing Luis Lopez Acabal, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, Francisco Aguirre, Francisco Perez Cordova, and Arturo Hernandez. We are grateful that Beatriz was just granted a stay so that she could return to her home with her two small children, but the rest all remain in sanctuary.

As we approach Rosa’s 90th day in sanctuary, its time to replace the nearly burned down candle, but the light of radical Christian hospitality continues to not only burn bright, but spread throughout the nation.

Welcoming the Stranger (Even If It’s Against the Law)

Image via New Sanctuary Movement video

Image via New Sanctuary Movement video

There is a nonviolent uprising around immigration happening in Philadelphia and a dozen other U.S. cities. Philadelphia faith leaders announced that they will welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of "sanctuary congregations" and have dreams that the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.

We join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means "welcoming the foreigner as if they were our own flesh and blood." (Exodus 22:21, Lev.19:34, etc., etc.).

Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. When God asks: "When I was a stranger did you welcome me?" (Mt. 25) we are not going to say: "Sorry God, Congress wouldn't let us."

We know that sometimes divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.

As St. Augustine once said: "An unjust law is no law at all."

Pastor Who Granted Sanctuary to Meet with ICE Officials

Keep Indonesian Families Together, photo via Reformed Church of Highland Park

Keep Indonesian Families Together, photo via Reformed Church of Highland Park

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, a New Jersey pastor who granted sanctuary to an Indonesian immigrant, is scheduled to meet with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement public advocate on March 20.

But Kaper-Dale said he remains skeptical given the wording in the invitation.

“It’s an invitation to talk, but [says] ‘you’re breaking the law,’” he said.

Saul Timisela—who fled to the U.S. to escape religious persecution 14 years ago—has now lived in the Reformed Church of Highland Park in Newark, NJ for two weeks, avoiding deportation.

Refugee Defies Deportation, Seeks Sanctuary at Church

American flag photo by Christopher Penler,

HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — Saul Timisela was ordered to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark early on the morning of March 1 to be deported.

Instead, the Indonesian Christian took sanctuary at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, where the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale is trying to save a group of Indonesian refugees who fled their country to escape religious persecution more than a decade ago.

Timisela may have felt safe given ICE's historical reticence to raid churches where illegal immigrants are being harbored. But at the same time, he was sorry to say goodbye to his wife of 10 years — another Indonesian Christian who's also in hiding because she has overstayed her visa and does not have an open case with the immigration agency.

Occupy St. Paul’s: Thanks Be to God

Jim Wallis visits the Occupy London at St. Paul's Cathedral, 11/22/11.

Jim Wallis visits the Occupy London at St. Paul's Cathedral, 11/22/11. (Photo courtesy of Ed Thornton/The Church Times)

LONDON — It looks like the stage of a West End theater. The tents are gathered around and almost up against the steps of the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each night, a General Assembly is held on those steps, and the sermons on inequality have a biblical ring to them.

This is Occupy London and the Occupiers were having their discussions with each other and visitors in the protective shadow of the Dome of St. Paul’s — as they should be. What a picture of the Incarnation, I thought, marveling at the scene.

What makes Christian faith most unique among all the religions of the world is, indeed, the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets — that’s what Incarnation means.

So here is the church in the midst of the international conversation that is changing the world — right where we should be.

A Church Sanctuary for the Occupy Movement

It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!

And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!

Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.