Greetings friends! As we arrive at the one-year anniversary of the significant changes around the world, and close to home, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, I’m reminded that April marks one year of the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry officially partnering with Riverside Presbytery. It was this partnership that allowed us to benefit from emergency COVID response grants from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, making it possible for our ministry to pivot quickly to respond to the needs of our migrant siblings being released from the Adelanto Detention facility. Coming up on the one-year mark, we can celebrate having directly supported more than 120 individuals in being reunited with family and sponsors around the country; providing more than 150 taxi rides, 75 overnight hotel stays, sharing more than 50 donated backpacks and roller bags, and hundreds of handmade masks. All of this was made possible through our partnership!
We also give thanks that the Adelanto facility, which has the capacity for nearly 2000, is currently only holding around 120 people. We still don’t know what the future will hold for immigrant detention centers like Adelanto, when or if new people will be transferred in. But for now, we give thanks and celebrate with the hundreds of individuals who have, in recent months, secured their freedom.
The partnership between Riverside Presbytery and the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry has also facilitated a relationship with First Presbyterian Church San Bernardino and the exploration of the use of the old presbytery office building across the street, as well as two classrooms on the church campus, for emergency overnight shelter. Generous donations came in and the classrooms were outfitted as dormitories, complete with handmade quilts for the beds. A local Girl Scout troop cleaned up, painted, and added a beautiful mural of welcome at the former presbytery office. The releases from Adelanto were happening so fast and furious in the late summer that despite our best efforts to prepare a welcoming space, we were unable to get all of the crucial logistics of staffing and COVID protocols squared away before the worst of the crisis had passed.
However, our partnership in San Bernardino led us to connect with a transitional shelter for migrants released from Adelanto who do not have family or sponsors to receive them that is held at another local San Bernardino church. While they are hosting approximately 10 individuals on-site, they don’t have a shower facility for the guests to use. The former Presbytery office turned House of Welcome does though. If there is anything that this pandemic has taught us it is that creativity is key and making adjustments with agility is vital. So, our ministry is pivoting again as releases from Adelanto have significantly slowed and there is little need, at present, for emergency overnight shelter. What is desperately needed now is the use of our shower by the residents of the St. John’s Episcopal church shelter. Just as soon as the utilities are all turned on at what we’re calling the House of Welcome, we will develop a shower schedule a couple of days a week for the folks staying at St John’s.
If you’re wondering how you or your congregation might support this new ministry, at this point there are two primary ways: one important way would be to raise funds, or perhaps approach your mission committee, to help us offset the costs of the monthly utilities; another way would be to gather bath towels, washcloths, personal toiletry items, and bathroom cleaning supplies to be donated to the House of Welcome. Please feel free to reach out to me for more information about how to get involved, and as more people are vaccinated and the COVID numbers continue to decline, we will begin to explore in-person volunteer opportunities as well.
I would like to share two other upcoming opportunities, both educational and experiential, to engage more deeply with the Immigrant Accompaniment ministry. First, for any and all pastors and worship leaders who may be in need of respite, I am preparing a sermon and a brief Moment for Mission that will be shared for use in the weeks after Easter. My hope is that this will not only offer online-worship-weary leaders a bit of rest but will serve to introduce our ministry of accompaniment and perhaps pique the interest and encourage the involvement of more congregations around the Presbytery. Look for more information in the coming weeks as to how to access the video sermon and/or Moment for Mission.
Secondly, and even more exciting than the aforementioned sermon is an opportunity to be a part of a virtual border pilgrimage, El Camino de San Diego, reminiscent of the famous pilgrimage in Spain, El Camino de Santiago. In early March of 2020, we were able to travel to Tijuana and spend a couple of days with partners at the border to listen and learn about all that was happening at that time. Although we are not yet able to travel safely to cross the border into Mexico, we are partnering again with The Border Church and Via International to offer two virtual borders “trip” experiences for folks across our presbyteries. We have just secured some funding from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii to help offset the per-person cost of the experience, and once all of the logistical details are ironed out I will share more information about the “trips” and how to register. What I can tell you is that the first virtual border pilgrimage will take place on four Saturdays through the month of May culminating with a worship experience with Border Church on Sunday. Because the experience has a participant limit of 18 people, we are already preparing for a second virtual border pilgrimage opportunity to be held on Thursdays through the month of September, again concluding on a Sunday. As soon as I have promotional information for the “trips,” I will make that available to you, and I hope that some of you will join us on this journey toward justice at the border.
Thank you, as always, for your interest and support of our SoCal Presbyterian Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry. Should you have questions about how to get involved, please feel free to contact me directly at PresbyWelcome@gmail.com.