MNYS Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry
Answering the call to take care of the stranger among us, the Metropolitan New York Synod declared itself a sanctuary synod and a welcoming synod in the ELCA´'s AMMPARO Network. The word “amparo,” in Spanish, means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The ELCA’s strategy to Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) was envisioned after witnessing the plight of children who were, and continue to be forced to flee their communities because of complex and interrelated reasons, including chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. At its March meeting, the synod council once again answered a call to care for migrant minors in our synod, by establishing our synod’s Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry.
The Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry will:
- attempt to provide weekly Word/Sacrament ministry and pastoral care to minors in immigration detention centers in our synod
- lead and coordinate participation by members of this synod in the weekly Jericho Walk around Federal Plaza
- create a Sanctuary Youth Group that coordinates monthly outings with minors in detention
- organize trainings throughout our Synod pertaining to becoming foster parents and/or guardians to young adults and minors who are released from custody
- generate a list of housing availabilities for teenagers and young adults released from custody
- coordinate with the ELCA AMMPARO network
- and recommend and coordinate opportunities for the Synod to engage in immigration-related public policy
Now, this may seem like a daunting list, which is why the bishop has appointed a Sanctuary Ministry Team to oversee and make this come to life. The team will work in collaboration with the Assistant to the Bishop for Global and Multicultural Mission and includes The Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, The Rev. Heidi Neumark, and Christopher Vergara, and is contracting The Rev. Fabian Arias as the Sanctuary Ministry Coordinator.
To provide the proper resources to do this work, the synod council created the Sanctuary Ministry Fund. The monies will be used to fund this ministry but also to pay for bonds to release migrant minors from detention and to help pay for fees associated with minors applying for asylum. Understanding that the need is great and the fund is not unlimited, we have decided to focus our efforts on minors, specifically 21-year-olds and younger. As we try to be intersectional in our work, when we are able, we will focus our efforts on those who are doubly marginalized by our unjust immigration system, single mothers, queer persons, indigenous people, etc. The synod has already paid the bonds to release three migrant minors from detention and is in the process to pay the asylum processing fees for an eight-year-old girl who is being separated from her mother, who has already been granted asylum.
Regarding the Sanctuary Youth Group, Pastor Arias worked for weeks to schedule the first outing with children from the Cayuga Center, and we are excited to say that we had our first outings on May 3rd and May 4th. On May 3, and in partnership with the Office of the Mayor’s Center for Faith and Community Partnerships Community Affairs Unit, we took 50 unaccompanied migrant minors rock climbing at The Cliff in Long Island City. On Saturday, May 4, in partnership with the Consulate of El Salvador, we held a field day on Randall’s Island, led by the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club.
The Sanctuary Team continues to work to get permission to get access to the Children’s Village detention center, where we hope to provide weekly pastoral care to the children being held there. As faith-based organizations continue to lead in fighting against our inhumane immigration system, faith leaders and organizations are finding it harder than before to gain access into these centers.
As to participation in the weekly Jericho Walks, they are scheduled to be on the agenda of the next dean's meeting. The plan is to get one conference to sign up per week, to bring roster and lay leaders to participate. Hopefully, this is something in which we can maintain a strong presence by our synod, and a first step in helping our pastors begin to begin to learn and think about these issues.
As part of our ministry for the synod, Pastor Arias has found a group of lawyers who are willing to work with people on their immigration issues. They will be setting up a MNYS Immigration Legal Clinic and will keep regular clinic hours on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evenings at Sion-Saint Peter’s Church, Manhattan, for now. However, if a congregation or conference would like to set up a pop-up special clinic at their site. The attorneys will work to coordinate to make that happen.
As part of their work, this ministry advises the synod on actions to take within the realm of immigration. They have been asked to join and recommend that the synod join an amicus coalition of faith-based groups against building a wall on the southern border. The firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler, has been asked to draft an amicus brief on behalf of faith-affiliated groups in support of the State of California’s motion for a preliminary injunction barring the federal government from diverting funds from the Department of Defense and the Department of Treasury toward construction of a wall on the southern border. Citing our moral and religious objections, we have signed onto the brief.
While only having been formed recently, our Sanctuary Ministry has been very busy at work, and we look forward to hearing about its future efforts and how we can all participate.
Read our Sanctuary Memorial, approved by the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, HERE.
"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America just became the country's first 'sanctuary church body'"—Read this article from CNN.com, HERE.
FOR ME, YOU ARE JESUS
“Love is being able to…look in the eyes of those who are in distress and say, ‘For me, you are Jesus.’ This is the beginning of every mission, this love with which I must go out and speak.”—Pope Francis
I spent time the other day with forty Jesuses. I had the holy privilege of being present at Trinity Lutheran Church, 100th Street, and distributing the gifts you had so generously shared (I cannot tell you how much you inspire me and bring joy to my heart, with your generosity, dear people of God!) with some of the children from a detention center. Can you imagine what Christmas was like for them? In a strange country, separated from family, detained and scared, mostly feeling abandoned and alone. Maybe feeling unloved.
Can you imagine what that’s like? Well, I guess you can, in a way, because you reached out to ease that pain and loneliness with your gifts. In gathering on “El Día de los Reyes Magos,” (I’ve been practicing!), the children heard the story of the visit of the magi and interacted with Pastor Arias on the meaning of that event in Jesus’ life for us. We then sang some songs in Spanish, taught to us and led by Pastor Neumark, on guitar. And then, the moment the kids had been waiting for. Tentatively, patiently, they waited in line while the “elves” found gifts appropriate to the child. They then carefully carried the gifts back to their seats and, only when given permission did they rip off the wrapping paper to see what was underneath.
Use your imagination again. In the midst of a bleak existence, someone has thought of you. Someone who doesn’t even know you! Love expressed in scooters and Spiderman toys and Play-Doh and handmade quilts. For the first time that afternoon, and maybe for longer than that, there were smiles on the children’s faces. I told the children that people from throughout our Church cared about them, prayed for them and loved them. The smiles were not just because they had a gift but also because someone had let them know they were special, that they mattered.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25). You looked into the eyes of those who are in distress and you said, “For me, you are Jesus.” The other day, Jesus, in the bodies and hearts and smiles of many children, received your gifts. My friends, I witnessed this miracle of grace! Thank you for your love and generosity. And God bless you.
WE ARE A SANCTUARY SYNOD
"Our ministry to migrants is made possible because of mission support dollars. Our synod established a Sanctuary Ministry Fund to help in this effort. Any donation helps accompany migrant minors with protection, advocacy, representation, and opportunity. A gift of $4,000 can cover a migrant child’s asylum application and processing. A gift of $500-$1,250 can provide for an outing of our Sanctuary Youth Group for 30-50 minors in detention. A gift of $200-$500 can provide for a welcome packet for a minor recently released from detention. A gift of $121 can provide for a monthly MetroCard for a minor recently released from detention. A gift of $75-$100 can provide for a cell phone for a child to remain in contact with family, lawyers, and case workers. As bonds to be released from detention range from $1,500 to as great as $10,000, any gift of any size will join with others to help change the life of an unaccompanied migrant minor. [...]
Other than our Native siblings, American families are immigrants, some more recent than others. My mother was born in Germany, into the rubble of World War II. My husband was born in the Republic of Chile. They migrated to the United States for their own reasons, found a welcome here, and became enthusiastic American citizens. It isn’t in my heart to say that the door to life here should swing shut now that my family has entered; I need to find my own way to show newer arrivals the same hospitality that made my family American. Our common humanity means we are all in this together.
A conversation between MNYS Vice President Renée Wicklund and MNYS Advocacy Task Force Leader Christopher Vergara.
LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME
"Our synod’s Sanctuary Youth Group continues to provide children in detention with recreational, cultural, educational, and artistic outings, while providing them access to pastoral care. So far, we have been able to go rock climbing at The Cliff, had a rugby field day with the Gotham Knights RFC on Randall’s Island, had a soccer field day with coaches at Upper 90 Soccer Queens, spent the day learning about immigrant artist Louise Nevelson and then actually creating art in her style, and most recently, learned about God’s wonderful creation with a trip to the Bronx Zoo. We were surprised to hear that we were the only organization working to provide these types of outings for these children, which makes the outings so much more important."
by Christopher Vergara, Chair of the MNYS Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry