Prayers and Chants: Called to be Sanctuary — Student Stephanie Quintana

Stephanie (R) helped organize Sanctuary for Rosa (M) in Tuscon

No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”

“Home” by Warsan Shire

Every night for 461 days, Southside Presbyterian Church and the Tucson community prayed for Rosa to stay. We lit candles, held hands, and read poems. We gathered to pray each night desolated by an immigration system that separates families and we found consolation in the power of community.

Let me tell you about Rosa Robles Loreto. She is a little league loving mother of two sons and an amazing woman. Rosa left Mexico many years ago and since then has called Tucson home. In 2010 a traffic stop resulted in months of immigration detention and eventually in a deportation order. Rosa’s deportation order meant separation, loss and tragedy for this family. Due to an immigration system that doesn’t guarantee the integrity and dignity of families, Rosa’s deportation would have the terrible consequence of a broken family and Tucson’s community was losing a valuable member.

Moved by the fierce desire of this family to stay together, Southside Presbyterian Church offered Sanctuary to Rosa.

Southside Presbyterian Church has been a congregation committed to a ministry of Sanctuary for decades. In the 1980’s, thousands of brothers and sisters escaped war and terror in Central America while the US government failed to provide protection and deported them to their imminent deaths. The Southside congregation responded alongside other churches in the country declaring publicly that they were opening the doors of their churches to refugees escaping violence. The church defied power in order to obey God’s ultimate commandment to love one another. It was the same call of radical hospitality that moved Southside to take Rosa into Sanctuary while responding faithfully to family separation, racial profiling, detention, deportation and the violence that continues to be perpetuated against our undocumented brothers and sisters.

During fifteen months, the community was witness of how Rosa and her family held on to each other while letting us surround them with hospitality and love. While we said prayers that transcend language, denominations and borders, we also marched and chanted. Thousands of “I stand with Rosa” signs were hung in Tucson and more than once, we danced in the streets to the promise of the chant “liberation not deportation”. The gift of the Sanctuary story of this family and their determination to stay together shake up a community and rekindled our collective commitment to justice, love and unity. Thanks to the prayer and chants of an entire community, Rosa was able to safely leave sanctuary and is back home with her family no longer fearing being separated from her family through deportation.

Unfortunately, many families continue to live in fear of being separated from their loved ones. As we enter into the season of Advent, I pray that we might seek to see the Holy Family among us. That we might not only stop at opening our hearts to receive our Savior, but that we also open the doors of our Churches to provide Sanctuary to families struggling to stay together. As we await the birth of Jesus, let our prayer and chants be promises of liberation and hope for the families seeking refuge in our midst.

IMG_2185Stephanie Quintana-Martinez is a first year Masters in Divinity student at McCormick Theological Seminary. Before moving to Chicago, Stephanie worked as a community organizer at Southside Worker Center and the Tucson Protection Network Coalition working on issues of immigration justice and family separation in Arizona. Also, Stephanie worked with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project  providing legal and social serviced to man and women incarcerated in Arizona awaiting deportation proceedings. Stephanie is an ordained Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church and is currently under care of SouthSide Presbyterian Church in her pathway to Ordination.