Arizona's Opportunity to Serve Asylum Seekers

Pastors and Church Leaders,

From Chandler to Queen Creek, Mesa to downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale to Peoria, churches have responded to the need to love and serve asylum seekers. We have seen pastors, church members, and entire congregations mobilize to provide hospitality to asylum seekers. In addition, we have had families from our churches walk through the process to be certified to become temporary foster families for unaccompanied minors (although this is currently on hold due to waiting on the Office of Refugee Resettlement).

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has experienced an overwhelming amount of asylum seekers and have been unable to process these families in a timely manner. They have reached out to local churches and nonprofits for help as they attempt to deal with overcrowded detention centers. As churches and nonprofits respond to the need, we have witnessed the conditions that the detention centers are in and are being made more aware of the suffering immigrants are facing as they enter our US detention centers. It is not uncommon to hear stories of days without food, little water, and harsh treatment.

As you minister in your local context, there are often things happening in our city that our church members form opinions on through headlines and political talking points. Since we are mostly pastors and not experts on current events, it can be confusing and challenging to figure out how to be informed and how to encourage your people to grow in love of neighbor. I thought it might be helpful to share a few links to give you an opportunity to be informed while also sharing the needs we continue to have in order for us, as the collective church in Arizona, to provide care to the sojourners in our midst.

Here are some answers and resources to frequently asked questions:

Why are there so many more asylum seekers? Are these claims legitimate? One of the reasons given for the mistreatment of asylum seekers once they arrive on U.S. soil is that the individual or family making the journey should not attempt to come to the United States in the first place. Just as in other parts of the world, when someone flees their land as a refugee, it is most always as a last option. They are weighing the potential harm of staying over and against the risk of making the journey. As violence increases, it makes attempting the dangerous journey a greater option.

A background on the conditions in Central America driving increased numbers of asylum seekers from the Council on Foreign Relations.

A primer on migrants at the border from the National Immigration Forum.

How is the asylum process different than illegal immigration? While it is not uncommon  to hear the asylum seekers referred to as “illegal immigrants” in the media, the reality is these individuals and families are surrendering at the border in attempts to apply for a specific status fully in accordance with US law. Read more about it here.

What about the recent decision to make families wait in Tijuana? Over the Christmas holiday, President Trump made a new decision to keep families seeking asylum in Tijuana.

Something important for us to consider in Arizona is that Tijuana is more of a neighbor-city than Chicago, Boston, or San Francisco. Tijuana shares a beach with San Diego and is within eyesight of some of our favorite vacation spots. Regardless of what is happening on a national political landscape, Tijuana does not have the infrastructure or resources to care for Central American asylum seekers.

There are Mexican sister churches and ministers who are already getting by with very little in Tijuana that will be stepping in to do their best to care for these families. They will be present in the midst of much suffering.

Here are a few trusted organizations if you are interested in supporting migrants stuck at the border in Tijuana/Nogales/Juarez: The Global Immersion Project Borderlands Fund, Border Angels, Kino Border Initiative, Annunciation House.

What can we do?

We have an opportunity for individual families to provide hospitality for 24-36 hours to asylum seekers. Due to the sensitive nature surrounding this topic, we are organizing this carefully. If you have a family in your church who may be interested in providing hospitality, would you have them email and our volunteer Rachel will get them the link to fill out the brief application (in which you will be contacted as a reference). We currently have 40 families serving and need an additional 60. This is more then doable if every church connected to Surge found a family or two to volunteer.

Are Christians who help these people complicit in encouraging illegal activity?

Currently the U.S. government is asking for churches to assist asylum seekers. Christians can in good conscience serve their country and—more importantly—serve their Lord by providing food, shelter, and love to these individuals and families during this time of need.

What kind of opportunities for the gospel does this present?

There are a few  things to consider. First, the gospel of Jesus is one of grace and mercy. I can’t help but think of 2 Corinthians 8:9, in which Paul reminds us that we have been made rich by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who generously gave up his life so we might have life. With the riches of what Christ has given us, we now have the privilege of enriching others through gracious generosity.

Secondly, many of these sojourners are Christians. As we sit with families seeking asylum we have been blessed to hear story after story of God’s faithfulness to these men, women, and children. It has deeply enriched our own faith as we get to witness the faith of brothers and sisters from Central America.

Finally, hospitality to foreigners is something the Scriptures regularly ask God’s people to provide. One of the ways God’s people are asked to live distinct from the culture they are immersed in is by providing hospitality to foreigners. It is a way that we can bear witness to Jesus and his kingdom.

How can I disciple our congregation to grow in sharing God’s heart for the immigrant?

One upcoming opportunity is a great experience Neighborhood Ministries has put together in partnership with Surge and ASU. I encourage you to read more about it and pray about taking a small group of your church through it.

There are also many Surge churches who have intentionally pushed into this who can be a great resource for creating opportunities for your church to grow in neighbor love. Our team would love to pray and process with you as you consider what this might look like in your own congregation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

How can we pray?

  • for our pastors and church leaders throughout Arizona to be filled with vision, strategic relationships, and wisdom on how to respond

  • for the Spirit to move his people (specifically in our congregations) to greater awareness, compassion, and action as we love immigrants entering our city    

  • for Jesus to give his followers eyes to see through deceptive fear and be compelled by love

  • for God’s people in Arizona to be a faithful witness to the various non-profits, government officials, and sojourners we have an opportunity to interact with in the midst of this challenge

  • for opportunities not only to provide relief, but to push against the injustices that we are made aware of and opportunities to be a foretaste of the kingdom of God

  • For peace and justice to reign in Central America

Thank you for all the ways you seek to faithfully shepherd and lead your congregation. There is much to lament and pray about as we encounter the suffering of our neighbors and the polarization of our nation; however, there is also much gratitude that we can give to our Heavenly Father as he has given many of our churches opportunities to serve Jesus together in these ways.


Dennae Pierre
Executive Director
Surge Network