When a member of his Nueva Vida congregation from Holton Evangel United Methodist Church in Holton, Kansas, was among those threatened with deportation by the Department of Homeland Security over the weekend, Pastor Hector Sanchez took action.
Sanchez on Monday took the young man to Kansas City to meet with immigration officials to have an ankle bracelet with global positioning system, or GPS, removed.
“If I wouldn’t have taken him today they would have come to get him,” Sanchez said en route to Holton from Kansas City. “If they would have come to his house to get him they would have found others, and it would have been worse.”
The 60- to 70-member Nueva Vida, or “new life,” congregation meets Saturday nights at the church in Holton.
“They’re frustrated,” Sanchez said through Corey Godbey, Hispanic Ministry coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church, who served as translator. “I’ve gone around from house to house to inform them of what they should do. There’s a lot of panic.”
Sanchez is advising members of the congregation, many of whom are Guatemalan, to move their cars from in front of their houses to a safer place, such as the church, and not to open their doors.
“Anything that happens, they should call (me) or a member of the church or notify our board from Evangel or Neuva Vida,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said he is hopeful that Holton, a city of 3,300 north of Topeka, might not get the negative attention as other cities in the government’s search for families from Central America.
“Immigration has the names and address of a lot of people in Holton, a lot of people who have not presented themselves at their appointments with immigration,” he said. “That’s a big problem if you don’t show up for your appointment.”
While some people sell rides from Holton to Kansas City for $500, Evangel and Nueva Vida do so for free.
“We’re thankful to God and to our conference that we’re equipped to respond to these things when they happen,” Sanchez said. “I’m really encouraged we’re united in this way.”
Godbey said he encouraged members of the conference to be in prayer for the congregations and “the impact this has on the body of Christ."
“No matter what our views of immigration laws in the U.S. might be, it has an impact on our United Methodist congregations,” Godbey said.