On July 22, a number of United Methodist clergy and laity gathered in Tucson for the Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding asylee temporary housing. Containment. Detention. Call it what you like. I use those terms because the topic of the meeting was whether the Board would approve the use of an active juvenile detention center to provide temporary housing for people seeking asylum in our country. People from countries fleeing brutal and life-threatening conditions seeking safety for themselves and their families. I don’t know what that is like. Like most of us, I wasn’t raised in that kind of environment of fear and desperation.

Groups normally working in collaboration found themselves fiercely at odds with one another during the meeting. That was hard to see.

Many of us testified including Rev. Beth Rambikur, Conference Director of Connectional Ministries; Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner, Director of Wesley Foundation at the University of Arizona; Gretchen Lopez, Site Coordinator for The Inn, Tucson; Randy Gaines, lay member at St. James UMC Tucson; and myself, along with other members of the Tucson community who opposed and others who supported this effort. Our opposition included thoughts on the perception that a jail is a jail, asylees are already traumatized people who don’t need the visual of a jail as their first official stop in being welcomed to America, and that there are better alternatives that the funding could be applied to (such as school buildings not in use) than what the Catholic diocese in Tucson was proposing. While our words had an impact, it was not enough. Pima Country approved the use of the detention center. Click on the highlighted text below to read the news report with video highlights from Rev. Bonner, Randy Gaines, and myself.

Pima County approves use of juvenile detention center to provide temporary housing for migrants.

(Foster, 2019)

As news reports surfaced with quotes attached to my name, I heard from friends from across the country. WHAT is Arizona doing?

“No piece of art, no posters, no coat of paint, no rug on the floor can mask any facility designed for the detention of people, no matter how warm the welcome is,” said Billie Fidlin of the United Methodist Church.

(Foster, 2019)

“In no way can a state institution become a welcoming and humane facility,” said Billie Fidlin, Director of Outreach for the United Methodist Church’s Desert Southwest Conference. “These are vulnerable people who have already been through so much.”

(Shearer, 2019)

I speak in meetings like this on many topics all the time as part of my position’s responsibilities. It’s not new or unique. I include these quotes to say – dear friends, our words have power. Our words can touch someone so much that they are noted and remembered. Our words can in fact move mountains, if not in policy, in someone’s heart and soul, planting seeds for the future. Our words can divide or unite, as we in the United Methodist Church know only too well with the current challenges facing our denomination. We need to carefully think about what we say, what we do, and what we support with our time and tithes. As United Methodists, we can do so much in mission, for justice and most important, Kingdom work. We can be welcoming to all through our words and actions. We can depend on each other if we ask each other, talk to each other, act for the common good with and for, each other. This is so important as we strive for something greater than we are now.

Of course, we can also choose to divide and withhold. Is that the best choice, the Christ-driven choice? But just like those who were opposed to Pima County’s action, wouldn’t it serve us better to recommend taking our time, remaining in connection, centering our spirits at our core in Christ, and working together, stand together, to find the best solution. Frustration runs high when we have worked so hard and waited so long for change to occur. 

With Christ, we can find patience.

With Christ, we can choose.

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