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GR-area church offers sanctuary to all immigrants

By The Associated Press • Mar 25, 2018 at 8:00 AM

WYOMING (AP) — A church in Wyoming is calling itself the first sanctuary church in the metro Grand Rapids area.

The Rev. Justo Gonzalez II said the United Church of Christ is opening its doors to anyone and everyone who feels that they need a safe and sacred place, including "anyone who feels harassed or threatened by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids or deportation,” MLive reported.

"Immigrants always have been and will be welcome here," Gonzalez said. "Let it be known that this community of faith celebrates diversity, experiences immigrants as a blessing, and will always uplift the dignity and worth of God's creation."

Gonzalez, southwest area minister for the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ, moved to West Michigan from Buffalo, New York, in last fall. Through conversations with the West Michigan Immigrant Coalition, he quickly learned the area lacked a designated sanctuary church.

The United Church of Christ has spent seven months creating "strategic partnerships" with other churches, community groups and activists to gather resources, including funding, to be able to assist people in need.

The church, located on Havana Avenue near Lee High and Middle School, has eight beds available, with another two to be added in the coming days. It has individual dorm rooms, as well as two family rooms, a shower facility, a commercial kitchen and a space for children.

The church will provide sanctuary, free of charge, to those who need it, and for as long as they need it. Its first sanctuary-seeker is expected to arrive next week.

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