The Inn is a ministry that began when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked United Methodist churches in Tucson, Arizona to house families coming out of detention facilities at the U.S. – Mexico border. This partnership between law enforcement and churches is unusual. The ministry has been life-changing for the thousands of families who have found temporary shelter here.
Meghan Spittell, The Inn volunteer: “We say, ‘Welcome. This is a church and you’re safe here.’ We’ve had people just burst into tears, they’re just so grateful. You see the relief ‘cause they’re like, ‘Not only am I somewhere safe, but at a church.’”
Meghan to client: “Si, si. Por favor.”
College student Meghan Spittell volunteers at The Inn, an emergency shelter for newly-arrived migrants in Arizona. United Methodists established The Inn in 2016, explains the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank.
The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, Desert Southwest Conference: “We got a call from ICE. They were asking to have shelter or house people who were coming out of a detention center in the Tucson area.”
It was Christmastime and church members quickly put plans in place to find room in the inn for weary travelers.
(Gretchen next to the cots) “When families arrive, we have the cots ready for them.”
Gretchen Lopez is the site coordinator. She helps migrants fill out paperwork and call families back home.
This man’s story is typical. He fled threats of violence and extortion from gangs.
(Inn guest speaking through interpreter) “It took him about 25 days to get from his home country to the U.S. border. He would get a ride or bus to a certain place and then either have to earn some money to the next location.”
At The Inn, travelers can take a shower, receive clean clothes, and eat a hot meal. Finally safe, some just sleep for up to 24 hours.
The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank: “Isn’t it beautiful that God made our bodies and souls to, with a little bit of rest, we start all over as if it’s a new day.”
Families generally stay a couple of days. The shelter can house 50 people at a time. Dedicated volunteers make beds, cook meals, and drive families to the bus station.
(Gretchen to volunteer) “So here are the tickets for the two families you are taking.”
Maps on the wall help families see how far they have traveled, where they’ll change busses and their final destinations.
Gretchen Lopez: “A lot of them I don’t think realize how big the United States is until they get here.”
Innkeepers say the Bible is full of examples of care for travelers.
The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank: “In the Old Testament it says often that, ‘Do not harm the immigrant among you and treat them as your own because you were once immigrants in Egypt.’ The stories that we’re hearing are stories of violence. And they’re coming here hoping that we will open up our doors to them. And as a country we’re slamming our doors in their faces. And they’re afraid of what they left, and they’re afraid of what they encounter in our midst.”
Welcoming the stranger. Making room in the inn. The Bible calls Christians to offer hospitality. Volunteers at this United Methodist ministry say God’s love knows no borders.
Meghan Spittell: “I’ve definitely cried putting people on the bus But I know I’ve done something valuable for them. I’ve given them a sense of safety and a sense of hope. I was able to be the better part of their journey.”
The Inn is a ministry of the Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church. One of the best ways churches can help is by telling others about The Inn and how congregations and individuals can help. Donate money and wish list items or register as a volunteer for The Inn.
See ways to support the Methodist Border Mission Network here.