Chandler couple opens home to migrants seeking asylum
PHOENIX — When Stephanie Apostol saw a Facebook post about Central Christian Church needing families to host migrants who’ve been released by immigration officials, she jumped at the opportunity to help.
“I saw it and right away it seemed like a no-brainer that we would help,” she said.
She spoke with her husband, Peter Apostol, and the Chandler couple agreed to become a host family. Their 9-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter were also on board.
Since mid-October, they’ve hosted four migrant families – three of them from Guatemala and one from Mexico. They stayed over for a night or two until they got on a bus or plane to be reunited with loved ones in the United States.
The first family they hosted consisted of a father and his 12-year-old son. Both of them came from Guatemala and were seeking asylum.
Peter picked them up at the Central Christian Church’s Mesa campus. They were part of a larger group of migrants – most of them from Central America – who were released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It was just a really amazing experience to walk out of the church with these two people who’ve just been let out of a detention center, who were vulnerable and not sure of what was going to happen,” Peter said.
“We got in the car, I grabbed my Google Translate and the first thing I wanted to tell them was, ‘Hey, you’re welcome here,’” he added.
When they got home, Stephanie was waiting with a homemade meal. Peter said at first, the father and his son were hesitant to come inside until he reassured them they were welcome in his home.
“I remember bringing them up to their room, and the father stood there for a moment and just put his arms up in the air and said, ‘Gracias a Dios’ (Thanks be to God),” Peter said. “We both started tearing up. It was a pretty special experience.”
Stephanie said they’ve had similar experiences with the other migrants who’ve stayed over.
However, it has been difficult to communicate since she and her husband speak very little Spanish. They’ve managed to make it work with the help of a neighbor who speaks Spanish, Google Translate and hand gestures.
“It’s been awkward and uncomfortable with the language and just not knowing,” she said. “But we’ve also just felt we were more blessed and changed than the families we’re helping.”
Stephanie recalled her favorite memories with the migrants include throwing a small birthday celebration for one of the sons of the migrants, sharing meals and having friends and family step in to help and spend time with them.
Peter said for him, the experience has helped him better understand why migrants are leaving their homes, especially those in Central America, to seek asylum in the U.S. He said they’ve shared that they left their home countries to flee gang violence and poverty.
“It’s made the whole situation come to life for me and see the real humans behind the stories,” he said.
“You start to just feel the humanity of it all, and the idea that this could easily be me,” he added. “This could easily be my kids and what would I do?”