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Valley religious leaders say caring for migrants is difficult but worthwhile

(Facebook Photo/Central Christian Church)

PHOENIX — Two Valley religious leaders involved in churches that work with immigrants say the work can be overwhelming, but ultimately it brings them joy.

“We are overjoyed by being able to see families be reunited,” Rev. Ken Heintzelman of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Wednesday.

“We are overjoyed when a small child is traumatized by their experience … and they come out of that trauma and then they can’t take their eyes off their feet because they got new tennis shoes.”

Heintzelman said his church has been working with immigrants for five years, and specifically asylum seekers for almost three years.

“When we got involved, we were providing … overnight hospitality and shelter and food and showers and clothing — just, again, an alternative experience of grace and hospitality to those people,” he said.

Matt Nutter, director for global outreach for Central Christian Church in Mesa, told Mac & Gaydos that families from his church have hosted migrants in their homes.

“It’s a lot of work. It doesn’t end; it’s always there. … I’ve seen the toll that it takes on people. It can be exhausting on the personnel, on the resources,” he said.

However, he said, there’s no question if the effort is worth the struggle.

“You meet somebody, you hear a story, you get to see the humanity in them,” he said.

“And it moves that needle from being something that exhausts you over into something that kind of energizes you, even though it’s still a lot of work.”

Heintzelman estimated that it costs his church $35 to $40 per person to provide them with basic resources before they travel throughout the country to meet family members.

But, he said, the church has received enough donations to mostly offset the costs.

“It is not exhausting us financially,” he said.

Nutter said the suggestion that nonprofits turn away migrants and force the government to handle the situation would not lead to a solution.

“This is such a complicated issue … that’s not going to be solved by churches abdicating our responsibility as followers of Jesus to love the vulnerable population,” he said.

Heintzelman agreed and called the tensions over an increasing number of border apprehensions a “manufactured crisis.”

“This has been going on for years, if not decades, just from a different part of the globe,” he said.

“This is a challenge of logistics, it’s a challenge of scale, but we have the resources as a country to deal with it. We just don’t seem to have the vision or the will to do it.”

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