There was a whole community behind them: Public support for the Grand Rapids Central American Sanctuary

As was mentioned in a previous posting, the Grand Rapids Central American Sanctuary House was part of a national movement in the 1980s to provide safe housing and solidarity to Guatemalans and Salvadorans fleeing political violence. Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 10.46.51 AM

The Koinonia House declared itself a Sanctuary in 1986 and in the spring of 1987 opened their doors to the first group of Guatemalans seeking a safe place to live and the opportunity to tell their stories.

In preparation for becoming a sanctuary for Central American refugees, members of the Koinonia House sought support from the larger community in a variety of forms. Some people offered to provide material assistance, while others provided legal or medical help. However, there was the kind of assistance that was also symbolic and made a statement, especially since the Sanctuary Movement was being targeted by the Federal Government.

Before the Guatemalans even arrived in Grand Rapids, numerous organizations and individuals sent letters of endorsement to the Koinonia House. It was a way of saying that not only were they doing the right thing, but that the community had their back.

Many of the supporters were faith-based, such as Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which wrote:

We feel strongly this is the loving and compassionate response which the church should and must take in this situation, and sanctuary has long been established within the history and tradition of the church. So we support your compassionate and courageous stand, and are ready to support you in whatever way is possible.

There were several individuals who also supported the Grand Rapids Central American Sanctuary. Two Dominican Sisters wrote, “It is with great pride and feelings of solidarity that we encourage and support your courageous witness of sanctuary with the suffering refugees of Central America.”

One letter of support came from a Grand Rapids couple, Tim and Deb Pieri. Their letter spoke not only of their deep understanding of the causes of the political violence in Central America, but reflected a deep sense of solidarity.


You can read all 23 letters of support and see for yourself that the Grand Rapids Sanctuary House had tremendous support, a support that was necessary to take such a stand as they did.

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