'The doors are opening': Alabama Christians flee to Chattanooga, appeal for UMC help

'The doors are opening': Alabama Christians flee to Chattanooga, appeal for UMC help

By Jeanet Berruecos Xicohtencatl

See original story on el Interprete  

With broken voice and his eyes vacant, Pastor Cesar repeated from memory:

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’" (Luke 11:5-7)

When finished, Cesar added: "I've been knocking on the door of many friends but no one opened their doors." In the group, all were thoughtful and heard that soft voice speaking to their souls for someone to open the door to Pastor Cesar's congregation, "The Bethany House of God," formerly located in Florence, Ala. 

In the lobby of McFarland United Methodist Church in the Chattanooga District of the Holston Annual Conference were five pastors and three other people listening to what the pastor said. They believed in the possibility of responding to his plea for his congregation. The group also included some Latino leaders of the "Community Church" of Huntsville, Ala., who had fled when the law HB56 was implemented in September 2011.
Despite the tragedy, Pastor Caesar said, "We want to continue serving the Lord. That is our desire," and he did not stop. Instead, he asked for help from the United Methodist Church.

"We asked for help from the church because it is a strong name with good doctrine and discipline," he said.
The pastor shared that he cried a lot to see, after working for years to establish a church, that one day the congregation said, "We have to leave here."

"It was devastating to see them take their belongings and leave in the middle of the night," he said.

Most of his congregation left in a caravan for Mexico. Some left for Illinois. The rest left for the Chattanooga area.

"We left everything behind, we just brought our clothes. We had to leave everything. All sought a safe way out of town. We left our homes and possessions to start again," Pastor Cesar said. "We had to find work and start over."  

Pastor Cesar and his wife are from Guatemala and have lived for many years in Alabama. They have two children, ages 2 and 3, born in the United States. He had to leave Alabama because he feared his family would be separated. He knew of many cases of separation due to the implementation of SB1070, when parents are deported to their country of origin while the children are placed in homes because they are American citizens.
The remaining members of the "House of God" and "Community Church" now gather in their homes and restaurants for Bible study and worship.
"I keep knocking on doors but no one opens," Cesar said.

However, the doors of the Chattanooga District are opening. They heard Cesar and the members of his congregation and are considering his request for a new home. Many other United Methodist congregations in our country are being called to open their doors to immigrants who are leaving the state of Alabama.
I praise the Lord in times of desperation, when nothing but hope in the Word resounds in the heart of the Latino community. In times like these we recognize the power the Spirit is bringing to the church, penetrating hearts so the church will hear  the voice of the caller at the door and get up to open the door. The children of God knock on the door, and God opens.
We thank the Holston Conference, Bishop James Swanson, and Chattanooga District Superintendent Michael Hubble for their great support to the Latino community.


Jeanet Berruecos Xicohtencatl is district director of ethnic ministries for the North Alabama Annual Conference. She previously served as Hispanic ministries coordinator for the Knoxville District of Holston Conference.