Like other states in the U.S., Arizona has dealt with challenges caused by COVID-19.
Immigrants have especially been affected.
Iglesia Cristiana el Buen Pastor (ICBP) in Mesa, Arizona, makes it a priority to meet tangible needs in its community and was doing so even before COVID-19 hit. ICBP is part of the Distrito Hispano Suroeste de La Iglesia Wesleyana.
“Staring in 2018, we began a ministry of compassion in favor of immigrant families that came from various parts of the world,” said Rev. Hector Ramirez (pictured with his wife Cecilia), who was ordained in The Wesleyan Church in 1979 and was mentored by Dr. Edgar Chacon, recently retired district superintendent. The list of ways the church assisted those in need is long.
ICBP received families brought to their facility by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. ICBP congregants and leaders provided them clothing, shoes, food and hygiene items, as well as a place to sleep, bathe and eat three meals a day.
A doctor was available to provide healthcare and medications. If immigrants needed rides to a local hospital, congregants volunteered to take them.
Ramirez noted that they also helped immigrants locate relatives.
“We made contacts with their relatives who were in different states to coordinate with them the shipment to their final destination while they waited for the legal process in search of an asylum,” said Ramirez. Once a plane or bus ticket was in place, volunteers helped transfer individuals to the airport or bus terminals so families could be reunited.
Before COVID-19 hit, the church helped approximately 2,300 people in two years. Now, because of COVID-19 restrictions, ministry looks a little different.
In March 2020, ICBP’s ministry extended into Mesa, a city 20 miles east of Phoenix, as numerous people there lost their jobs. A food bank was developed, providing food, hygiene items and occasionally gift cards, to approximately 25 families weekly.
Months later, in October, the church coordinated the service of free mammograms and flu vaccines with the county health department. ICBP is also meeting needs of those affected by COVID-19 and actively ministering to those who’ve gotten ill with the virus. The church hosts a Zoom meeting each evening for those who are sick. Prayer and connection have encouraged those who would otherwise feel isolated because of circumstances.
Capping the year, around 100 gifts were provided to children at Christmas.
Ramirez is encouraged that although the church isn’t meeting in person presently, they are doing their best to livestream services and minister safely in these still-present COVID-19 days.
“God has been good and has sustained and protected us in order to face so many problems and difficulties,” said Ramirez, who also noted that “we [have] dedicated more time to prayer and relationship with God through personal retreats as a pastoral family.”
Editor’s note: Some photos were taken prior to the pandemic hitting the U.S.