Naomi House will welcome asylum seekers in Waco | Local News

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A Waco welcome mat intended for families seeking asylum at the border has four walls, a roof, and occupants with open arms.

It also has a name, Naomi House, and a mission taken from the same Bible as its name.

Members of the DaySpring Baptist Church behind its founding see it as a resting place in the arduous trek of asylum seekers from the dangerous countries of Central America to safety in another country, a home of welcome for peace and healing. What the church and supporters of Naomi House hope to offer the first family to move in, expected at the end of the summer, is, in a word, “simply accompany”.

“We want to be there for those in need,” said Grant Hall, who, along with his wife, Rachel, will be the home’s first guest when he moves in this month.

Another host, church pastoral associate and speech therapist Bailey Payne will follow at the end of next month.

The four-bedroom home, a 103-year-old two-story stucco home in a former central Waco neighborhood, is the culmination of years of dreaming and planning for DaySpring, said Dennis Tucker, chairman of the board of directors of the church and a Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Truett Seminary.

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Naomi House takes its name from the Old Testament story of Ruth, whose stepmother, Naomi, helps her resettle in Naomi’s homeland of Judah after death and drought forced them to leave their country.

The Naomi House seed planted by the church’s longstanding interest in Central American ministries germinated after some church members traveled to San Antonio in 2019 to visit the former resident of Waco, John Garland, who is now pastor of the San Antonio Mennonite Church.

Garland, son of Baylor University religion professor and former acting president David Garland and the late Diana Garland, former dean of the Baylor School of Social Work, has long been involved in working with immigrants and migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

Garland introduced her DaySpring visitors to the work of her church’s Mary and Martha House, or La Casa de Maria y Marta, created to help mothers and their children seeking asylum in the United States, usually because of violence or persecution. The house, a former Mennonite mission center, provides space for families awaiting asylum applications and work permits. Part of home ministry is helping these families deal with trauma, whether it’s from the violence they experienced in their home country or on the journey north, or simply from the emotional impact of leaving family and friends behind them.

Unlike refugees who come to the United States for resettlement only after a legal process overseen by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United States Department of State, people seeking asylum can simply arrive at the border and make this request. They can apply for asylum on the grounds that they are persecuted because of their religion, nationality, social group, race or politics in their country of origin. A hearing on their case will determine whether asylum is granted, which allows applicants to legally stay in the United States, or denied, at which point the deportation process will begin.

The majority of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border in recent years have come from Central American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Many are women and their children, as well as unaccompanied children, fleeing violence in their communities.

“The reality is that no one knows how long an asylum claim will take,” said Analí Looper, director of the Waco office of the nonprofit American Gateways and immigration attorney. “Asylum seekers can apply for a work permit after 150 days, and those first few months (in the United States) are crucial, especially for women looking for work and safe housing.”

Asylum-seeking women and children who don’t have extended family in the United States to stay with after arrival may become vulnerable to human traffickers, Looper said. There is no definitive number of asylum seekers in the area awaiting hearings, but Looper estimated there could be several hundred, judging by the number of cases his Waco office has. sees.

DaySpring will work with the San Antonio Mennonite Church and Fellowship Southwest, an ecumenical fellowship working on the frontier, for referrals to Naomi House, Tucker said. The church will work with one family first, then perhaps expand to two families, but no men, taking into account women who may have been assaulted or traumatized during the trip, he said. .

The hosts of Naomi House, who are members of DaySpring, see their ministry not as a specialized ministry in immigration and help in Spanish, but as general help and Christian compassion. Rachel Hall, 31, is halfway through a doctorate in theology at Truett Seminary with a schedule that allows her to spend time at home. Grant, 33, is a film editor who works from home. The two, Baylor grads who returned to Waco last year after years in Los Angeles and the Houston area, currently have no children, which they say opened up their availability as resident guests.

Payne, 25, a Baylor graduate with degrees in science and religion and communication disorders, comes to Naomi House with personal insight. During a gap year program in England, she lived with a family and worked with a church that helped asylum seekers and refugees, mainly from the Middle East.

The three hosts hope to connect their visiting family to all that is needed, such as trips to the grocery store, help enrolling children in school, transportation, and social and legal services. They get by in Spanish, but Grant Hall said Garland told them not to worry about fluency because it’s more important for the visiting family to learn English.

“The goal is really to build relationships,” Rachel Hall said.

DaySpring will be hosting Conversational Spanish classes on Wednesdays and Sundays in July at Naomi House to build relationships and build cross-cultural understanding. The church and its hosts, however, will not embark on the project alone. Other churches in Waco, including Calvary Baptist Church, University Baptist Church, Waco First Presbyterian Church and Seventh & James Baptist Church, have pledged support in various ways.

La Puerta, a program of the First Baptist Church of Waco, has also provided tremendous assistance that helps Spanish-speaking newcomers to Waco connect to ESL classes, teaching development diploma programs general, to local social and municipal services. , health, cooking, finance and nutrition classes, and more. The Waco office of American Gateways is also available for legal questions.

It remains to be seen in the coming months what the hosts of Naomi House and their church will do after the first family settles in, but Rachel Hall said the call to serve is clear.

“We want to be faithful and obedient…to the work that God has called all Christians to, which is to care for others,” she said.

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