Methodists help Ukrainian refugees in Tijuana

Other Manual Translations: Español

Key points:

  • The northwestern border of Mexico has become a gateway to the United States for many Ukrainian refugees, since the immigration process at consulates in Europe takes a long time.
  • The Methodist Church of Mexico A.R., together with other churches, civil organizations and the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is providing food and other aid to refugee applicants from Ukraine.
  • A church building that houses the “Methodist dining room” was refurbished this year to serve immigrant families.

The Methodist Church of Mexico is responding to a surge in immigrants from Ukraine who have been displaced by war and are seeking asylum in the United States.

The war with Russia has forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. The city of Tijuana, at the northwestern border of Mexico, has become the gateway to the United States for many Ukrainian refugees, since the immigration process at the U.S. consulates in Europe takes a long time, according to media reports.

The Methodist Church of Mexico A.R., together with other churches, civil organizations and the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is providing food and other aid to many of the refugee applicants.

Volunteers from the Methodist Church of Mexico and the Salvation Army distribute food to Ukrainian refugee families. The families are staying in a gym that serves as a shelter, as they await appointments to cross the border into the U.S. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R. 
Volunteers from the Methodist Church of Mexico and the Salvation Army distribute food to Ukrainian refugee families. The families are staying in a gym that serves as a shelter, as they await appointments to cross the border into the U.S. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R.

“In the 'John 6:35 dining room,’ around 800 meals a day (400 breakfasts and 400 dinners) are being prepared for distribution, along with other food provided by other churches and organizations, in one of the city's shelters where 1,800 people are currently being housed,” said Bishop Felipe Ruiz, episcopal leader of the Methodist Church of Mexico’s Northwest Annual Conference (CANO).

Initially, the Methodist church building was being used for meal preparation, but Ruiz said it was also opened to house about 25 people, mostly pregnant women and children, when a nearby shelter became overwhelmed.

The building also is being used temporarily to provide logistical support to the group of volunteers who are serving the refugees. Doctors, nurses, drivers and others can rest and get cleaned up after working for long periods.

City officials in Tijuana, Mexico, have arranged the use of a covered gym near the San Ysidro border point for helping more than 1,800 people from Ukraine. The refugees are housed there temporarily as they await processing of their applications to enter the United States. The procedures are taking three to four days. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R. 
City officials in Tijuana, Mexico, have arranged the use of a covered gym near the San Ysidro border point for helping more than 1,800 people from Ukraine. The refugees are housed there temporarily as they await processing of their applications to enter the United States. The procedures are taking three to four days. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R.

The “Methodist dining room,” as the building is known locally, was partially closed due to the restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021. Earlier this year, it was refurbished to serve immigrant families arriving from all over the world, with the intention of crossing into the United States.

“Until now, we have been working with CANO's own resources, but recently, we have received the approval of an economic aid from UMCOR, in the amount of $10,000, which will serve to increase our service capacity, taking into account (the) constant increase in families arriving,” Ruiz explained.

As part of the service to people who arrive affected by the consequences of the war, volunteer groups have been focusing on providing medical, spiritual and emotional care. The Mexican Methodist Church has been supporting this effort.

Refugees from Ukraine are received by groups of volunteers sponsored by Slavic churches and civil organizations in the United States. The volunteers help the asylum seekers go through the immigration procedures to enter the U.S. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R. 
Refugees from Ukraine are received by groups of volunteers sponsored by Slavic churches and civil organizations in the United States. The volunteers help the asylum seekers go through the immigration procedures to enter the U.S. Photo courtesy of Bishop Felipe Ruiz, Methodist Church of Mexico A.R.

“The majority arrive very sad for everything they have gone through, but here they feel peace,” Ruiz said. “However, the language barrier makes it very difficult for us to communicate. I think that on average, out of every hundred people who arrive, hardly one speaks English, and when our people, who only speak Spanish, want to interact with them, we have to do a double translation to be able to communicate.

“However, we try to pray with them and have put up a banner in Ukrainian that says, ‘Let us pray for you,’ so that we can offer them spiritual support in the face of so many difficulties they have suffered,” he said.

Subscribe to our
e-newsletter

Like what you're reading and want to see more? Sign up for our free daily and weekly digests of important news and events in the life of The United Methodist Church.

Keep me informed!

News media have been reporting the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees on this side of the border, from Cancun and Mexico City, whose airports receive flights from Europe.

Upon arrival in Mexico, refugees are greeted by groups of volunteers, sponsored by Slavic churches on the U.S. West Coast, who direct them to local flights that take them to the city of Tijuana. There they receive shelter and food and are taken to the San Ysidro border point in San Diego, California, for entry processing.

“Refugees spend between three and four days waiting before receiving their appointment to cross the border, and once they manage to cross, they are connected with family or friends who reside in the United States or are also supported by churches and civil organizations to facilitate their settlement in different localities,” Bishop Ruiz said.

U.S. President Joe Biden has stated that the U.S. will receive a total of 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in 2022, according to media reports.

“I understand that only the immigration service in this border area with San Diego is the one that is processing the applications of the Ukrainian families, that there is no other point of the border that is doing it so far,” the bishop said. “Although there are currently no other groups arriving on this side of the border, we know that this dynamic can change quickly, and that is worrying people in the city, since we could easily be overwhelmed in our capacities.” 

Vasquez is director of United Methodist News for the Hispanic-Latino audience. He can be reached at (615) 742-5155 or by email at [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, ideas and inspiration for ministry, subscribe free to UMCOMtigo.

 


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Immigration
United Methodist Bishop Christian Alsted prays with Alexandre, who is living in the gymnasium at the Onokivtsi Secondary School near Uzhhorod, Ukraine, after fleeing his home due to the war with Russia. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Photo essay: United Methodists stand with Ukraine

United Methodists in Eastern Europe have been welcoming Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of their country. UM News staff photographer Mike DuBose was part of a team that traveled to Eastern Europe in late May to share stories of United Methodists’ humanitarian ministry.
Immigration
UM News is the official news gathering agency of the 13-million member United Methodist Church. Map courtesy of Pixabay; graphic by UM News.

Church responds after mass death of migrants

Even as they grieve the deaths of at least 51 migrants in San Antonio, United Methodists are continuing to care for immigrants and address what drives people to such peril.
Immigration
People wade or ride rafts made from inner tubes across the Suchiate River, which forms part of the border between Guatemala and Mexico, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. The busy, informal crossing is used by migrants as well as by people hauling commercial cargo in both directions. A ride across on one of the inner tube rafts usually costs between 10 and 20 Guatemalan quetzals, roughly $1.25-$2.50 U.S. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Church leaders explore ways to help migrants in Mexico

A group of leaders from the Methodist Church of Mexico and The United Methodist Church traveled to southern Mexico in April to meet with groups working with immigrants crossing into the country.