From the beginning of Manna House we have sought to provide sanctuary for those who come for rest, for showers, for clothes, for coffee, for conversation. We welcome our guests, recognizing their sacred dignity. They bring to us the very presence of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). Some may even be angels in disguise. (Genesis 18, Hebrews 13:1-2).
To offer sanctuary means we provide a place where our guests are welcomed and treated with respect. It also means we do our best to make sure our guests will not be harassed by drug dealers or by the police or by anyone else who might seek to violate the hospitality we offer.
In our early years we had a number of incidents in which we politely but firmly told police that they were not welcome to come in and look around Manna House to see who was there. The police were astounded that we held our ground. We simply stated that unless they had a warrant they could not come in. Apparently they had free reign at other “homeless service providers” and could not understand why we were different. Biblical sanctuary guided us, the stranger is to be welcomed and protected as part of hospitality.
At one point our insistence on sanctuary led a few officers to try intimidating our guests and us. One officer told us to “watch our backs.” Another parked across the street, facing Manna House, keeping us all under surveillance. We offered the officer coffee (which he refused) and then, our patience wearing thin after weeks of this harassment, we organized a call in to the Mayor’s office. The surveillance stopped. Then there was the incident in which two volunteers were arrested for videoing officers harassing a guest down the street from Manna House. Perhaps the embarrassment for these wrongful arrests finally led to the end of the harassment.
In addition to safety from harassment, sanctuary also means that we never ask any of our guests for identification. We welcome whoever comes seeking sanctuary. So, our insistence on being a sanctuary has always meant that we welcome undocumented people. Many of our guests are without documentation. They have no government ID, no driver’s license. Some of these guests are what you might call “internal refugees.” They are the flotsam of our society, discarded, drifting, hoping for welcome, for work, for a place to live. Other guests are “external refugees.” These undocumented guests come from other countries. They arrive in the U.S. seeking safety, hoping for refuge from intolerable economic and/or political situations. Whether internal or external refugees, they are welcome at Manna House.
These days there is a demonic spirit loose in the U.S. This demonic spirit deems undocumented people from other countries expendable, imprisonable and deportable. This demonic spirit separates families, takes sick people out of hospitals and imprisons them, puts children in shackles, and warehouses people in inhumane conditions so private corporations can make money from their misery. It is a spirit generated by fear and and hatred. It is anti-Christ in its rejection of welcoming the stranger.
Manna House, in offering sanctuary, will continue to stand for a different spirit, a Holy Spirit. We will seek to be faithful to the Spirit that spoke in Jesus who said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).