Church Offers Sanctuary To Indigenous Guatemalan Woman Facing Deportation

A Virginia church has offered to shelter and protect a woman from Guatemala who is facing deportation. 

Maria Chavalan Sut, a 44-year-old indigenous woman, moved into Charlottesville’s Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church on Sept. 30, the date her lawyer says Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordered her to be removed from the U.S., according to The Daily Progress

Rev. Isaac Collins, the church’s lead pastor, told HuffPost his congregation is prepared to host Chavalan Sut for as long as she needs.

ICE officials generally avoid entering certain sensitive locations such as places of worship, hospitals and schools. 

“We aren’t trying to make some bold political statement,” Collins told HuffPost in an email. “We are trying to do what Jesus tells us to do. Maria is our sister in Christ, and being [deported] back to Guatemala is a death sentence for her.”

Chavalan Sut, who is from Guatemala’s indigenous Kaqchikel community, came to the U.S. seeking asylum in 2015, The Daily Progress reports. She says that people trying to steal her land in Guatemala set her home on fire, destroying her family’s possessions. Fortunately, her four children survived. Guatemala has a long history of state-sponsored violence against indigenous people, though it’s not clear whether the people who burned down her home were affiliated with the state.

Maria Chavalan Sut, a 44-year-old indigenous woman from Guatemala, is seeking asylum in the U.S. after people set her home on fire. (Photo: CBS19 NEWS/Screenshot)

Chavalan Sut has been working multiple jobs in the Richmond area to send money back to Guatemala to rebuild her house and help her children, according to a Facebook page set up by her supporters.

She has a strong case for asylum, but hasn’t been able to present it, Chavalan Sut’s lawyer Alina Kilpatrick told reporters Monday. ICE reportedly neglected to put a date and time on Chavalan Sut’s notice to appear in court, Kilpatrick said, which meant she missed her court date. Because of her absence, ICE ordered that she be removed from the country.

Chavalan Sut has a motion pending at the Arlington Immigration Court to reopen her immigration case, according to her attorney.

In the meantime, Wesley Memorial had to move quickly to offer refuge to Chavalan Sut. Collins said he received a call about her need for sanctuary on the evening of Sept. 29. The next day, after meeting with local activist groups, the church council voted unanimously to open its doors to Chavalan Sut. 

Collins, who is just three months into his new job as pastor of Wesley Memorial, said while the broader UMC denomination is supportive of the sanctuary movement, his congregation didn’t have any formal policies in place about what to do if such a situation arose.  

“We went from zero discussions about sanctuary to hosting Maria in 24 hours,” Collins said. 

Wesley Memorial has converted a Sunday school classroom into a private apartment for Chavalan Sut. The church also has shower facilities and a kitchen. Volunteers buy her groceries and doctors visit her on campus to care for any medical needs, Collins said. The local Latinx activist community is providing interpretation for Chavalan Sut’s day-to-day activities and during worship services. 

Collins said that the notorious Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 helped forge bonds between local community activists and religious organizations. Wesley Memorial couldn’t have agreed to host Chavalan Sut without the help of local activists, Collins said.

We all come from different faiths, political points of view, etc., but we have left those differences at the door so that we can put Maria first,” Collins said. 

His biggest hope for her is that she will someday be free to leave.

“We believe that Maria deserves to be free!” Collins said. “We hope that she’ll be able to leave sanctuary in good time, and that the U.S. [government] will offer her asylum in our country.”

Also on HuffPost

Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today.

Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel

Le Puy-en-Velay, France

The Church of Hallgrímur

Reykjavík, Iceland

Air Force Academy Chapel

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Cathedral of Maringá

Paraná, Brazil

Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut

Ronchamp, France

See-Through Church

Brussels, Belgium. A see-through church is pictured on a hilltop in Borgloon, 50 miles east of Brussels, on Feb. 20, 2013. The church, designed by Belgian architectual duo Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, is made with 100 layers of steel and weighs 30 tons.

Thorncrown Chapel

Arkansas, USA

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Sedona, Arizona

Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Rio de Janeiro's cathedral on July 27, 2013.

Church of Paraportiani

Mykonos, Greece

Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral

Cundinamarca, Colombia

Metropolitan Cathedral

People walk in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil, on Oct. 5, 2011. The cathedral is lit in pink to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

St. George's Church

Visitors walk past Bete Giyorgis, also called St. George's Church, on March 19, 2013, in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Lalibela is among Ethiopia's holiest of cities and is distinguished by its 11 churches hewn into solid rock that date back to the 12th century. Construction of the churches was begun by Ethiopian Emperor Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who sought to create an alternative pilgrimage site after the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. Lalibela was the capital of Ethiopia until the 13th century.

Borgund Stave Church

Lærdal, Norway

Cardboard Cathedral

Christchurch, New Zealand

Las Lajas Cathedral


Harajuku Church

Tokyo, Japan

Christ Cathedral/Crystal Cathedral

Garden Grove, Orange County, California

St. Basil's Cathedral

Moscow, Russia

Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Mejorada del Campo, Spain

Chapel of St. Gildas

Brittany, France

Santuario della Madonna Lacrime

Sicily, Italy

Jubilee Church

Rome, Italy

Snow Church

Visitors stand inside a church made entirely of snow and ice in southern Bavaria on Jan. 14, 2012, in Mitterfirmiansreut, Germany. Local enthusiasts built the church at the end of December in an effort to relive a tradition dating back over 100 years. In 1910 the residents of Mitterfirminsreut were cut off from their local parish by a heavy snowstorm, and since the village was without its own church, they were unable to attend Christmas mass. In January 1911, in an act of protest against local authorities whom they felt had forgotten them, the residents built their own church out of the material they had most in abundance at the time: snow.


Copenhagen, Denmark

Inflatable Church

Father Michael Elfred, a church minister from Tadworth, Surrey, stands outside the world's first inflatable church, erected on May 13, 2003, in Sandown, England. The church stands 47 feet tall from floor to steeple, comes complete with inflatable organ, candles and stained glass windows, and can hold up to 60 people.

Évry Cathedral

Exterior view of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Evry, south of Paris, the first cathedral to be built in France in over 100 years. The structure, made of red brick, covers 1,074 square meters.

Basilica de Higuey

Dominican Republic


Idar-Oberstein, Germany



Cattedrale Vegetale

Bergamo, Italy

Pilgrimage Church

Neviges, Germany

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain

Stone Church Ruins

Göreme, Turkey

San Francisco de Asis Church

Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.