Local Church Asylum Program Takes In 38 People

Local Church Asylum Program Takes In 38 People

Henry, from Uganda, was a pastor’s son. When his father discovered that he had a boyfriend, the family and church ‘sentenced’ him to conversion therapy. Henry suffered through the inhumane treatment that can cause PTSD and long-term trauma. He decided it was safest to fake it and ‘heal’ from his ‘demon of homosexuality’ before plotting his escape. 

Once in the U.S., Henry found his way to Hadwen Park Congregational Church UCC in Worcester, Massachusetts and our LGBT Asylum program. Today, the congregation is blessed by his music ministry and leadership, and our country is blessed by his innovative spirit as he develops a platform for x-ray that is being researched by Harvard University and may bring healing to many for years to come.

When we started this program and the LGBT Asylum Task Force 14 years ago, we did it to help one gay Jamaican man, Linford, who came to us in tears with his stories of torment and violence and trauma. Soon, as the word spread in Jamaica, Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, and throughout the world, we began helping eight people, then 12, then 18.

Unlike refugees, asylum seekers cannot legally work when they arrive in the U.S. It can take up to a year to receive a work permit and social security number. During this time, seekers are not eligible for federal funding such as food stamps. Many people who arrive with little money are literally living on the streets. Our program gives these brave souls a home, food, clothing, a cell phone and a loving head start until they are able to work and support their own place.

We set up shared apartments, giving each asylum seeker a monthly stipend for food, clothing, and a bus pass, helping them file for asylum and find an attorney, get medical care and mental health care, and connect with each other and with a caring congregation who accepts and loves them just the way they are.

Today we are caring for 38 human beings – a record! Due to the ability for folks to cross the Mexican border and ask for asylum (according to the Geneva Convention) we are having 4 to 5 people a month come to us that way. To date, we have not said NO to anyone who came to us and needed sanctuary. What a blessing to be at the end of their journey of hope!
Folks from Uganda, Jamacia, Ghana, Swaziland, Haiti and other countries where it is illegal to be gay, are telling us that hate is on the rise. But the word is out around the world that a UCC church in Worcester is a haven of rest and hope. Often people will cross the border with our name and number on a piece of paper. ICE calls us, frequently, and they now trust us to help people.

Our little church doesn’t do it alone. Some churches in the SNEUCC are regular supporters of this ministry, and we thank you for your generosity! We are only able to help so many because you step up. Several years ago, we received a grant from the Leona Carpenter Fund that allowed us to hire a paid ministry director and assistant director. This way, we were able to expand our program and assure that every dollar that is donated goes directly to the basic human needs of these desperate and beautiful human beings.
Learn more about this ministry, read stories of asylum seekers and their journey, and find about our annual gala on Sept 24 at 5:30 PM at the DCU Center in Worcester.   


judy hanlon.jpg
Judy Hanlon

Pastor Judy Hanlon is pastor of Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, MA, co-founder of LGBT Asylum Task Force, and member of SNEC Immigration, Refugee & Asylum Task Team.

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