In August of 1985 I found myself joining the last three miles of a Peace and Justice walk into Burlington, Vermont. The 93 mile walk linked two churches offering sanctuary to two Guatemalan families, Weston Priory in the south and Christ Church Presbyterian in the not. The route followed the original Underground Railroad and was led by the Benedictine monks of the Weston Priory.
The families, the Ixcot’s sheltering in the Priory and the Velasco’s in Christ Church, (both with small children), had fled their homes in the mountains because of civil war and death threats against them. Even children were being killed at that time, seen by the military as “future subversives.”
They came seeking asylum in the United States because of its advocacy for human rights and its past generous history of accepting refugees. The found, instead, the threat of arrest, and deportation back to the terror they had just fled. They were caught in the political climate of those years.
Fifteen years later I found myself in Vermont once again. This time I was traveling with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. We were in the midst of collecting stories for a project called “Hallelujah- In Praise of Constancy in the Midst of Change.” I felt I wanted to revisit the story of the Velasco family and how they had lived in the lobby of Christ Church Presbyterian in Burlington. The community had helped them plant a field outside the church of corn and beans. A minister remembered a celebration as the father of the family sprinkled rum in the four corners of the field and everyone gathered for a turkey dinner, like Thanksgiving.
One section of our Vermont Hallelujah became devoted to the story of the Velasco’s flight from Guatemala. It involved a “flying table.” By the end of the sequence the table was turned upside down and carried high with a child standing inside, bracing herself on the legs, both safe and precarious.
Here is an excerpt of biblical text, given to us by a peace activist close to the family. It was reach during performance.
“But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” — Leviticus 19(34)