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Pastors welcome Guatemalan student into their family

Peter Ilgenfritz and David Shull were on vacation in August 2009 when they checked their email and read about need for a home for 18-year-old Pedro from Guatemala.  He aged out of his foster home while seeking political asylum.

The two, who had tried to adopt a child, looked at each other and agreed with a glance that’s what they wanted to do.

Peter Pedro David
Peter Ilgenfritz, Pedro and David Shull vacation in California.

They emailed Lutheran Community Services and were approved.  They returned home on a Tuesday and Pedro moved in on Wednesday. They met with his social workers and started him in a bilingual program in the Seattle schools.  This year at 19, Pedro is a 10th grader.

David said he was growing tired of just preaching about the need to offer hospitality and make a home for strangers.

“I felt I needed to do radical hospitality to I understand and follow Jesus without making room for an outsider,” he said, pointing out how different this is from going to a protest for justice.  It’s a way to embody open-armed welcome of Jesus as one who is forgotten and vulnerable.  This is also a way to do justice.”

“He will be with us as long as he is in this country.  His asylum is being considered soon,” said Peter, who is pastor at University Congregational UCC, where both served until five years ago. 

“He is a gift, adding adventure of jumping into parenting’s challenges and joys to our lives,” he said.

With both in ministry, they knew it would be hard to be pastors and have children.

“With Pedro, it clicked,” said Peter, who grew up in a UCC church in Lynnfield, Mass. He attended Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and Yale Divinity School in Hartford, Conn., where he met David.  In 1987, Peter graduated and went to a UCC church in Ithaca, N.Y., until moving to Chicago to start an HIV and AIDS support organization.

David grew up in Wooster, Ohio, graduated in political science in 1981 from Carleton College in Minnesota and worked three years as a legislative aide in the Ohio house of representatives.  After Yale, he was pastor two years near Pittsburgh.  In 1991, he earned a masters in social work at the University of Chicago and did family therapy for three years before he and Peter were called to University UCC.

In 2007, David started the Recovery Cafe in Seattle for people traumatized by homlessness, addictions and mental health challenges, along with doing a part-time therapy practice and beginning as half-time pastor at Spirit of Peace UCC in Sammamish.

David realizes that he also seeks to do justice at the cafe, as he welcomes people many seek to avoid.

In 2006, David had spent three months in an intensive Spanish class in Guatemala, not knowing what was ahead.

Because Pedro is Catholic, he attends the Spanish Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.    In Guatemala,  however, Spanish is not his first language.  A Mayan indigenous language is his first language. 

In April, David went to Pedro’s home community near Lake Atitlan, where he met Pedro’s mother, grandmother and siblings.

“I saw his house and the fields where he played soccer,” David said. 

He showed Pedro’s family pictures of him. 

Pedro and his family talk by phone every week.

Since Pedro has lived with them, they have learned that human trafficking is behind the presence of some immigrants in the United States.

“We often assume we know how and why all immigrants are in the U.S. illegally.  We don’t realize how many people are here without documents because of human trafficking.”

Pedro had been threatened by gangs in Guatemala, who killed some of his family members, Peter said. 

Pedro was kidnapped three years ago.  Because his family did not have ransom money, he was taken to the Arizona desert.  His kidnappers expected him to work for a coyote to raise the ransom, but the border patrol showed up, took him into custody and entered him into the political asylum process.

“It’s an incredible time of blooming, growth and self-learning for us.  I enjoy being a parent, except when I haven’t,” commented Peter.  “Being a pastor, I work with many children and youth, but now I have learned some of what parents experience.”

Now he feels he can better connect and deepen his ties with parents of teens he works with at church.

“I share my stumbling and sometimes successes, as Dave and I work to help Pedro overcome the traumas of his past so they do not define his life,” Peter said.  “It teaches me to live in the present, because we do not know the future.”

“It has deepened my respect for people from other countries who end up here.  He did not choose to come, but at age 16 was dumped in the Arizona desert,” David said. 

“Uncertain if he will be granted asylum, we live in ambiguity and uncertainty, but the human spirit does not need certainty, he said.

“Pedro stretches us,” he said.  “We have learned to see the world through his eyes and have picked up his passion for soccer.”

“It’s a blessing to have someone in our home day-to-day to build a close relationship with,” David added.

David’s and Peter’s prayer is that the resolution to his asylum case will what is best for Pedro.

For information, call 206-725-3785.


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © November-December 2010





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