A church in San Diego’s South Bay has become a hub for Ukrainian refugees admitted to the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry.
Calvary Church San Diego pastor Aaron Szloboda gathers his new flock for the next leg of their journey to the United States.
“That’s one of my favorite phrases, that’s what they say. ‘I’ve never been to America before in my life. I didn’t realize how much you loved us,” Szloboda said.
Szloboda says what started six days ago when a few refugees on the Telegram app told others they had arrived in the United States turned into a conversation between 14,000 people trying to make the same thing.
He predicts that the encampments seen near the Mexican border are just the beginning. Many refugees say they don’t want to find another shelter because they fear losing their place in the queue.
Calvary Church says these refugee camps attract smugglers who might offer to ferry people across the border for lots of money, but never follow through.
The church has volunteers from both sides helping the refugees. Even so, the average time it takes Ukrainians to get from Tijuana airport to Calvary Church is around 30 hours, according to Szloboda.
“What they get here is a meal, something to drink and time to be safe and relaxed,” he said.
After that, the church connects refugees with a network of host families, most of whom are church members.
A man named Russ, a Ukrainian who belongs to Potter’s House Church in Sacramento, will likely be their next helping hand.
“I see a lot of mothers, a lot of children from my country. Who helps these guys? said Russ.
Russ made five trips to Sacramento this week to guide refugees to families there. He’s repaying a favor he received 20 years ago when he emigrated here.
“I’m tired, but when I’m [sic] by coming here, Jesus and you have helped me,” he said.
It is a labor of love, and for Pastor Szloboda, a devotion he must not ignore.
“When we see a need and have the capacity to help, it would be a sin for us not to help,” he said.