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Woman builds new life after 3 years in sanctuaryy

By Richard Lord
June 13, 2023 | CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (UM News)

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Maria Chavalan Sut stands in front of the three-bedroom home she rents with her four children in Charlottesville, Va. Chavalan Sut, who fled her native Guatemala in 2015, spent three years in sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church before receiving a Stay of Removal in 2021. Photo © Richard Lord.

Maria’s Story 

“I was born in the mountains of Guatemala in 1974, an indigenous Mayan (Kaqchikel) woman. For the last 500 years, since they arrived in 1524, the Europeans have brutally and without compassion deprived surviving Mayan descendants like me of our human rights, devalued us, tried to erase our culture, and tried to take our land. In late 2016, to force me to relinquish my land, they burned my house at 3:30 one morning, with my children and me inside; thank God we were saved. I then had no choice, we fled, and I came to the United States to seek refuge.


My life has been very difficult since presenting myself at the border: I have spent a month in detention, I had to wear an ankle monitor (shackle) every hour of every day, the threat of deportation and death hung over me. Each contact with ICE and its paid contractors is a mental torture; encounters with uniformed and armed men reawaken all the past terrors from my life since childhood, including family members kidnapped and killed or disappeared. And the pandemic has been a second looming anxiety, along with fear of deportation, that has laid heavy on my spirits.


But the creator God loves us all immensely, including me. In 2018 he guided me through dreams to take refuge in Wesley Memorial Church. Here I have the support of so many people that only God knows about them all, and here I continue to press for my freedom. Faith in God guides us.”



In September of 2018, Maria Chavalan Sut took Public Sanctuary at Wesley Memorial. Maria is an indigenous Guatemalan, and an aslyum-seeker in this country. She fled ethnic persecution in her home country, but was unjustly given a deporation order. Houses of Worship have been offering Sanctuary to people who have been unjustly persecuted by governments for thousands of years. Maria lives in the safety of our church while she works to have justice done in her case. 


Wesley decided to offer Sanctuary to Maria because Christ commands us to welcome strangers into our midst (Matthew 25). No country on Earth will recognize Maria’s existence or rights and dignity as a human being. However, we serve a God who sees, and in the eyes of Christ, Maria’s claim to live a life of dignity is unquestioned. Maria is a part of our congregation, and we are always seeking new volunteers to help us support her as she lives amongst us. If you would like to make a donation to our Sanctuary fund, please do so in the Donate box above. 100% of donations go to aid Maria, and are tax-deductible contributions to the church. 

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Former Pastor Isaac Collins with Maria Chavalan Sut

This community has welcomed me with love that I never expected. I feel so thankful to be united with all of the folks involved in Sanctuary here in Charlottesville.
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