Congregation Shelters Refugees from Colorado Cold

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Loving and Serving, Western

By Mark Butzow

Imagine you support your family, including elders and grandkids, by running a restaurant or a construction company. Now imagine corrupt police officials or outlaws harassing you, extorting protection money from you or threatening harm to you. That’s the scenario facing many of the people fleeing from other countries to the United States. They’re “economic refugees,” traveling to a safer place where they hope to resume their chosen profession or at least find safe, productive work. Often, the family stays behind and the refugee lives simply in America so they can send their earnings home to those in their home country.

Just as the United States became a new home to many Europeans looking for a new start across the Atlantic, the influx to the States in recent decades has been from the nations in Central and South America. Late last year the members of Peak Community Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, became a safe haven for about 15 refugees from Venezuela. In mid-December, a large group of refugees was bound for Denver, but a cold snap suddenly reduced available shelter spaces there, so about 60 of them were sent to Fort Collins instead. “Denver reached out to every county in the state, and only Larimer County responded,” said Eddy Hopkins, pastor at Peak Community Church.

Video still of refugees gathered at Peak. Credit KUSA-TV.

The 15 that the Church of God congregation welcomed comprised 2 couples, 2 cousins, a father and son, and about 6 others who had trekked without family to find a better life in the United States. The church set up sleeping areas in classrooms with cots provided by Larimer County. And the guests spent a lot of time together in a large gathering area and kitchen in the basement. During the 10 days that Peak Community housed them, they were looked after by church members and other community volunteers. “We had two people here 24/7,” said Hopkins. “Had a sign up for people to pitch in, shuttle folks around, help in the kitchen. After some word of mouth, we had people with no affiliation with the church turning up to help.”

Volunteers shuttled them to showers at a nearby fitness center, got them set up with clothing, and started to get them resourced with some legal advice or some employment opportunities. And since their stay was near Christmas, the church had a large nativity scene set up in the sanctuary, and Hopkins asked people to grab a piece and share why they found it meaningful. “One of our guests picked up the angel because, along the journey from Venezuela, he felt like God’s angels were protecting him, and that here he feels like there are angels all around them,” said Hopkins.

Despite his church not really having many Spanish speakers, Hopkins said they got by and were able to learn a lot about the visitors and the lives they had left behind. “I prayed with them,” said Hopkins. “The faith and the way the church is in Venezuela is very different than here. I felt like I was learning more about the Lord from them than they were from me.”

Sleeping arrangements in Sunday school rooms at the church. Credit Video still of refugees gathered at Peak. Credit KUSA-TV.

Half of their guests have since gone to other parts of the country where they had relatives living. Fort Collins agencies are still helping the other half with such things as English classes, trying to get jobs, and assisting with housing. “One of the main ways churches can be involved is not case management,” said Hopkins. “For nearly two weeks we can provide a place they can just ‘be’ while they are getting those other issues worked out.”

It’s now months later, and Pastor Hopkins says some of the refugees are still coming to Sunday services at Peak Community, even though the church has not been able to sort out translation. He encourages other churches to reach out to local agencies and get involved. As far as logistics are concerned, Hopkins said his church needed to get permitted which, for them, involved clearly marking all fire exits and putting in more smoke detectors.

The efforts of Peak Community Church made the local news, too. Watch the television news story here.

Mark Butzow operates Mark My Words Ink, a freelance writing and editing service, and is a former journalism instructor, broadcast journalist, newspaper reporter, and copy editor. He lives in Madison County, Indiana, with his wife, a first-grade teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson.

Learn more about the Church of God movement at

Feature (top) collage: Peak Community Church exterior (left); faces not shown for safety in this fist bump at Peak Community Church signaling the church’s warm welcome of the refugees (right).

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