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What can we learn from Rosa Sabido, who has lived in church sanctuary for 34 months?

A question-and-answer with woman seeking refuge at Mancos United Methodist Church
Rosa Sabido sits inside the United Methodist Church in Mancos, where she has lived in sanctuary since June 2017.

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders may be new to most of us, but for Rosa Sabido, who has lived in church sanctuary for over 1,000 days, it’s yesterday’s news.

Sabido, a Mexican national, has lived at the Mancos United Methodist Church since June 2017, after her application for a one-year stay of removal was denied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

During her nearly three years on church grounds, Sabido has had much time to reflect on her situation, and on the challenges and value of isolation. While sometimes she feels restless and trapped, the experience has also offered her a chance to practice patience and “releasing control,” she said.

On Friday, Sabido spoke with The Journal about her self-imposed isolation and offered some advice for those now forced to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic. She also shared some thoughts on what the present state of the world can teach us.

Thinking back to when you first started living in sanctuary at the Mancos United Methodist Church in June 2017, what were those first few days and weeks like being confined on church grounds, unable to leave?

The beginning was a shocking experience because I didn’t know I was going to be in this situation, and it was a matter of days for me to make the transition and do it. I was feeling afraid, and there were a lot of tears those first days, that first night. Especially when I was opening my eyes in the morning and seeing that I was in this place. I was living a totally different reality than what it was before.

Did you feel restless or trapped?

Yes. And it has happened to me many times, and there are days where I wish I could just go and walk. There were times where even I was physically feeling like – I can describe this like when people get those shirts or ropes to hold their hands when they suffer some mental illnesses and they cannot move. I was kind of feeling that way, that no matter how I felt I was not able to move and change the situation.

When you first took sanctuary, what kinds of activities occupied your days in those first few weeks?

Well I was surrounded with a lot of people. A lot of people from the community came to visit.

My activities were pretty much talking with these people, and answering phone calls and replying to emails and trying to cope with the fact that I was here. At the beginning, there was frustration. And then slowly I had to surrender because I couldn’t fight against the situation.

Then I started doing some activities, different activities with different people from the community, like arts and crafts and jewelry-making, and tried to stay as normal as possible. Doing the normal things like cooking and trying to see this time as a great moment of transformation and learning process.

Releasing that control – that things that used to be our way, or tried to do it our way. Now it’s not in our hands. It was not in my hands. And it still is not.

What have you learned in this time?

I’ve learned how to surrender to the circumstances and trust. Just go with the rhythm of how they’re happening. At the same time I know I have to be watchful and careful, to feel safe. But also not forgetting that I have a goal.

To know that there’s something I’m working for, an objective. And that helps me to remain faithful in knowing there’s going to be a moment, that this will end. Then I will be free and then I will enjoy the things that I wanted to.

What forms of communication do you like to use, if not face-to-face?

Now I’ve been having video conferences with different people. Even doing some presentations with some organizations, and email, text, social media. Pretty much all the same as before.

I’m still getting email, people still bring me food and things that I need. I don’t really see people, they just leave it in front of the door. I try to be careful and clean everything, wash everything. I still have the contact, like people keep asking me and texting me how I am doing, and how I am feeling.

Has a sense of normalcy returned for you, living in sanctuary? How long did that take?

I don’t think this has become normal in any way, and I don’t want it to be. Because this shouldn’t be normal for anybody. Because this is not how we’re created to be, to be isolated or to be secluded. I think I had to be OK with the situation because I know that’s better for my mental health. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to go back to live a free life, or to do the things that I wanted to do.

Do you think the current coronavirus situation will help people understand better what you’ve been dealing with for so long?

I hope it does. I know a lot of people said that they can never be in my situation, and they can never feel the way I’m feeling, but I’m certainly sure right now that they’re starting to understand a little better.

But I hope they really understand that this is not what life is supposed to look like. And also realize that this is very unfair. Even though their situation is very similar, there is still a lot of privilege in (other people’s) life.

From the fact that they can still go to the store, or they can just go for a walk in this beautiful area where we live. We are blessed that there is a lot of country and forest and lakes and mountains. They can go for a walk and they don’t necessarily need to see other people. And I still have to be in this place. Sooner or later they’re going to all be free again, this is all going to be over for them, and for me it’s not.

So maybe it’ll help them to realize what I’m asking for, their support and help, and advocating for the immigrant community, and people in sanctuary. We cannot live life forever like this.

Some of your supporters recently petitioned U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to sponsor a bill that would provide a legal path to citizenship for you. Any updates on that?

No, they went to deliver the petition, and a week later is when all this happened. We went from one reality to a completely surreal moment that we are living in. Of course I understand people are concerned with how to take care of themselves, this confusion and panic.

I don’t think that was the moment to push anything. Maybe now people are at home and they have a little more time to help me to push it through a little better. But it’s a new reality. We’re going to start working on it, I know it’s not going to be as we thought it was going to be, the deadline of March 27.

Do you have advice for self-isolating and staying sane?

Yes. It’s really hard to stop in life when we are fully active and working and in and out and just focusing on working, never have time to rest, really rest mentally and spiritually, rest and take a break. We don’t like to stop. Even if we are saying we’re watching TV, our mind goes crazy.

I’d like to tell people to really sit, reflect and really let go of the frustration. Because that (frustration) is not going to change anything. That is not going to change the situation. And they are missing a great opportunity to take an understanding of themselves and their loved ones in this forced time of quality time.

Take the opportunity for learning, but there is also this chance to decompress and sit. There are always things we wish to change or modify or improve or get rid of in our lives. Not only in our surroundings, our environment, but in ourselves. Things that no longer serve us in life. And I think this is a great opportunity, you know.


Oct 28, 2020
Sabido joins national effort asking Biden for freedom, citizenship