Most of you may not know of Frank and Ann Nugent. They’ve not attended BUF since the end of the 1980s. But the work they did on behalf of BUF and war refugees passing through Bellingham in the mid-1980s mark another chapter in BUF’s interesting history.
In 1980, a civil war erupted in El Salvador not long after the assasination of President and Catholic Archbishop, Oscar Romero. Leftists in the country sought to take control of the country. The U.S., concerned about the spread of communism in Central America, stepped in to help the existing government. The result was a 12-year war that left tens of thousands of people dead and a wave of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.
This brief, oversimplistic description of the conflict sent thousands of refugees through Bellingham as they sought to immigrate to Canada. Local activists and faith-based organizations in Bellingham got together to try to find a way to help these refugees with food, temporary shelter and immigration assistance into Canada. The organization they formed was called CARA — Central American Refugee Assistance. CARA was a local response to a national movement called the “Sanctuary Movement” in which churches and religous organizations to provide assistance and shelter to refugees.
At the time, that meant breaking immigration laws. The refugees were here illegally and could have been detained by immigration officials without the help of locals such as Frank and Ann Nugent. Ann was a member of CARA and represented BUF at CARA meetings, and tried to get BUF to declare itself a Sanctuary Church. Besides attending meetings and trying to get BUF involved, she and Frank took in refugees in their home overnight and drove them over the border into Canada.
At the time, that was illegal and they risked imprisonment for doing so.
Other members of BUF who also did this were Ann Stevenson and Michael Berres and Todd Jones.
As a fellowship, however, BUF could not come to an agreement as a whole and ended up not becoming a Sanctuary church.
Refugees that the Nugents, Stevenson and Berres and Jones assisted were traumatized from the war. The refugees witnessed murders, beatings and other atrocities. Many refugees had to leave family behind in order to escape with their own lives.
BUF’s lack of will in getting involved was a major disappointment for the Nugents, who eventually left BUF for this and other reasons. They began attending another church.
The war ended in 1992 and CARA eventually disbanded because it was no longer needed.
In my book, I will go in much greater detail on the refugees who stayed with the Nugents, Stevenson and others. But for now, consider this an introduction to the topic.