Ever since he purchased a four-story building in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in 1989, Pastor Tomás Sanabria has not hesitated to welcome people into his home, which he describes as an extension of his ministry. Throughout the past 30-plus years, the building has housed family members, neighbors in need, and rural youth participating in urban immersion experiences.
Last year, Sanabria finished renovating the upper two floors of the building to rent to ministers and church leaders who want to immerse themselves in city life. As he was praying for the next chapter of the building, he received a phone call at church. He chuckles, “I’m the pastor, but I’m also the secretary.” On the other end of the line was a couple who had recently arrived from Venezuela. They needed a place to stay.
Sanabria, serves as pastor of La Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Albany Park, a Latino congregation of 14 nationalities that continuously helps new immigrants get connected to social service agencies in Chicago. But they had never provided housing before.
Sensing the leading of the Holy Spirit, Sanabria set up a time to meet with the couple at 9 p.m. in front of the church. “When I interviewed them, I saw that they were regular folks who just needed some help,” he said. He gave them items from the collection of clothes, shoes, toiletries, and other essentials his congregation maintains for persons in need. After boarding them on the third floor of his building, the congregation helped by providing beds, furniture, dishes, and other items for the new immigrants.
Since that initial interaction, Pastor Sanabria has extended hospitality to numerous other individuals. Currently living on the upper two floors of the building (consisting of three bedrooms each with a common living area and kitchen) are 12 individuals—two couples, another couple with a young child, two single men, and a single woman with two young children. Most came to the United States from Venezuela; one from Mexico and one from Peru.
Pastor Sanabria says that his decision to open his home is rooted in both his background and his calling. “All my life has been either being helped or me helping.” He remembers when he was a child translating for family, adults, and others who didn’t speak English. In this spirit of helping others, he gravitated to the position of executive director of a coalition of social service agencies. “In my calling, church is not only church but also a community center,” he says.
Sanabria, who lives on the second floor of the building, does not ask residents to pay rent; rather, he counsels and helps them to find work and food, get connected to city services, and eventually contribute to the common good. He describes how multiple individuals who have lived in the building have been able to get on their feet, establish roots, purchase vehicles, and move into their own apartments and homes. One pair of brothers even went on to establish their own business.
Elaiza, who came to the United States from Venezuela with her boyfriend and young child in April, is living in the building. She says, “Pastor Sanabria has been excellent with us. He’s never stopped helping us to have a good environment and to be welcomed here. I’m very grateful for Pastor Sanabria, for opening up his home. It’s a great opportunity to be here in the United States, and I would like to also give back someday.”
Referring to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25, Sanabria says it is essential to his desire to see the church care for those in need. “’When I needed food, you provided me food. When I was a stranger, you took me in’—that whole quote right there is what I try to practice. When did I provide? ‘When you did it for the least of them, you did it for me.’ If we’re the hands of Jesus Christ, then we need to be doing it for the least of them.”