At the time, Pastor Jim Oines thought it a bit strange that the middle-aged Hispanic man who suddenly became active in the Sunday night Bible study group of his Phoenix church exhibited so little interest in religion.
"I always had the feeling that his interest was clearly not from religious motivation -- he had just sort of a nice-guy approach," Lutheran pastor Oines recalled of the man who said his name was Jesus Cruz.
Cruz came regularly to be with the group of refugees from Central America who lived near the church and met for Bible study and mutual support in their precarious lives, Oines said. "He'd drive people home -- refugees don't have cars so they were really grateful -- and he offered them food," said Oines.
"One family, who had gone north to sanctuary in Seattle -- he called them up. Said he wanted to send them a Christmas present and he needed their address."
The next day federal agents showed up at the Seattle address and arrested the family as illegal aliens.
Shortly after that, Oines and other church leaders learned that Cruz had been one of a number of informers paid by the government to infiltrate churches and tape-record services, prayer meetings and Bible study sessions in search of evidence to prosecute the growing Sanctuary Movement.
Subsequently, the government indicted 12 church workers. Their trial, on charges of smuggling illegal aliens into this country, began Tuesday in Tucson and is expected to last several weeks.
Oines, who was not among those indicted, was in Washington this week to join other church leaders urging Congress to investigate the infiltration tactics, which they say violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion.
"The day the indictments of the 12 church workers came out and I heard that Cruz had been involved, I went around to the homes of the refugees" who had participated in the Bible study," said Oines. "About half of them had been arrested" by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on charges of being in this country illegally.
"Others who had left Phoenix and gone to sanctuary churches in the North were also arrested," he said.
Oines, who is fluent in Spanish, was sent to the Alzona Lutheran Church in Phoenix to help the members, located in a changing neighborhood, make the transition from a conventional Lutheran congregation of Northern European whites to a ministry that includes Hispanics who have moved into the neighborhood.
But after last January's disastrous encounter with Cruz and the INS police, that seems impossible. "Now the refugees are afraid to come to church," he said. "We've not been able to have Bible study any more."
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) said the House Judiciary Committee definitely will hold hearings on the matter "in a few weeks.
"It's a real threat to religion, because people are scared to go to church," Edwards said, adding that he was "shocked" at the infiltration tactics.
"Mr. Rodino Peter Rodino, D-N.J., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has already written a letter to the attorney general asking all kinds of questions" about the instructions given agents who conducted the investigations, Edwards said.
The infiltration of Arizona churches by federal agents has had a negative effect on all churches, Oines said.
"Even people with a North American background -- when a visitor or new member comes to church, you think, 'Do we have to check out to see whether he's a spy or not?'
"Other pastors have told me that people don't feel as welcome as they did before. It's really had a chilling effect."
Oines can understand the reluctance of the refugees to risk involvement with churches. "With the Central Americans, they know if they are sent back, they will be killed. For them to come to Bible study and then be pointed out by someone is too much of a risk."
Oines said he has anguished over the fate not only of refugees who attended the Bible class but also of their friends and families in Central America who may have been jeopardized as well.
"We were studying Exodus," the Old Testament book that records the travails of the ancient Hebrews in the struggle with their Egyptian oppressors. "People talked about their own experiences in the context of that," often citing events in El Salvador or Guatemala involving friends or family.
"We closed with prayer" in which participants in the class mentioned the names of people to be prayed for -- all of which ended up on Cruz's secret tape recordings, Oines said.
For Oines, it is a particularly bitter irony that government prosecutors ultimately decided against using the tapes in the current trial of the 12 Sanctuary workers.
But the damage is done, he said.
"My understanding of the church has always been that it is a place where those who can't find a place anywhere else -- they ought to be safe in the church.
"Now the government is telling the church it can't do that."