St. John's Cathedral Refugee Ministry Comes Full Circle
St. John's Cathedral (SJC) parishioners offered an outpouring of support for a new immigrant/refugee ministry begun by Fr. Raja and his wife Lily back in 2016. After escaping war-torn Sudan, these refugees waited an average of 12 years in Egypt hoping to gain visas to the U.S. While there, they attended All Saints Cathedral, where Fr. Raja was pastor. He and Lily encouraged them to request Jacksonville as their new home once they received their visas. Thus, began the SJC unique ministry where the refugees already had spiritual guidance and emotional support prior to arrival.
Through resettlement agencies, refugees receive basic survival needs such as housing, access to employment, health care, English language classes, cultural orientation, and school enrollment for children. However, this initial help, known as Reception and Placement, is only a 90-day period. Thereafter, the assistance decreases and the expectation for self-sufficiency increases. The need for community volunteer involvement is great.
By summer 2017, our SJC ministry had helped to fill the gap with approximately 25 households including both refugees and immigrants from Sudan, Haiti, Jordan and Syria. Fr. Raja and Lily made pastoral visits, identified needs, and served as Arabic/English translators in the Jacksonville community; parishioners helped them with transportation, holiday gifts, food baskets and employment assistance. Gently used clothing and furniture as well Visa gift cards for new school clothing and shoes were delivered. Cash donations used for emergency funds such as rent, utilities and medical expenses brought much relief. Seven cars were donated. Baby showers, new back packs full of school supplies, provisions during hurricanes, and English practice at Sunday morning coffee klatches all made life easier as refugees navigated their way in a new culture and created new lives.
Where Are They Now?
The mission of faith-based ministries for refugees is to welcome them and help them to become self-sufficient, productive members of their new country. Our refugees arriving in 2016 have met that extraordinary challenge. Success stories include:
- Several families now own their own homes
- Most are communicating well in English and have employment with economic mobility
- Many families have moved from initial apartments with minimal space to more comfortable apartments and/or individual homes
- Children are progressing in school
- Eva Elmahi, daughter of Rina and Yacoub Elmahi, graduated Englewood High School and is now serving her new country in the Air Force
- With assistance from SJC, Bashar Akkawi has received his Green Card (lawful permanent residency in US and eligibility to apply for US Citizenship
- Children who entered US as middle schoolers are approaching high school graduation
- A scholarship fund for college tuition is in the planning stages
To read more about what's happening with the Immigrant and Refugee Ministry now,see the latest post.