Ministry for Immigrants and Refugees
...I was a stranger and you welcomed me...
- Matthew 25:35
A Unique Story
Our beloved Fr. Raja Zabaneh and his wife Lily have begun a new ministry. Just as Jesus himself was a stranger and asked us to take care of strangers, a heartwarming story about following His teachings is unfolding at the Cathedral. It began when South Sudanese refugees escaped from their war-torn homes and waited years in Egypt for U.S. visa clearance. While in Egypt, they were parishioners at Fr. Raja’s All Saints Episcopal Cathedral in Cairo. When their visa clearance finally came, Fr. Raja was in Jacksonville and they followed him here. Since then, Lily and Fr. Raja have been visiting their homes, offering friendship, spiritual council, serving as Arabic and French translators, and responding to a myriad of needs. On Pentecost Sunday, these new parishioners will be formally welcomed and accepted as members of St. John’s Cathedral. But the story doesn’t end there.
Successes and Needs
Currently, there are 70 people from 24 families within this local refugee/immigrant community. Fr. Raja hopes to guide more Sudanese to our city through the Joint Relief Ministry in Egypt. Within this current group now in Jacksonville, there are also people from Syria, Jordan and some immigrants from Haiti. Most have official U.S. refugee status that provides them with 90 days of resettlement support from a local refugee agency. However, full support, with the assistance of case workers and language translators, has now expired. Although refugees have access to a variety of social services for up to five
The Rev. Raja Zabaneh
Father Raja Zabaneh is chaplain to the Cathedral Residences. Father Raja is a native of Jordan who came to Jacksonville after serving as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt. He is a graduate of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt. He was ordained a priest in 1993 in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East and served there until he began ministry in the Diocese of Egypt in 1998. He and his family moved to Jacksonville in 2013.
As chaplain to the Cathedral Residences, he provides pastoral care and leads Bible studies for the elderly who live in apartments near the Cathedral managed by Aging True. He also assists in services as needed at St. John’s Cathedral. He and his wife, Lily, have two sons, Fouad and Karim
years after arrival, there are gaps in meeting the needs. Filling those gaps and connecting them with services for which they qualify are still needed. The goal is independence, economic mobility and community integration within a welcoming Christian environment.
Since January, there has been a groundswell of response from Cathedral members with offers to help with the ministry. Crucial needs have been met and many refugees have found entry-level employment. Additionally, most are enrolled in well-developed English programs. However, the essential needs of recent arrivals such as adequate housing, furnishing, English classes, employment/job training, access to medical services and health insurance, transportation, legal issues, public education and summer activities for children each continue to create challenges. This ministry seeks to use all of the many gifts that our congregation can provide to aid this special community.