Ministry for Immigrants and Refugees
...I was a stranger and you welcomed me...
- Matthew 25:35
Advent at the Border: A Report from John Caulfield and Pat Ellis
Parishioners John and Nancy Caulfield and Pat Ellis discussed their December participation in a pilgrimage to the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico on Sunday, February 10. Led by Episcopal clergy from across the U.S., the pilgrimage visited ministries that help migrants in distress on both sides of the border.
All of the Central American migrants are fleeing difficult
conditions in their home countries. Unlike previous migrant groups, which were mostly adults, many of the current migrants are families with young children. Adult migrants would cross surreptitiously and move on to destinations further inland. In contrast, family migrants request asylum from the U.S. Border Patrol, but only a small number can be accommodated each day. The Border Patrol beings the processing of the migrants’ asylum claims. Then, because of limited detentions space, migrants are placed on a long waiting list. The families are released and may join relatives who are already in the U.S. until they are called for a future court hearing.
The Episcopal clergy and lay leaders on the pilgrimage continue to explore means by which churches can develop a more active presence in response to need. John Caulfield's presentation is linked below and gives an excellent overview of immigration statistics.
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 years after arrival, there are gaps in meeting the needs. The goal of Our ministry is to help each refugee/immigrant achieve independence, economic mobility and community integration within a welcoming Christian environment.