Gathering for immigrant ministry

On Sept. 8-10, churches from Florida and Georgia who minister to immigrants gathered at Koinonia Farm outside Americus, Ga., to network and support immigrant families from the Global South.  

Koinonia Farm is historically known for promoting equal employment opportunities for Blacks and whites when segregation was still an issue in the United States. From the beginning, Koinonians emphasized the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. 

Today they have a housing ministry of affordable homes for people in need and seek to embody peacemaking, sustainability and radical sharing. While honoring people of all backgrounds and faiths, they strive to demonstrate the way of Jesus as an alternative to materialism, militarism and racism.

The event in solidarity with immigrants marked a new chapter in efforts to work for peace. Seven groups and churches took part: Emmanuel Mennonite Church of Gainesville, Fla., and six from Georgia — Atlanta Mennonite Church, Americus Mennonite Church, First Haitian Church in Americus, Casa Alterna; Ministerio Jehova Luz y Esperanza and Koinonia Farm. Each participated by sharing its ministry for immigrant justice. 

Emmanuel Mennonite Church has a ministry to sponsor social projects through a legacy left by a former member. It is sponsoring an immigrant family that arrived from El Salvador, helping with legal assistance and housing, as well as networking with other churches to support another immigrant family in San Benito, Texas. 

Americus Mennonite Church works with detention centers and advocates for immigrant rights. The community also offers tutoring with kids whose parents don’t speak English. It also works with other Spanish-speaking churches in the area.

Koinonia farm offers lodging and support for immigrant families. It receives clothes and donations for many immigrant families.

Casa Alterna is a ministry of hospitality to asylum seekers. In three years, it has hosted more than 500 people from over 50 countries for at least two nights. For longer stays, it offers a space for 17 asylum-seeking residents the first year. 

Atlanta Mennonite Church financially supports and volunteers with El Refugio, which accompanies immigrants at Stewart Detention Center and their loved ones through hospitality, visitation, support and advocacy. A peace camp begun by one of its members involves immigrant and refugee children. The church rents a house it owns to Casa Alterna for its ministry of long-term hospitality and covers expenses in exchange for volunteer labor for asylum seekers who don’t yet have work permits.

Ministerio Jehova Luz y Esperanza is a new congregation formed by Garifuna families over a year ago that meets at the Atlanta Mennonite Church. The Garifuna are people of free African and Indigenous American ancestry from the Caribbean islands. One ministry of this congregation is to help connect immigrants with other organizations. Through community services, they help with migratory processes, not only for Garifunans but for anyone who seeks help.  

All who gathered were able to brainstorm ways to support immigrants more effectively and develop church dynamics that welcome all people. One thing that stood out was: How can immigrants help those who help them? The answer was simple but profound: Listen to the testimonies and life stories of the immigrants so we can also be transformed by them. 

The closing day of the gathering was held in Americus Mennonite Church. It was a packed service filled with music from each congregation and ending with the testimonies of two families who are receiving sponsorship. 

The group listened to the experiences of a family from El Salvador living in Gainesville and a family from Venezuela living in Atlanta. Their difficult journeys to the United States inspired and shook their faith. These families went through separations, kidnappings by cartels at the border and jungle crossings, among other difficulties that millions of immigrants experience in order to arrive in the United States. 

After the families shared, Pastor Antón Flores of Atlanta Mennonite Church invited us to reimagine Psalm 23 through the eyes of immigrants by substituting the word “shepherd” with “Coyote,” a term for a person who illegally guides people to new lands. The families rely on the Coyote for their safety to cross.

“The Lord is my Coyote, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Juan Moya

Juan Moya serves as the digital strategist of Anabaptist World. He currently lives in Florida and is married to Mariana Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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