Sometimes you have to think small to make an impact.
While the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew could not meet a major need like shelter for dozens of the asylum seekers entering New York, “we could offer them a Metrocard (for public transportation) and some cash and some shelf-stable snack foods, essential things,” the Rev. Lea Matthews said.
A small gesture can be meaningful for people who need everything, added the Rev. K Karpen. “Even something that seems little to us can make a huge difference.”
Such an approach also makes the work manageable for those doing the ministry, noted Julia Tulloch, a church member who has coordinated some of the volunteer work. “If you can’t provide a meal, maybe you can gift some toiletries.
“If you have a specific ask of people, they respond,” she said.
Making connections with other churches, religious organizations and community and public service groups is crucial to expanding mission outreach. “You can join with others to do so much more than you can imagine,” Matthews noted.
Some of the specific ways that St. Paul and St. Andrew has provided support for the asylum-seeking process include:
- Offering Spanish classes for church members and English as a Second Language classes for the five men staying at the church.
- Helping the men navigate the city’s transportation system and accompanying them to appointments related to immigration needs and to applying for city services.
- Connecting them with immigration lawyers, including with Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry.
- Providing a year of cell phone service for each man for texts and e-mails from government agencies and for What’s App calls.
Churches need to remember that migrant ministry should focus on people as individuals and not as symbols of an issue, said Carol Scott, who works for South Bronx Mutual Aid. And the idea is to provide support, not charity.
Pay attention to what people are asking for when they arrive, learn about the broader systems related to immigration and be realistic about how and what volunteers can do, she advised.
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