When Refugee Sunday was first established in the Florida Conference in the 1960s, ministry
to refugees was "romantic," according to the Rev. Brice Harris, pastor of First
United Methodist Church, Pompano Beach, and chairman of the conferences Refugee
Ministry Task Force. "We were helping Cubans and fighting communism. It was all very
Today, he says, the romance has worn off as the number of refugees has grown. The
Florida Conference annually touches the lives of approximately 4,100 refugees who have
fled from Cuba, Haiti, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.
"Were the first line of defense," Harris said. "We meet the needs
of people who come here with nothing on their backs. For more than two decades, weve
helped thousands to become settled in the United States at a time when no other resources
were available to them."
The needs include necessities like health
and school kits, food, and furniture, according to Judith Pierre Okerson, a member of
Grace Haitian United Methodist Church in Miami and a supervisor with Church World Services. Refugees also need
help find housing and employment.
Many refugees need to be oriented to their new life in a new country, according to
Harris. "We try to acclimate parents into American culture," he says. "What
is considered child abuse here is just discipline in another culture."
Funding for the refugee ministry comes from the annual Refugee Sunday offering Feb. 20
and the United Methodist Committee on Reliefs (UMCOR) Global Refugee Response Advance
#982540-1. Florida Conference churches gave $1,500 last year, while UMCOR put $35,000
toward the ministry, Harris said.
Approximately 12 Florida United Methodist churches, mainly in the Broward County and
Miami areas, have helped settle 1,400 refugee families in the past year, according to
Okerson. Other groups, including United Methodist Women, lend support by donating health
and school kits.