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7/8/97 Evangelization, validation cited for migrant ministry

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–There are more than 1 million migrant workers in the United States, which translates to more than 1 million ministry opportunities available to Southern Baptists.
“Whatever the form of the ministry, it has consistently resulted in professions of faith,” said Donoso Escobar, immigration and refugee associate for the North American Mission Board. Escobar led a seminar on ministry with migrant and season workers at the Jericho Missions Conference, June 21-27, at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center.
Migrants are people who work seasonal agricultural or related food processing jobs, and most Southern Baptist migrant ministry is conducted among Hispanic workers who move from three base states: California, Texas and Florida. “However, we are seeing an influx of workers from Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands,” Escobar said. “These people migrate to Georgia, the Carolinas and up the East Coast.”
Ministries to migrant workers include education, medical and nutritional care, clothing, transportation, backyard Bible clubs and Bible studies.
Successful ministries seem to exhibit two major components: evangelization and social validation, Escobar said.
“Evangelization fleshes out the gospel by presenting migrant workers with tangibles of God’s individualized love,” he said. “Social validation is treating the workers as human beings. It authenticates the friendship offered by the church in the name of Jesus.”
In Edneyville, N.C., migrant workers live in government-subsidized apartments or trailers owned by the growers. The workers are charged rent according to their income and family size. They hand pick the fruit and they work from sunup to sundown.
Members of Mission Bautista Hispana Carolina, under the leadership of pastor Alfredo Oviedo, are reaching out to the migrant workers in their community. The church began as an outreach of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., in 1979. In 1990, Mission Bautista had their own building and sent their first missionary to Mexico. They called Oviedo as pastor in 1992.
Mission Bautista is finding new ways to reach the ethnic population of Edneyville. Sunday school begins at 3 p.m and worship services start at 4 p.m. “Most of the workers in the area are first- generation Hispanic immigrants,” Oviedo said. “Their culture is largely Roman Catholic. In their native countries, they worship in the evenings. So, that’s what we do here.”
Ministering to migrants is difficult at best and often discouraging, Oviedo said. “The people travel to where the work is available. And they travel together to maintain their social groups. So, just about the time we build trust in a relationship, the people move on.”
Another challenge is building a church with people who have no concept of what a church is. “We’re beginning something from nothing,” Oviedo said. “Hispanic people have a deep sense of family and a deep reverence for God. But they know very little about belonging to a church family.”
The community around Edneyville has been accepting of the immigrants. “People in Hendersonville are ignoring the stereotypes of typical Hispanic immigrants and are reaching out to them, ” Oviedo said. That outreach is reflected in individuals offering English tutoring and a local landscaping business offering year-round jobs.
“By breaking down language barriers and providing more stable jobs, Christians are helping the migrant workers establish roots in the community,” Oviedo said. “We’re doing our part to grow Christians and God is blessing our church.”

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  • Lynne Jones