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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Why are people hungry and poor?


Matthew 25 churches are committed to eradicating systemic poverty and to building God’s beloved community together

April 15, 2021

Marifrans Estrada, Pan de Vida coordinator in the Misión Peniel farmworker ministry in Immokalee, Fla., makes dough for tortillas with help from her daughter, Maryella. Miguel Estrada

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, welcomed more than 230 attendees to a recent Matthew 25 online event focused on eradicating systemic poverty within the U.S.

Moffett said systemic poverty is becoming underscored in America and around the world with the wildfires on the West Coast, hurricanes, flooding, the COVID-19 pandemic and people losing their businesses and their way of life.

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said, “Folks living in poverty do need food, but they also need access to jobs, transportation, fair wages, affordable housing, education, racial justice and more.”

In walking alongside churches and grant partners in this important Matthew 25 work, Barnes said we “encounter the living God” in those who are living with poverty. She sees it as an invitation for Presbyterians to change from being “problem solvers” with ideas to “fix things” to those who sit at the feet of people who live in poverty to listen. “People living with poverty know their situations intimately and already have solutions they want to try,” Barnes said.

Guest speaker the Rev. Phil Tom serves on the Development Committee of The Riverside Church in New York City, and as director of the International Council of Community Churches. He provides leadership to ensure the church and the broader community work in tandem on issues such as hunger and homelessness. He sees Jesus’ Matthew 25 teaching about serving the “least of these” as a call to think long-term, “get out of the pews” and listen to people in the community.

Tom said that his friend and colleague the Rev. Patrick Hugh O’Connor, lead pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, New York, is working collaboratively within its community to eradicate systemic poverty through affordable housing.

First Presbyterian–Jamaica is building an apartment building next door to the church.

“The Tree of Life,” a 12-story, mixed-use apartment building of 174 units, 53 of which will be permanently affordable, is the first project of First Presbyterian–Jamaica and the nonprofit First Jamaica Community and Urban Development Corp.

The Tree of Life project, expected to open in 2021, will include a feeding program, a literacy program and a job training program to enrich and empower the lives of the residents in Jamaica, Queens. Phase 2 of the project will launch an on-site health center partnership with Cornell University.

Turning a parking lot next door to the church into an apartment building has been nearly a decade in the making. First Presbyterian–Jamaica, which has about 150 congregants from more than 35 birth nations, has taken time to learn firsthand what residents of Southeast Queens believe to be their most urgent needs: housing, health care and child care.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and associate director of Compassion, Peace & Justice, reflected on how much vulnerability is made worse during disaster, like COVID-19.

“Disaster gives us a chance to uncover poverty that most of us won’t look at the rest of the time,” Kraus said. “It gives us the responsibility to look at that straightforwardly and to engage in it, not just because giving to disaster makes us feel good, but because engaging in disaster helps us to see those who are already living on the margin and the work that needs to be done in development.”

The Rev. Miguel Estrada, presbytery evangelist with Misión Peniel (which means “The Face of God”), a farmworker ministry among the migrant workers in Immokalee, Florida, part of the Peace River Presbytery, provided an update on the issue of COVID-19 among farmworkers.

“Although a hot spot for COVID, Immokalee workers in Florida did not receive testing until Doctors Without Borders showed up,” Estrada said.

“Once you become a certain age in the farmworker community, or too sick to be picked by the contractors, you are basically living on the streets,” Estrada said. “We have a good number of workers who are homeless or under really difficult conditions because they are not able to work anymore, but obviously still have basic needs.”

Through the Pan de Vida (Bread of Life) program, Misión Peniel is providing meals for homebound farmworkers.

Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Eradicating Systemic Poverty

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Courtney Hemmelgarn, Office of the General Assembly
Jean Hemphill, Board of Pensions

Let us pray:

Gracious God, we give thanks for moments when we can see the work we do in your name. We are grateful that new life can arise from loss and possibility from disaster. We give thanks for those who give of themselves so that others might have hope. Amen.