Newcomers stay and give back to others trying to resettle in New York City
February 12, 2024
A Brooklyn church has become a refuge and spiritual home for newcomers to New York City at a time when a massive influx of asylum seekers has challenged the city to its core.
First Spanish Presbyterian Church (FSPC) provides assistance, such as food and clothing — with no strings attached — to asylum seekers and others in need as part of what it calls The Good Samaritan Project.
The Spanish-speaking congregation in the Presbytery of New York City has shown love to “us as strangers with no family here; they came and embraced us,” said Francisca, a mother from Argentina who first connected with the church several months ago, along with her husband, Juan David, and their three children.
The family — whose words were translated by Pastor Daniel Rivera — is part of a surge of migrants that New York City has been experiencing for many months. More than 150,000 have arrived in the city since spring 2022, according to The New York Times. The challenge of serving them prompted Mayor Eric Adams to declare a state of emergency last fall, and he has visited countries, such as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, to spread the word that the city has reached capacity.
Some of the migrants have been bused in by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as part of a feud with Adams and, at times, President Biden, over border security. Others have arrived through other means. Many have fled Venezuela due to political unrest and economic decline.
Rivera, the only paid staff member at FSPC, initially expected asylum seekers to be short-term visitors. But many are now worshiping at the church and finding ways to be of assistance to other asylum seekers and church members.
“They feel at home because we speak their language,” Rivera said. “They feel at home because they did not simply get something from somebody that is rich or a different culture or handed down. They don’t feel that way. They feel that they are part of our community, part of our families.”
The migrants arriving in NYC hail from many parts of the world, including South America, Central America, various parts of Africa, and Haiti, Rivera said.
Scores are “coming back every Sunday, and they aren’t asking for anything in return,” Rivera said. “Of course, there’s the hot meal that they enjoy every week. It’s such a blessing, but they also come for prayers for all those who are on their way here.”
The Good Samaritan Project got its start about a year and a half ago — with a nudge from Deacon Berney Garcia — when the church began assisting a family of five from Colombia who came to visit the church while staying at a shelter. Then “little by little,” word started spreading that it was a welcoming church, Rivera said.
Within two to three months, there were 40 people coming, he said. “Six months later, we got 80,” which has increased to “150 to 200 people a week, worshiping with us, sharing, breaking bread with us.”
Furthermore, “they’re also inviting others,” he said. “Now, they’re the missionaries.”
Juan David said being able to turn to the church helps to ease the anxieties that families feel when they come to the United States not knowing what to expect.
“The church is like a release valve to release the tension,” he said through Rivera, “because otherwise in the shelters where they are, they are clustered in there and (don’t) know where to go. So at least once a week, this place serves as a healing place for them to actually become part of a community.”
One of the ways the church helps asylum seekers is through its Deacons Closet, which is a clothing program.
The newcomers are allowed to select clothes for themselves. When it comes time to eat, they can take a tray and serve their family as well as individuals who have no relatives with them.
“There’s dignity, humanity,” Rivera said. “That way we feel that nobody is giving anything to anybody. We are both receiving and giving.”
Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn welcomes asylum seekers
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Terri Bowman, Customer Service Representative, Hubbard Press, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Jeff and Christi Boyd, Mission co-workers serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Dear Lord, the source of our strength, you are good to provide for our needs in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Thank you for your guidance and wisdom in carrying out the work you have called us to do. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.