PRESBYTERIAN IMMIGRANT MINISTRY IN TRANSITION — by John Webster
In our last newsletter (January-February 2018), Rev. Gerson Annunciação wrote of his leaving the Presbyterian Immigrant Ministry because it could no longer afford to pay a full-time missionary. Gerson and Sandra Annunciação said their farewells to the Presbytery of Southern New England at its February 10, 2018 meeting. In March they were able to visit family and friends in Brazil. After their return the Steering Committee hosted a farewell party for them and on April 10th they left for Salt Lake City, Utah, where they are staying with their daughter and her family. Rev. Gerson has a chaplaincy job at the University of Utah hospital starting in early May, while Sandra has already begun work in a Lutheran pre-school.Rev. Gerson’s responsibilities have now been divided up. This newsletter and acknowledging gifts will be the responsibility of the Steering Committee. Visiting the Bristol County prison in Dartmouth MA has been undertaken by the Rev. Paulo Ribeiro, and visiting those in Suffolk County prison in Boston as well as the Plymouth County prison, will be done by the Rev. Alonso Dacunha whose wife Katia, will continue visiting women prisoners in the Suffolk County prison.
The Rev. Paulo Ribeiro arrived in the USA from Brazil in 1992, attended Fuller Theological Seminary, and was ordained by the San Francisco Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He then served as pastor of churches in Nebraska and Massachusetts, as well as interim pastor at two churches in Rhode Island. At present he is retired and serves as part-time pastor of a Portuguese American Baptist congregation in Fall River MA. While Rev. Gerson was recuperating from surgery last November, Rev. Paulo led Bible study groups in the Bristol County prison, so they already know him there.
The Rev. Alonso Dacunha was ordained in 1993 by the Igregia Presbyteriana de Brazil and worked initially as a missionary in the Amazon region. In 2002, he and Katia came to the United States to pastor a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Cape Cod. In 2007, in order to better serve their mission, both he and the congregation severed their connection with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and joined the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbytery of Southern New England. He serves as pastor of that congregation, the Brazilian Presbyterian Church, in Hyannis, on Cape Cod.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS — by Paulo de Tarso Ribeiro
While Gerson was recovering from his operation I provided Bible studies in the Bristol County prison in Dartmouth. I encouraged the detainees to trust God, teaching them how to walk by faith, and focusing upon prayer and spiritual meditation upon the scriptures. The key, I believe, was to let them feel how God loves them, even amidst life’s bad experiences.
The conditions under which I work there now are reasonable. We hold Bible studies in a room usually used by the detainees for watching television. From time to time people come into the room, disturbing the flow of our conversation. It seems that some guards do not control access to the room and prevent the entrance of people who are not attending the Bible studies.
The people attending the groups are anxious about their families. Some of them are depressed. When I noticed such inner struggles, I focused my conversation on trying to lift them, using Bible passages appropriate to such situations. I notice that they appreciate our presence as we come to provide a word of hope, not only for their time in prison but also for their future beyond prison. The first group is now smaller than the second one. Most of them speak Spanish and a few speak Portuguese. The second group has just a few members who speak English, while the majority speaks either Spanish or Portuguese. Both groups interact in reading the scriptures and show interest in learning.
Editorial Note: When Rev. Paulo first visited the Bristol County Prison, only nine men attended the two groups: 3 in the first, 6 in the second one. Since then, the two groups have had an attendance of from 17 to 20 participants.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS — by Alonso Dacunha
This is the first report since Pastor Gerson departed after several years of ministering to the struggles and challenges of imprisoned immigrants. I have continued the Bible studies in the Suffolk County jail and Plymouth County Correction Facility. On March 14th I met with the people who train and provide for those who minister within these institutions. On my first visit with the detainees I sensed a tense, very heavy, atmosphere. My thought was that although they came from many backgrounds in countries around the world, they were all people desirous of hope. I began eager to continue a ministry that lives in the pain and joy of a single encounter, amidst tears and smiles of hope, with the sacred scriptures.To my surprise in my first Bible study meeting there were Brazilians, Hispanics, and two men from other countries. Some of the detainees made translations during the Bible study so that everyone understood the Bible’s message and everything went smoothly.
In the second group that day there were eight people who spoke only Spanish, two who spoke Portuguese, and an Indian who spoke English as well as his mother tongue. I discovered that this was going to be very challenging because they all wanted to hear the Word and had a lot of hope in Christ. The day was not yet finished and it had more surprises for me. There was a long wait between the second and third group which was to meet in a different part of the jail. The guard announced my presence and that there would be a Bible study in Portuguese. I waited a long time but no one appeared at the meeting. As I was about to leave, an Arab showed up followed by an Indian. Then a Jamaican, another Arab, another Indian and another Jamaican, all of whom had very different ideas about God, and all with very religious and distinguished expressions on their faces, with me a Brazilian pastor with passion for mission in the land of the Amazon! What a contrast, what a difference, designed and provided by God, the best of experiences together around the Book of James united by the sacred scriptures!
It is in all of these experiences that I see God in every detail of our history; he is the head and allows us to relate as a body. We know that other parts of this body need to be bathed by the blood of Christ and pumped by the intense love of God.
I have now visited the jail in Boston six times and the jail in Plymouth six times, each day with a new experience provided by the undeserved love of God that was proved by the cross. In my 21 years of ministry, I had not yet had such intercultural experiences. I realized that people living in such distinct places, speaking different languages, yet had needs and yearnings that are the same and are only completed in Christ.
Join us. Participate in this opportunity to speak to the world of Christ’s love!
MINISTRY TO WOMEN DETAINEES — by Katia Dacunha
The bible study among ICE immigrant women has been a wonderful experience as always. The women are grateful for these special moments we do have when we share the Word. We do have days when we have an hour and half together and days that we have just an hour. All the women face different challenges, especially for the ones who have been in the U.S.A. for a long time and have established their life here. Some have bought a house, their children were born here, they have a small business or kids in college, and so much more. We use our time together as needed to study the bible, pray, sing, talk about such things that concern them as going to court, day of deportation, what are they expecting going back, etc.
Lately the number of incarcerated women has grown and the number of participants in our meetings has varied from six to thirty, with an average of nine to eleven women at each bible study. The biggest challenge we face is the language problem; people who do not know the language we are using feel left out. There was a time when I could lead the bible study in three languages– Portuguese, Spanish and English–but lately this has not been possible because the group is much bigger now. I spoke with the social worker responsible for the women’s program, and she would like to have our time together divided so that one week the meeting uses Portuguese and Spanish and the next week is for English speakers. That suggestion was based on my schedule, as I am able to go to the Suffolk County jail only one morning a week. I think that if we can divide the group by language it would be a blessing for all.
Please keep this ministry in your prayers, that God may enable us to do the best for these he loved so much, not measuring the cost.
THE PRESBYTERIAN IMMIGRANT MINISTRY would like to thank these donors for their support during this period of transition. Their support has both encouraged us and kept us going:
Bethel Presbyterian Church
First Presbyterian Church of Stamford
Greenwood Community Church
To donate by mail make check or money order payable to the Presbytery of Southern New England (include designation: for PIM)
Send to PSNE, P.O. Box 388, Chester, CT 06412