“My greatest joy and objective in ministry is to help the new immigrant women and men I serve meet their basic needs, while equipping them to use their knowledge of the Bible in practice in their lives to fulfill the great commission,” says Ozeas Silva, pastor at Swainsboro (Ga.) Presbyterian. “My biggest worry in life is failing to make sure that I am at the center of God’s will and that I use the model of Gideon’s test to be certain of God’s instructions for my life.”
Silva and his wife, Elman, are originally from Brazil and work as pastoral leaders here in the U.S., making a daily impact as part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The couple moved to Atlanta in 2003 with their children after hearing God’s call to work with new immigrant families in the United States.
“Working with new immigrants is a challenge that many times is not understood by the larger church,” says Silva. “Immigrant churches are often the smallest, and have limited resources. Sometimes we see growth, but the size of our congregations fluctuates, especially if it’s filled with immigrant men and women without documentation.”
Silva and his wife work with families who have experienced religious persecution for their faith and because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. Racial Ethic & Women’s Ministries says many new immigrant worshiping communities serve refugees from countries that do not allow freedom of Christian religious practices, and that this is often the primary reason for their immigration to the United States.
Without an opportunity to worship in the PC(USA)’s new worshiping communities, many immigrants may not have a chance to experience discipleship, evangelism, Bible study, or community worship and learning about God’s love. Silva has witnessed that this fact shocks many Presbyterians into reconsidering just where they sit with regard to U.S. immigration laws.
“As we develop relationships both inside and outside of the church, we establish trust and respect in the community, and ultimately that helps deepen our ties,” he says. “We’re able to harvest friendships with the community and then we can begin to introduce them to Christ as we are led by the Holy Spirit.”
“The community we serve is mostly Spanish-speaking. Because of this, much of our ministry work extends beyond the walls of the church on Sunday,” says Silva of the worshiping community’s emphasis on social work. “We go with these men and women to their doctor appointments, school meetings, assist with job interviews, grocery shopping, emergency hospital visits, and so much more to serve as translators and advocates. Many don’t drive or don’t have cars, so we offer transportation assistance. Some have children who need help in school, so our ministry offers tutoring programs, access to computers and the Internet, and emotional support for families.”
Many community members find themselves somewhere in the immigration process, often needing assistance with understanding immigration law or addressing immigration issues. “We seek to help meet the most basic needs of those we serve, and for many, that means addressing many life issues and needs that the rest of the church may sometimes take for granted,” says Silva.
Silva and his wife credit much of their success in ministry to the support and leadership development training they receive from the PC(USA).
“After I graduated from seminary, I did some additional study on Presbyterian polity, which has helped solidify my understanding of the difference in doctrines and regulations between the Presbyterian Church of Brazil and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” he says. “As a pastor who works primarily with new immigrants, it can be difficult to find courses and training that specifically address the needs we see on a daily basis. The training offered through Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries—through leadership development institutes and coaching programs—is so critical to help meet the needs that other training programs may not offer.”
“We have gathered a group here that feels safe and secure,” says Silva. “With that, relationships deepen and faith in their individual skills grows and flourishes. One member of our community, for example, was able to open his own landscaping business, thanks to the support and training he received from the church and our community. Our congregation knows they can count on us in good times and bad times. We’ve been called to do God’s work and pray that we can continue to go where he calls us.”
The couple and their worshiping community also receive support from Savannah Presbytery. Silva adds, “Recently, our building needed new central air conditioning. Without the support of Savannah Presbytery, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to meet that need.”
To partner in the work of racial ethnic and new immigrant ministries, the Silvas invite you to give to the new funding initiatives that support new immigrant worshiping communities and racial ethnic leadership development programs in the PC(USA). Your help is needed to grow and sustain these impactful ministries like the Silvas’.