Layla, a teacher from Venezuela, arrived in Brazil in November 2018 with her nine-year-old daughter, Hailet. They left home because their economic and living situation had become desperate. Layla explained, “I didn’t want that for my daughter. I wanted her to have a better life. I prayed for God to take me out of Venezuela and send me to a place where I could work for a better life. People sent me money in Venezuela just so we could get by, and I didn’t want to be in that position.” She commented that no other country is taking care of Venezuelan refugees like Brazil.
Layla and Hailet live in a shelter run by the Brazilian army under the auspices of the local government in Boa Vista, the capital city of Roraima State in northwestern Brazil. The city is tucked up in an area that borders the countries of Venezuela to its north and Guyana on its eastern side. As more Venezuelans crossed the border into Brazil to escape deteriorating conditions, the Boa Vista secretary of labor and social welfare set up “Operation Welcome” to coordinate efforts to receive refugees and provide for their needs in army-run shelters. The Methodist Church in Boa Vista, pastored by Augusto Cardias, has been serving the refugee population in various ways since 2016. Layla says she has been overwhelmed by the kindness of the Brazilian people in the Methodist Church.
“Since the beginning of the current global migratory crisis, the Methodist Church in Brazil has encouraged its congregations to take a welcoming stance through our publications and digital media,” notes Joana D’Arc Meireles, coordinator of the church’s migration ministries and executive secretary for Life and Mission. In May 2019, the church launched a national campaign called “Methodists welcome and care” to mobilize and organize churches that want to help resettle immigrant families across Brazil.
The objective of the campaign is to create a national database of Brazilian Methodist churches that are willing to host families of immigrants and refugees, like the work of the Boa Vista church. The enrolled churches commit to three months of care for a family, covering rent, food and basic necessities, helping with language and finding a job, and directing children and adolescents to public schools. At least seven local Methodist churches already care for displaced families in the states of São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Paraná.
Shade and Fresh Water
This month, the United Nations announced that so far 4 million Venezuelans have fled their homes to find basic assistance in other countries and provide for their families. Among the migrants are many women and children like Layla and Hailet. As the number of refugees and shelters grew in Boa Vista, the local Methodist church needed partners and resources to continue its ministry, an outreach coordinated by Marcia Cardias, Agosto’s wife, with the help of church members and other volunteers. The Brazilian Methodist Church applied for an UMCOR Global Migration grant through the Shade and Fresh Water program, a national Methodist program working with at-risk children and youth with roughly 60 projects across Brazil at any given time.
The mission of Shade and Fresh Water is to form a large Methodist network of support and protection for children and adolescents. Celebrating its 18th year of work with children and youth, the ministry provides spaces where children and youth, ages six to 18, receive education and experience welcome and belonging.
The Boa Vista program seeks to provide relief and support for Venezuelans as they arrive in Brazil. The Global Migration grant provides funding to support weekly activities for women and children at the church from two to three shelters, meals during the church activities, reconstruction of the roof and flooring in the refectory to provide a safe place in all kinds of weather, transportation services to and from the shelters and health kits for beneficiaries of the program.
There are currently 11 shelters housing approximately 7000 people in Boa Vista. The Methodist Church serves the shelter children – twice a week at the church for arts crafts, music, sports and recreation and twice a week with sports and recreation at one of the shelters. Adults can take baking and cooking classes to acquire skills that may help them earn a little income.
Help from friends
Layla heard about the church’s ministries through another Venezuelan woman and took the class to hone her baking skills. She received start-up money from another source to sell her baked goods. She currently comes to the church three to four times a week to bake and then sells her goods in public spaces in the city and in the shelter. This has allowed her to provide for her daughter, who is going to school and adapting well to living in Brazil.
Selling baked goods in the shelter helped Layla to connect with nonprofit volunteers who organize shelter activities. From these relationships, she started a part-time job working with children in the shelter, which further increases her income.
Emily Everett, a Global Ministries missionary who works with Shade and Fresh Water in Belo Horizonte, visited the Boa Vista project recently and has helped with grant proposals and reporting. She confirmed, “Working with refugees has been a long learning process for the project, constantly adapting and changing as necessary. Recently, more men have been crossing the border and needing assistance. Out of the 75 denominations that are present in Boa Vista, only eight are working with Venezuelan refugees, and now these eight, including the Methodist Church, are points of reference for other churches trying to learn how to help.”
Boa Vista focuses on building character and job training, so immigrants can start to build an income for themselves in a job market that is saturated. The church has learned to concentrate on a specific aspect of the work to avoid the discouragement that comes with trying to do everything at once.
Everett had a chance to talk with Layla and Hailet and other beneficiaries in Boa Vista. Layla told her, “More than anything, I want to help and make a difference. When I got here, I immediately wanted to resettle, but God has opened the door for me to work here and help the kids and I am so grateful for the church’s help. I will never be able to pay back the kindness you all have shown me.”
House is the senior editor/writer for Global Ministries.