“Justice,” said Kristin Kumpf, “is not about giving a person a fish or teaching a person to fish. It’s about giving a person access to the pond.” Formerly with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Kumpf now works with the American Friends Service Committee.
Giving immigrants to the United States access to free or low-cost legal services, no matter what language they speak, is a goal of New York Justice for Our Neighbors, a network of 18 sites across the United States. Each site serves low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. JFON attorneys meet with clients at legal clinics in churches and community centers, through referrals and scheduled appointments.
Recently “In Their Own Language” – A Program of New York Justice for Our Neighbors received a Peace with Justice grant to improve services to clients whose first language is Spanish. These clients are doubly penalized as victims of systemic poverty who have difficulty accessing legal services due to language. With the grant, made possible by generous giving to the annual Peace with Justice Sunday offering, New York JFON will hire a part-time, bilingual (English and Spanish) employee to return calls made to a centralized phone line and set up appointments for clients at the clinic best suited for them geographically.
A new endeavor, the ministry accomplishes two key Peace with Justice objectives:
- Promote just policies to address poverty and restore communities; and
- Support policies that promote economic justice and self-development.
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, New York Episcopal Area, shared the NYJFON story.
“The program in New York was the first in the United States in 1999,” he said. “Then, it was a program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. New York JFON began in the basement of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, led by the efforts of skilled managing attorney TJ Mills. TJ has been able to pull off some astonishing victories in the immigration legal world, and we are blessed to have him with us.”
Bickerton noted that New York JFON has since expanded to three additional sites in the New York metropolitan area and now employs another full-time staff attorney and an executive director. The other clinic sites include Chinese UMC, Manhattan; La Promesa Mission, Flushing; and Hicksville UMC, Long Island.
“The processes of clinic coordination and appointment setting,” Bickerton said, “have been difficult and uneven. They are presently handled individually at each clinic, with varying levels of service for persons whose first language is Spanish. This needs to be addressed, if New York JFON is to fulfill its mission of providing high-quality legal services to vulnerable populations who cannot afford those services.”
By expanding language services, he added, “the playing field will be leveled, and that is justice.”
On Peace with Justice Sunday, traditionally celebrated with an offering on the First Sunday after Pentecost, United Methodists support programs like In Their Own Language. Half of the offering goes to Peace with Justice ministries in the annual conference. The remainder assists the General Board of Church and Society for its Peace with Justice efforts.
“Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit calling for God’s shalom. Peace with Justice witnesses to God’s demand for a faith, just, disarmed, and secure world.” (The Book of Discipline 2016, Par. 263.5)
Thank you for sharing!
Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from UMCom
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs. The special offering benefits peace with justice ministries in the annual conference and through the General Board of Church and Society.