Fulfilling the JFON Mission

South Florida Justice for Our Neighbors is ON THE MOVE! 

“I like everything here except the cockroaches,” says Emily Kvalheim of South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors.

She makes a good point. The cockroaches of South Florida are legendary. 

“I love the diversity and complexity here. It’s so different from other immigrant cities,” says Emily’s colleague Caitlin Kastner.  Readers may remember Caitlin as the artist who provided the powerful illustrations for last month’s story on victimized Florida farmworkers, Harvest of Justice.

Emily at Redland Community United Methodist Church—the home of South Florida JFON.
Emily at Redland Community United Methodist Church—the home of South Florida JFON.

Both young women are Global Mission Fellows, a two-year program of the United Methodist Church. They live simply and receive a small stipend for their work. Both Caitlin and Emily keep a blog about their experiences. They try to raise funds—not for themselves, but for the group that will follow them.

They are 21st Century missionaries.

If, when you picture missionaries, you think of someone singing hymns in the heart of Africa or teaching parables from the Bible on a faraway Polynesian island, Caitlin and Emily may surprise you. Their faith is profoundly important to them, but they don’t proselytize. They are not evangelicals.

“Our program is more about social justice,” explains Caitlin.

Their work is hands on, providing direct services to underserved and vulnerable people—in this case, not in a developing country in a far-flung corner of the world, but right here in America at Redland Community United Methodist Church in Homestead.

But for Emily and Caitlin, it’s all about the people they serve: the men, women and children who work in the fields of tomatoes, beans, okra, and watermelon.  The immigrant neighbors who come from Haiti, the Caribbean, and Central America.  People who need their help.

Migrant workers in the fields of Homestead, Florida.
Migrant workers—and potential South Florida JFON clients—in the fields of Homestead, 35 miles south of Miami.

Caitlin recounts an experience she had recently with a Haitian family trying to renew their Temporary Protected Status so they could stay in this country. They could never have obtained this renewal, she says, without JFON. “They have four kids. They are incredibly poor,” she explains. “And they were just as incredibly gracious, kind, and grateful.”

People don’t realize how expensive the various application fees can be, adds Emily. “For the TPS forms, it would have been over $2,000 for the family. You need an attorney to get a fee waiver. You need an attorney because otherwise it’s too easy to make a mistake and get it wrong. You could be accused of fraud.  And they don’t,” she emphasizes, “return your money.”

Caitlin and her husband.
Caitlin and her husband.

Emily speaks Spanish; Caitlin is “working on it.” Emily will go to seminary when she is finished with the program and hopes to continue her social justice work and “connect people to the United Methodist Church.” Caitlin is married—her husband is also a Mission Fellow and works in downtown Miami with a ministry for homeless people. The couple hopes to be able to work together on other missions and continue to serve “cross-culturally.”

Right now, however, Emily and Caitlin are focused on their new mission: to find a suitable vehicle for a planned “mobile unit.”  Many clients work long hours in the fields; many have no means of transportation. It is nearly impossible for them to get to scheduled appointments. With funding provided by a National JFON Innovation Grant, South Florida JFON will soon be able to bring their expert legal services directly to them.

They are close to settling on the right vehicle, but the search hasn’t been without its adventures, reports Emily. “One day, Caitlin and I drove several miles down the road, squeezed between some bushes, walked through a field, and considered climbing a barbed-wire fence in order to get a good look at a food truck.” She sighs. “Sadly, it was out of budget.”

“We’re excited about having some mobility, “says Caitlin. “I think it will allow us to evolve with the constantly changing worlds of immigration law and demographics in South Florida.”

“I am looking forward to seeing what God does through us and with this new ministry,” Emily agrees.

Tarek’s Story

Tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians have disappeared over the last four years. They are taken from their homes, schools, offices, and markets. There is always some place where they were last seen. But they are never seen again.

Tarek almost became one of the legion of disappeared himself.

Read More