Florida’s Migrant Children

Migrant children are especially vulnerable to predators involved in sex trafficking due to their migratory lifestyle,  Marc Johnston, strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church and Community Ministries explained. By being responsive to this social issue,  the annual Florida Baptist Migrant Camp provided a great opportunity to educate the children to be better prepared for dangerous situations.

The eternal safety of the children was a priority at camp as gospel presentations were shared with the campers in a variety of settings, including devotional time in their cabins and worship celebrations led by local churches. “This is a wonderful place where they can grow spiritually,” said Pastor Juan Gonzales of Iglesia Bautista de Wimauma, who annually brings children from his church—17 this year.

According to Miseal Castillo, Florida Baptists’ missionary to migrant churches, 30 percent of the children who attend the camp do not go to church and are brought there by pastors as an evangelistic outreach into their community. “Camp gives us the opportunity to provide fun for the kids and share the gospel. We encourage every counselor to be sensitive to the spiritual needs of the children so they will leave here with a new faith.”

According to counselor Mona St. Hilaire from First Haitian Church in Belle Glade, camp is a time for children “to get away, be in the Word of God and have fun during this season.” She said the children have few extras at home. Many of their parents struggle, making as little as $5,000 a year, and have multiple children to care for and feed.  Often the older children are expected to care for their younger siblings throughout the day while parents work in the fields.

The migrant community is “a mission field,” she asserted. “You don’t have to go to another country when there are so many needs right here; so many children need to know Christ. We are investing in the leaders for the next generation.

Counselors who brought the migrant children to the camp applauded the effort to educate the campers of the evil of sex trafficking in the world.  ”It is good to explain this to the kids and make it real,” said St. Hilaire.

The annual weekend camp is free for migrant children in the state, underwritten as a ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention through the Maguire State Mission Offering. But it also represents gifts of love from countless Florida Baptist congregations who send counselors and recreational leaders, lead worship, sew ditty and gift bags, contribute food and pray for campers before and during the event. Many sponsor individual children who otherwise may not be able to attend.

Learn more at Barbara Denman’s Florida Baptist Witness article: Beyond the Tree: A message of safety & hope for Florida’s migrant children.

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