In the United States thousands of families annually followed the harvest season work from Texas to Michigan, Florida to New York, and up the coast in California. Since 1940 Protestant groups have generally coordinated their religious, educational, and health concerns for migrants through the Home Missions Council of North America (later the Division of Home Missions of the National Council of Churches of America).
Fulltime Mennonite migrant workers were sponsored by California General Conference Mennonites at Shaffer as early as 1941. That same year a Mennonite Women's United Service Committee of the Defenseless, General, and Central conferences was organized with migrant work as a major service objective.
The Mennonite Central Committee in cooperation with the Home Missions Council pioneered in placing a team of six to ten voluntary service workers to do a more thorough job in a given area. The first such summer unit was in operation in Utica, NY, in 1949, and shortly thereafter a year-round unit at Coalinga, CA. A children's nursery, evenings of recreation, visual education, a traveling library service, visiting nurse, vacation Bible school, Sunday schools, and a wide range of counseling and visitation constituted such a total unit approach. It was an effort to provide the help and influence of a Christian church community to an unstable, migrating community of Christians and non-Christians. Though not aimed specifically toward becoming a continuing mission church, its fruition was just that. By 1956 the Brethren in Christ had taken over the Coalinga work as a mission project.
Of the individual Mennonite groups the Lancaster Conference (MC) developed one of the most extensive ongoing ministries to the migrants. Their year-round migrant service, much like the Mennonite Central Committee's, began in 1951 with a unit of five workers at Redland, FL. A year later a similar group was located in the Everglades of Florida at Immokalee. In both camps the Mennonites had regular chapel services in buildings provided by the government-built camp or the local migrant committtee of the nearby city. In 1951 a Gospel Quartet spent several months with African American migrants in Potter County, PA. This developed into a continuing program with child care as the core of the work. Spanish migrant work in their own neighborhood was begun in Lancaster County in 1950. Of particular significance was an annual fellowship meal and meeting sponsored by local Mennonite churches which reached 1,000 Puerto Rican migrants at one time.
Other similar missions to migrants included that of the Mennonite Church (MC) with the Indians in New Mexico, in Maryland, and other states. The General Conference Mennonites developed a mission church at Eloy, AZ, for poor whites and Spanish and African American migrants.
Cite This Article
Ediger, Elmer. "Migrant Work." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 Feb 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Migrant_Work&oldid=140976.
Ediger, Elmer. (1957). Migrant Work. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 February 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Migrant_Work&oldid=140976.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 684. All rights reserved.
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