Nueva Cosecha offers hope for immigrants
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Jouse Gonzalez, who served as the translator for interviews needed for this article.
Intense, passionate words of praise from Pastor Antonio Gonzalez echoed through the gymnasium of Utica’s Neighborhood Center on Palm Sunday, thanking Jesus for his love and grace, and hollering that love is always the answer. The 25 congregants applauded Pastor Gonzalez consistently throughout the service. They were inspired.
The 10 children were also moved. They performed songs of joy, the girls in their best dresses and adorned with matching white headbands with powder blue flowers, and the boys in shepherd costumes. The children’s smiles reflected their love for Jesus.
Pastor Gonzalez, his wife Gina, and his children Jouse and Elizabeth transform the Neighborhood Center gymnasium to appear like a sanctuary with a large wooden cross, pipe, and drape. Many palm plants were placed around the front of the room.
The Sunday services in Spanish at the Neighborhood Center are just a very small portion of what Pastor Gonzalez and Gina offer to immigrants residing in the Utica area.
Pastor Gonzalez served The United Methodist Church for nearly 20 years in Cuba, including a term as the District Superintendent. He, his wife Gina, and two of his three children immigrated to Texas from Cuba in 2018. He was looking for an appointment in the United States. His friend, the Rev. Carlos Rosa-Laguer, Upper New York (UNY) District Superintendent of the Niagara Frontier District and the Superintendent of Hispanic Ministries, told him about a Spanish ministry in Utica looking for a pastor. Then UNY Conference bishop, Mark J. Webb, offered Pastor Gonzalez an appointment to Nueva Cosecha in Utica, the ministry that Rev. Rosa-Laguer had mentioned. When he arrived in 2018, the congregation was less than ten. Today, Pastor Gonzalez has over 60 people in his congregation.
Pastor Gonzalez said, “When we arrived at this place, we did find some brothers and sisters who congregated in this place and that was where we began so that the Methodist work could grow in this place.”
Nueva Cosecha, which translates to New Harvest in English, was recently awarded a $2,500 grant from the Upper New York Mission Central HUB for their “Jesus opens Doors” ministry.
This ministry helps undocumented immigrants feel welcomed and loved.
Some of the services Pastor Gonzalez and his wife Gina offer include:
- It helps immigrant children with school enrolment and their accompaniment.
- It helps with transportation, accompanies them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) appointments, and provides help with filling out documents, photocopies, and support in the English language.
- It supports and provides advice and needed notarized documents for legal cases.
- It provides support to those who already have documents, and helps sign them up for classes to take the American Citizenship test.
- It provides support to the undocumented and Latino community to receive free English classes.
- It provides support to the undocumented and Latino community to receive classes on Civics, federal laws, and management of banking systems.
- It holds community forums where the undocumented community participates and talks about their experiences and achievements.
- It provides support in times of crisis, including emotional, legal, financial, and depression.
- It provides help in contacting organizations that provide free emergency medical insurance.
The congregants spoke of how immensely helpful Pastor Gonzalez and Gina are to them. A recurring theme among what the immigrant population has to say about Pastor Gonzalez and Gina is that they help them to feel less afraid that they will be deported.
Meet congregation member, Aida.
Aida immigrated to the United States from Guatemala eight years ago. She was occasionally attending a Hispanic church in the Utica area. A friend invited her to a baby shower at Nueva Cosecha and she fell in love with the church and the hospitality that Pastor Gonzalez and Gina provided.
Aida said, “Nueva Cosecha helps me all the time. The pastor actually comes to my home to check in and see how we are doing…Gina and the Pastor also help me with transportation. I live 15 minutes away and sometimes I don’t have a car to get here. They have helped with so much paperwork. Living here without a green card is scary—they have helped me feel safe. I am really happy to be here, and I thank God for this place…My daughter, Gretel, loves coming here—Sunday mornings here are the highlight of her week.”
Gretel is six years old and in her frilly white dress, she shared one of her favorite Christian songs in Spanish. She said, “I love to sing and dance with Gina.”
Nueva Cosecha is very intentional about teaching children that they are loved by God. Pastor Gonzalez and Gina celebrate the children. In addition to vibrant Sunday School each week, they host birthday parties.
“We have also done activities with children, with young people, and we have invited the community…so that they know the work of New Harvest,” Pastor Gonzalez explained.
The immigrant community in Utica is spreading the good news about Nueva Cosecha and the congregation is growing because of the love they feel from the Gonzalez family.
Pastor Gonzalez said, “How we help the community, how we help the undocumented, how we help immigrants who come from other countries, how we work with children and youth, and how we are a living church that has good music and Latinos like that kind of music…this has allowed new people to arrive and people to learn about the work of a new harvest.”
As for the future of Nueva Cosecha, Gina said, “We believe our vision soars above obstacles and we are inside a new dimension of faith. The ground is ready for harvest. We invite you to join this vision and challenge of faith and walk inside with the certainty that God will open doors, build bridges, and bring down the impossible because with Jesus everything is possible if we can believe.”
Kristina Clark, Upper New York Conference Director of Missional Engagement, said, “The Hispanic and Latino Ministry is alive and thriving in Upper New York! Their ministry has a lot to teach all of us about how to love our neighbors deeply and be their voice and advocate through the unique challenges they might be facing – immigration, homelessness, diaper need, and more. My prayer is that you will find one of our United Methodist Hispanic and Latino Ministries in your community and actively pursue ways to connect and support this vital work.”