A  Miami  Portrait

 People of Miami have inadvertently developed our own Banana Republic culture.   We are a blend of Latin America, a mixture of the Caribbean Islands, and Americana.  We are a religious people, but not as you think of the gospel, church, and evangelism.  We have spiritual input from a variety of customs and culture. We are a cross of third world heritage with modern technologies that are common in the United States.  Our languages are many with English tying us together.  Our culture blends many foods and customs with a dash of apple pie and the Star Spangled Banner.  Miami is difficult to explain because you can find any people group here, but we blend it with our own style that is unique to South Florida.  We have thousands of tourists every day all across our area.  They come from every nook and cranny of the globe.  As they experience Miami, they are part of who we are in this ‘tossed salad’ of culture and people.  We keep our distinct flavors, but we are all mixed together in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our churches.  Because of the large population squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades, it feels that are people are tightly compressed together.  This pressure will erupt if individuals do find a release valve. For Believers, we have Christ who rescues us from the stress of life.

Miami is a young city, (incorporated in 1896) when you think of the settling of America.  People moved west to California before they dared to clear land in the massive swamp, known as the Everglades.  People moved here to escape or hide.  Life was very difficult with the weather conditions, saturation of mosquitoes, and impossible terrain.  Over the last 100 years, Miami has seen many waves of people carving a home into the landscape.  We have the Jewish population who left New York and Boston to settle on Miami Beach.  People came to vacation here, and escape the cold winters up north.  With the invention of air conditioning, people could actually live here all year long.  Immigrants have been part of our history.  Waves of Cubans have been part of our record all along.  They represent half of the Hispanic population.  Other Islanders have contributed to our population thrust as well.  Haitians have poured on to our shores, and are the largest black population in Miami-Dade County.  Newer waves are now including Africans, Arabs, and Persians.  Our Asian population has continued to grow, but still represents a small number compared to other people groups.

Americans who have lived here for many years have been frustrated with the changes and shifts in our population growth.  White and black Americans have looked for opportunities to move north.  Today, we are the only county in the United States where more than 50% of our population was born outside of the U.S.  The majority of our people speak more than one language.  English is the national language, which schools and government use.  However, it is not uncommon for our people to do business in mixed languages because all of us have a language of our heart that we were raised upon, and process thoughts in that language.  For Miamians, that is probably not English.  So you will hear people speaking different languages in the same sentence and communicating with hands more than English.

Understanding our history, you can appreciate how our religious beliefs have been mixed as well.  Whereas, we may have begun with a Biblical and evangelical background, we have evolved into a religious mix where anything goes.  Baptists have been a dominant group from the beginning.  You have to consider Southern Baptists when you look at the religion of Miami.  Yet, today, we are only 2% of the population.  As immigrants moved in and the Americans moved out, Catholicism became a stronger force.  Even the Jewish population has lost large numbers because they have migrated north.  Now, we have mosques and temples sitting among the suburban residences.  New churches are springing up, but they meet in store-fronts, warehouses, schools, and places other than traditional church buildings.  You can drive around and not see a church, but on Sunday morning, we bring out our signs to place in front of our rental properties. They are abundant, but you might need a GPS to find them.  

 Miamians have many needs. Surprisingly, we are one of the poorest communities in the United States.  Thirty-four percent of our population is under the poverty level. You drive through the area, and you marvel at our beauty and wealth.  However, behind the scenes are many, many poor, homeless, and illegal residents who barely survive. These folks need medical care, housing, and the basic needs of life. They are not treated well.  Many of our illegal people are waiting for the governments to change rules so they can make a living.  You have to get off the main thoroughfares to find them. But we have communities that live under bridges, and in hideous living conditions.  This is the other Miami that few dare to infiltrate. This is that third world community that needs the wholeness of the gospel.

We have many congregations, but they tend to be more small than the average size across America.  We have some mega-sized churches, but on the whole, the evangelicals assemble in smaller groups than in large crowds.  Economical reasons are probably more the factor on this than anything else.  Property has become very expensive.  It is expensive to obtain, and even more expensive to maintain.  New congregations or missions cannot afford property.  So, they become creative in how to do church without property.  We also, rent many churches.  By that I mean Baptists may rent a 7th Day Adventist church on Sunday.  We may have services in a United Methodist Church at 1pm, and glad to pay a reasonable rent.  Property is the number one issue when it comes to our church needs.  We have men rising up to start new works, but finding a place to gather is a serious problem.  So, small groups in homes is very common.  We are seeing the house church as a new wave here in Miami.

The biggest hurdle for the gospel to spread in Miami is for people to open up their homes.  That means the gift of hospitality is being used in wonderful ways.  Invite people into your home, and you can lead them to the Lord.  But many people are afraid of letting strangers into their residence.  Many Christians are selfish, and do not want to bother entertaining people, cleaning the house, and having the trouble of guests in their house.  However, congregations that use homes, apartments, and personal facilities are becoming more effective than the gathering of large, impersonal crowds.  We are seeing large numbers of people being baptized, which is awesome.  Most of these people are making decisions for Christ outside the church walls.  Then they are introduced to a congregation of Believers.

Please pray for the Christians in Miami.  We have over 2,000 congregations across Miami-Dade County.  However, the majority of these congregations are not sound, Biblical groups.  In fact, we have attracted many odd, cultic types of people as well.  Nevertheless, they are not the enemy.  We have worshippers in all the major religions here in the county.  But they are not the enemy either.  Evangelicals comprise of about 5% of the population.  Southern Baptists have more than 300 congregations in at least 7 languages.  The enemy is intimidation.  Christians are afraid to get out of their safety places of home or church.  Believers are afraid to encounter the culture that is burgeoning around them.  Regular church people are afraid to change or tired of changing when change has pushed them for years.  We have been forced to change, but we still try to hang on to something that is not there.

Baptists in Miami have survived tumultuous change for 100 years.  Baptists were more powerful 50 years ago.  Today, our influence is spread across the languages and culture.  We are there in the government.  We are very present in our school system.  We are leaders in every area of Miami-Dade County.  However, we still maintain a low profile to not “rock the boat”.  We are 50,000 strong, and growing.  We are organized with 100+ churches in Spanish.  We have about 100 churches in the Haitian communities.  We still have more than 100 congregations in English.  Our people can make a difference.  Together, we have the potential for tremendous transformation.  The magic city is known for sunbathing, dancing, and partying, but there are people praying for revival.  In small settings all across our county, we have people praying for God to do a miracle among us.  We have some congregations that are experiencing renewal.  We pray that those little fires will ignite a true modern day urban renewal.

 

Do you want to join us on mission?  Youth groups love coming to Miami.  They have been involved in World Changers and Habitat for Humanity.  We have connected church groups to be partners with our local congregations.  We have opportunities to be involved in all types of urban ministries.  We have migrant mission work.  We are engaged in medical mission work.  College campus ministries abound.  People think that all we do is go to the Beach.  But beach ministry is mostly a tourist or resort type of work.  Your church can help provide one of our congregations to do a Block party with live music and a gospel presentation.  This has been used often and works well.  We have groups that come and do Vacation Bible School and Backyard Bible Clubs in the summer.  These have been effective too.

We also have needs for Builders to come and do improvements or needed updates in our church buildings.  This has to be arranged ahead of time to get the permits, etc.  However, we have many older church buildings that really need construction work, but those congregations cannot afford the work. In fact, we have some areas where campers can stay and provide a longer term construction project.  We have had retired people park their RV at the Children’s Home or on a church site that is safe. 

To minister in Miami, you probably will get dirty.  You will work with the poor, homeless, and hungry.  You will get involved with people just wanting to have a chance at that American dream they read about ‘back home’.  If you speak another language, we will find a pocket of people to connect you.  If God is placing Miami on your heart, we have people needing help.  We can reach people through Super Bowl evangelistic events to hanging out at the inner city barber shop.  You don’t have to go far to find people that will talk to you in Miami.  You take the first step.  If you wait for people to take the first step toward you, then you will be waiting all your life. If you trust God, and you are willing to step out beyond your fear, you will find Miami as a warm, wonderful city of opportunity to serve the Lord.

Executive Director of Missions for the Miami Baptist Association,

Gary L. Johnson

 


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