Oasis is defined as a pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of a difficult, troubled or hectic place or situation. A refuge. A safe haven. A shelter. Oasis UMC on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Pleasantville, NJ, is rightly named. In the face of the many challenges that an urban city with higher-than-average unemployment, violence and language barriers has, Oasis UMC does not stop moving forward and instituting transformational change.
So, it comes as no surprise that in November the church with a congregation of about 100 received a $25,000 Social Justice Center Grant from the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, which is part of the General Board of Global Ministries.
“We are a small church with a lot of possibilities,” said Rev. Lyssette Perez who has been the pastor since July. “It’s like the sun with many rays. There is always hope. That’s our vision.”
Like the sun, the leadership at Oasis has come full circle. Thirty years ago, it was Perez’s mother, Neomi who founded the church, only four years after she and her family emigrated from Puerto Rico.
This grant was a perfect example of how when people work together, great things can happen.
“Thanks for the grant goes to Pastor Lyssette Perez, [Capital District Superintendent] Hector Burgos and those that are part of the GNJ team that developed our Annual Conference Hispanic Plan, which was part of the application process,” said Cape Atlantic District Superintendent Brian Roberts. The Plan’s overall strategy for 2023 is to develop vital Hispanic/Latino ministries.
The mission of the new “Oasis of Hope Center” is to offer an oasis of hope to the Hispanic/Latino community providing knowledge, leadership skills and opportunities, as they advocate against systems of oppression that marginalize individuals and groups based on social identities.
With this grant, Oasis will move forward by providing hope to marginalized groups including the poor and unemployed; children and youth at risk, senior adults, immigrants and refugees, the LGBTQ+ community, prisoners and victims of human trafficking and the sick and those with terminal illness.
Members of the group plan to achieve the following goals:
• Work with 80 low income families to provide food, clothing, job opportunities and other basic needs.
• Identify and equip 40 church and community leaders to run the different programs – 30 in Disciple Bible Study (six to eight Certified Lay Ministers and/or Lay Missionaries) and 10 community volunteers.
• Reach out to 50 children and youth to be involved in children and youth programs.
• Provide 12 social justice workshops (once a month) in collaboration with the Stockton University Center for Community Engagement and other community organizations.
• Create and develop 13 weekly and monthly small support groups to reach out people in the community:
“Fifteen people just finished our disciple class, so we’re on our way. It’s extremely important to train them and find out the why. We have to be out in the community with a strategic mission,” said Perez who brings to the church 25 years of experience in ministry. She is also president of MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino/a caucus of The UMC.
The collaboration that led to securing this grant will continue, Perez said, noting that the “Oasis of Hope Center” will work with GNJ, community outreach groups, social services, Stockton University Center of Community Engagement, United Methodist Communities and key church leaders.
“There is really good energy in this church,” Perez said. “I’m excited about what we are going to achieve.”
Throughout her 25 years in ministry, Perez has served in diverse settings including ethnic, multicultural, reconciling, suburban and urban churches at the UMC of the Rockaways, Asbury UMC in Camden, Christ UMC in Lakewood and Lafayette UMC in Jersey City. She served for three years in leadership at the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and served for six years on the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), in the Latin American and the Caribbean office and Manager of the Honduras Mission.