Miami: A Hurting City

Posted on by Vince Sarfraz KC

The following story was written for Youth For Christ USA. These are real YFC Stories showing how God is using YFC USA as a vehicle in raising up life-long followers of Jesus all across the nation.

In the 1980s, Miami Vice made Americans feel like they were familiar with the streets of Florida’s biggest coastal city.

Viewers rolled up their sleeves with protagonist Sonny Crocket and kept the couch warm while undercover cops fought Miami’s war against drugs and crime.

“Shows like Miami Vice give us a bad rap,” says Bonnie Rodriquez, Miami’s Executive Director of Youth For Christ.

What she doesn’t say, however, is that the bad rap is inaccurate.

While the television portrayal may have been fictional, the deep-set problems were not.

YFC has been on Miami’s streets since 1948 and has witnessed that, along with drugs and violence, Miami is riddled with race tensions, hurting families, human trafficking, and ill-equipped churches.

“First and foremost, we are a diverse community,” Bonnie explains. “We’re the gateway to Latin America. Most people will say, ‘I went to Miami and no one spoke any English.’”

In 1971, Bonnie’s father pastored a church in Miami. Back then, Americans dominated the city. “Things changed almost overnight,” she says. “The white population is less than ten percent today.”

She continues, “We are made up of Venezuelans, Brazilians, Cubans, Haitians, and Colombians — just to name a few. There are no labels here. The rule now is that if they land, they can stay.”

While diversity is one of the most intrinsically beautiful representations of America, in Miami it has unfortunately added to debilitating disorder — because in the midst of adopting diversity, the city also adopted twenty years’ worth of Latin American unrest.

Tommy Carrington is the director of the Miami Youth Leadership Initiative. “Even though Miami is multicultural, the cultures are divided,” he explains.

Disjointed.

Segregated.

“A lot of these cultures have hostile relationships with their neighbors.”

Giselle “Gigi” Delgado is Director of Local Missions at Christ Fellowship Church in Miami. “Even among Christian denominations there is a divide,” she says. “There’s a huge gap between churches, and there shouldn’t be.”

“Communities are divided and churches are divided,” Tommy adds. “The cultures represented in this city don’t do a good job of reaching out to others or associating with others.”

As someone who works with youth pastors to create a unified city through its youth, Tommy has discovered another destructive trend in Miami that festers alongside its culture dysfunction: the breakdown of the family.

“There are too many single parent families,” he says. “Too many kids suffering from fatherlessness.”

“Poverty. The breakdown of the family. A lack of services available for families. These are some of the biggest problems,” says Bonnie. “Kids need one person to breathe into their lives.”

The youth of Miami have disadvantage after disadvantage aimed in their direction.

“Another problem is the sex industry here,” explains Gigi. “It’s huge. And the biggest issue there is child trafficking. Too often, it feels hopeless. We need to equip families to become foster parents in order to help this situation.”

For the young people who do make it to church, Miami churches have not been efficiently trained in effective ministry models.

“Most youth pastors haven’t been exposed to any formal training,” says Tommy. He paints the picture of a church ill-equipped to connect with today’s youth by hiring ministers whose outreach strategies are dangerously outdated.

It doesn’t help that healthy, growing churches are few in the first place. “Miami is the most unchurched city in the country,” says Bonnie. “There are not many active ministries, and not a lot of Christian financial support. There may be a lot of churches, but they aren’t thriving.”

Still, unity is key.

“I’ve been in ministry here for thirty years,” says Tommy, “and the problem we have to overcome before we can make a difference in any of the other areas is to unite cultures and denominations.”

Unanimously, Christians doing ministry in Miami think the most pressing need and their biggest responsibility is the unification of cultures.

“The division of cultures is a consistent issue that I see,” Tommy says. “Ministries are forced to target specific demographics or else people won’t show up. It is very hard to start a citywide movement.”

And, due to its location and diversity, ministers in Miami hold firm to the hope that a citywide movement could lead to a worldwide movement.

“The whole world is in Miami,” Bonnie says again. “Reaching Miami is a way to reach the world.”

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