Whitman: Palma Ceia Presbyterian promotes refugee ministry

Will Wellman courtesy of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church
Will Wellman courtesy of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church
Published Jan. 20, 2018

Refugees living in Tampa and surrounding areas need your help, says Will Wellman, ministry leader at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church.

Home to the second largest refugee community in Florida, Tampa Bay welcomed almost 6,000 arrivals in 2016. Families fleeing countries including Cuba and Syria continue to seek safety in Tampa, where the cost of living makes success possible. Many refugees are children and teens. Many need medical attention.

In partnership with local nonprofit organizations, Palma Ceia Presbyterian works to collect donations, secure housing and fulfill the needs of area refugees.

The church's refugee ministry, founded in 2016, works alongside the Department of Children and Families, Lutheran Services, RAMWI and other groups.

Palma Ceia Presbyterian will host a lunch and learn event from noon to 2 p.m. on Jan. 28, to educate the public on the refugee situation and offer information on volunteering.

I spoke to Will Wellman, Palma Ceia's director of adult education, about the upcoming event and the importance of welcoming refugees.

What inspired Palm Ceia Presbyterian leaders to dedicate a ministry to helping refugees?

We see the call throughout scripture to love both your neighbor and the foreign among you. We see where Israelites are constantly reminded they were once slaves, once foreigners. In Hillsborough County, there is this presence of refugees that need our love and support. That alone, a higher than normal population of refugees, is a call to action.

How does the ministry actively help refugees?

We collect furniture, clothing and household supplies which organizations provide to refugees. We received a grant in summer 2017 and in working with Lutheran Services, we are now able to identify and serve refugees in crisis by helping pay housing and utility bills. Our hope is to keep them from going into debt. At the lunch and learn we are going to talk more about how people can not just donate but volunteer working with refugees. There are opportunities for tutoring and to work directly with families, even if it's doing something as simple as taking them out to dinner.

What do you think is the most common misconception about refugees?

I think there is a fear of the unknown. People want to know why are these people here? It is important to walk with the stranger among us instead of greeting them with questioning and fear. All of the refugees I've met, these are people who want to be here, who want to be productive. They are overjoyed to be here. Many are coming from the most awful experiences, experiences most of us here in the United States can not even imagine. When you meet them, when you realize where they are coming from, it calls you to help.

All are welcome to attend the lunch-and-learn event. A $5 donation is requested. Palma Ceia Presbyterian is located at 3501 W Jose St. For more information, call (813) 253-6047 or visit

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Contact Sarah Whitman at