by Shelby Durden
Jacksonville University Intern
When Elaine Carson was in college, she never imagined one day she would be helping refugees from all around the world transition into their normal life in the United States of America. An assignment to study the Soviet Union and the plight of people behind the Iron Curtain birthed in her a passion for helping others on the mission field.
It would be many years later, in 1988, when she was serving the local church as a pastor’s wife that she received a call from Lutheran Social Services asking for her help with 30 refugees that would be coming from what was now the former Soviet Union. She enthusiastically accepted the opportunity that would forever change her life.
After three years of volunteering, in 1991, World Relief Tampa heard about her efforts and asked her to open a part-time office in Jacksonville. Jacksonville’s climate, affordable housing, job opportunities and her persistence all worked together to make this office so successful that in 1999 World Relief made this local branch a full-time office. World Relief Jacksonville started with a part-time paid staff of one and a handful of volunteers and now has a staff of 22, representing 12 different cultures and languages.
Elaine Carson is affectionately known by most as “Mrs. P”, a nickname she received in the ‘70’s, when her husband Larry Carson, a Jacksonville Beaches pastor, was dubbed “Parson Carson” which by default made her “Mrs. P” and both names have stuck to this day. Her love and compassion for refugees have earned her such a reputation that it’s not uncommon for new refugees coming into the country to know of her before they arrive. They often ask volunteers who greet them at the airport, “Are you Mrs. P?”
World Relief Jacksonville celebrates their 25th anniversary this year, and through the years, Mrs. P has accomplished some amazing things. She has networked with government agencies, local churches, businesses and volunteers to provide refugee resettlement for more than 5,000 individuals fleeing from persecution and unimaginable atrocities. Volunteers meet refugees at the airport and take them to their new homes in America. They stock apartments with the basic necessities to help them get through their first days here. Most importantly, they offer friendship to those coming into a new country and culture and help show them the ropes of life in America.
She began this journey as a volunteer receiving Ukrainian refugees and has now resettled refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Columbia, the Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Russia, Syria and Sudan.
She goes far beyond the extensive legal documentation and paper work involved in running an office of this magnitude and establishing refugees in our county. The truest hallmark of her servant leadership goes way beyond being the director of World Relief Jacksonville. It is her love for and personal involvement with the families that come. She has personally driven them to appointments, attended family celebrations, stood by them in health emergencies and attended funerals. She says of herself that she is not a director or a manager, she is simply a mom.
In 2004 she extended the scope of work of World Relief to establish the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Task Force through a grant from Department of Justice. Since then she has served 30 plus victims of trafficking through partnership with law enforcement.
She humbly attributes the work she does as simply being God’s plan for her life. And while many missionaries go to serve in other part of the world, she sees that God has brought the world to her. And it is with that sense of calling and purpose that she has devoted her life to loving and serving the refugee community. And it is for this lifetime of humble servant-leadership that Elaine Carson is the recipient of the 2016 Bernard V. Gregory Servant Leader Award.