Southern Baptists continue migrant ministry along the border
July 18th, 2019 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
*** UPDATED JULY 18 ***
BROWNSVILLE A shower, clean clothes, a chance to rest, conversation with people who love Jesus … sometimes a few hours in a safe place makes an eternal difference to those who have waited weeks, even months, to apply for asylum in the U.S.
Scores of migrants are experiencing such respite at Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville (West Brownsville Baptist Church). The church and other Southern Baptist entities—including the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the North American Mission Board—are actively addressing the migrant influx, even as the heated national immigration debate continues.
Carlos Navarro, West Brownsville Baptist pastor, has been involved in migrant ministry since his arrival in the Rio Grande Valley a quarter-century ago. The church formed Golan Ministries in April 2018 after the Mexican Consulate in Brownsville requested help with that summer’s migrant crisis
In late April 2019, West Brownsville Baptist began serving as an overflow respite shelter when the city’s two Catholic-run facilities reached capacity, and the mayor and city commissioners approached Navarro for help.
Navarro said yes, and church members converted Sunday school rooms and other spaces into a day shelter for migrants released from ICE detention centers.
As of July 16, more than 2,100 migrants had come through the church’s release shelter.
“They are sending us the most vulnerable, moms and dads with children, and single moms with children,” Navarro said, noting that migrants from South and Central America, India, Pakistan and Africa have sheltered at the church after clearing ICE.
West Brownsville Baptist has relied upon donations, including significant grants from the SBTC and NAMB, to operate. The Red Cross donated blankets, 1,000 toiletry kits and 20 cots.
Besides funds for supplies, the church needs adult, infant and children’s t-shirts as well as underwear from sizes small to large, disposable diapers, flip flops or Crocs in all sizes, personal hygiene wipes and disinfecting wipes, Navarro said.
Navarro also needs 1960 King James Version Spanish-language Bibles with black covers, because West Brownsville is addressing both spiritual and physical needs. More than 1,000 of the shelter’s guests have trusted Christ after church members engage them in casual conversations.
Their stories vary. Some entered the U.S. via the international bridges; some swam across the Rio Grande, surrendering to Border Patrol. All have been processed by ICE. Not all have endured what Vice President Pence, during his July 12 visit to the border, called the “heartbreaking” ordeal of walking “two to three months … to cross into our country.”
At the border, family units are allowed to enter before single adults, who may wait for weeks.
Jose and his six-year-old son, guests at West Brownsville Baptist on July 17, spent 20 days traveling on buses from Honduras through Mexico until reaching the bridge at Matamoros where they waited two days for an ICE interview and were given entry to the U.S.
After the pair spent two days in an ICE detention center while their arrangements to join family in New Jersey were confirmed, a Brownsville policeman drove them and others in a packed van to West Brownsville Baptist for a few hours.
At the church, volunteers ensured Jose had the toll-free phone number for immigration and understood the process of appearing at his court date to plead his case for asylum. The pair showered, received fresh clothes, ate lunch and were prayed for by volunteers who shared the gospel. Leaving with snacks and water, they boarded a Border Patrol van for the bus station.
Mark Hansen of Athens, Tex., helped man the SBTC DR shower/laundry unit from Lake Athens Baptist deployed onsite to supplement the four outdoor showers erected by the church. Expressing concern about the border situation, Hansen said, “We are serving the Lord here. They are our brothers and sisters. God loves us all the same.”
Elsewhere this spring and summer, SBTC DR volunteers teamed with the Salvation Army in El Paso and Del Rio to serve migrants.
From May 5-mid-July, SBDR volunteers from the SBTC and New Mexico helped prepare 600-1,400 meals per day in El Paso supporting a Salvation Army migrant shelter.
Since mid-May, small SBTC crews have manned a shower/laundry unit in Del Rio supporting a Val Verde County migrant release shelter. The Salvation Army was scheduled to withdraw from Del Rio the week of July 14, replaced by Samaritan’s Purse. SBTC DR will continue to provide support after the change.
“This marks the first time SBTC DR will partner with Samaritan’s Purse on the field,” said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director.
To donate through the SBTC to migrant relief efforts along the border, visit http://sbtexas.com/, click on the link at right “Donate to Disaster Relief,” and select the “Border Crisis” option in the “Fund” menu near the bottom of the donations page. Funds given here will help cover SBTC DR border response efforts and will provide grants to churches and associations applying for assistance.
For information on volunteering with West Brownsville Baptist, or sending supplies directly to the migrant release shelter ministry there, visit the church’s Facebook page or website, http://www.iglesiabautistawb.com/, or email Navarro at firstname.lastname@example.org.