McAllen’s Baptist Temple ministers to migrants during border crisis
August 6th, 2019 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
McALLEN—A Rio Grande Valley multi-campus Southern Baptist church has been making a difference during the current border crisis, one weekend at a time.
When the local migrant release overnight shelter run by Catholic Charities was overwhelmed in late April as the volume of applicants requesting asylum skyrocketed, the McAllen city manager’s office approached Baptist Temple for emergency help.
BT quickly agreed to transform an otherwise busy student building on its McAllen campus into an overnight shelter from Thursday to Monday that weekend. The first group of migrants was bused to Baptist Temple by the city on May 16. The church then offered its facilities the first weekend of each month as needed.
To date, BT has welcomed migrant overflow groups for five nights in May and June and one night in July. The church stood ready to host migrants the first weekend in August also, but the Catholic Charities shelter was below capacity.
“The flow [of migrants] has definitely been reduced, at least for now,” Marshall Johnston, BT executive pastor, told the TEXAN, adding that the church will remain on standby in coming months with a team ready to minister.
“If we get the word, [the team] will have to come very quickly and set up the cots,” Johnston said. “We might see an uptick in crossings. Who knows what’s going to come? This could be a summer lull.”
From May to July, groups sheltering at BT numbered from 70-90 and changed nightly. They were welcomed, offered clean clothes and undergarments and given a chance to take a shower and get some rest, Johnston said.
In preparation for the migrants, the church converted its student building to a temporary shelter with a large room for sleeping, a kitchen/snack area for serving meals, tables for eating, a sizeable classroom for distributing clothing and other necessities and an isolation area for migrants who arrived ill.
“The whole student building is taken over,” Johnston said.
“Each night we present the gospel as well. We have seen several make decisions for Christ,” Baptist Temple pastor Chris Dupree wrote in an email to Tony Wolfe, director of pastor/church relations of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“Every night it was new faces, new names and a new group of people that we were able to share the gospel with,” P.J. Garza, ministry assistant to Johnston, told the TEXAN.
Among those sharing Christ in Spanish were various BT pastors and shelter director Roger Astudillo, once an undocumented migrant himself who came to the U.S. as a child with his parents in the early 1980s. Roger became a citizen following Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty proclamation.
“Roger has a great story and a real heart for the migrants,” Johnston said.
A plus for the church is that BT has developed a “nice cadre” of enthusiastic volunteers ready to serve migrants, Johnston added, explaining that plans were in the works for members to offer assistance at the Catholic Charities facility even if BT is not being used as a shelter.
“We would like to go and minister and pray,” Johnston said.
The migrant ministry at Baptist Temple “has been a partnership,” Johnston stressed, explaining that when the church was asked by the city to be a shelter, the Red Cross stepped in to provide hygiene packs and 80 cots.
The organization Convoy of Hope brought pallets of supplies, including hygiene packs and diapers, to the Valley Baptist Retreat Center in Mission, and BT picked up items there. Plano’s Prestonwood Church also sent a donation to defray expenses, which have largely fallen upon BT itself, Johnston said.
The church is willing to make the sacrifice, but should the city continue to call upon BT for assistance, extra funding may prove helpful, the pastor added.
“We are doing what we think God is calling us to do,” Johnston affirmed, noting that other churches are equally or even more fully engaged than BT. “West Brownsville Baptist is basically doing what Catholic Charities does. We are more of an ancillary. They are doing more of the heavy lifting in terms of meeting the need.”
Still, BT is doing what it can, and by limiting its shelter availability to the first weekend of each month, the church is able to continue its vibrant student ministry and still serve migrants and the city.
“We knew this need was going to be ongoing. We assumed it would be indefinite, not like a flood or disaster where we might house people for a few weeks or months. We knew this could go on and on,” Johnston said, explaining that to avoid volunteer fatigue and enable the church to stay involved for “the long haul,” BT chose to pace itself.
“Our motives are to help our neighbor, to be good citizens and good neighbors and to share the gospel,” Johnston said.
BT is doing that, one long weekend at a time.
“BT has an incredible testimony reaching the migrants in the Rio Grande Valley,” Scottie Stice, SBTC director of disaster relief, said. “We are so pleased to hear about this. SBTC DR stands by ready to help when they need it.”