Eight months after he started serving asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, Juvenal Gonzalez is seeing more support come from all over the United States.
In the last few months, he received calls from churches in California, Texas, Georgia and, most recently, Pennsylvania, about how to get involved with ministry on the border. Baptist associations in Alabama and North Carolina send financial support, he told the Biblical Recorder in a phone interview Aug. 2.
“I’m talking about from $10 to $1,500 in donations, so that allows us to really do a more effective job when we try to feed the people and also shelter them, pay the bills,” Gonzalez said.
So when he met with Southern Baptist leaders during the Mexico Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Tijuana last month, he grew even more optimistic hearing about potential partnerships.
“When Todd [Unzicker] was talking to me, I felt very encouraged by the way that he said, ‘You know, I’m gonna encourage churches to back you up and support you,’” Gonzalez said. “This has been a big blessing to us.”
Unzicker, chief of staff for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J.D. Greear, along with Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., traveled to the border in July to visit asylum seekers and border agents and connect with local churches and associations. They met to coordinate ministry strategies between different SBC entities and state conventions to address the needs there.
In a phone interview with the Recorder, Unzicker said his initial reaction upon arriving at the border was from a missiologist’s perspective.
“I think about this being one of the biggest migrations of image bearers – human beings – in the world today, and it’s happening right here in our hemisphere,” Unzicker said. “The nations are coming to our front door, and I don’t know why God is doing it, but I know that scripture tells us that God moves the nations for His great purposes.
“I found myself asking the question, ‘God, what do You want from Your church?”
He said there are plenty of opportunities for North Carolina Baptists to get involved, from organizing short-term mission trips to serve both migrants and border agents, to coordinating welcome teams for migrants arriving in North Carolina.
“When people are discharged from U.S. centers, many people are finding a temporary spot in a church along the U.S. border, and then they’re taking bus tickets, and some of them are coming to Raleigh and Durham or Charlotte,” he said.
Both Unzicker and Gonzalez noted the diversity at the border after meeting people from all over Central America and West Africa.
“We talk about going to the nations, and we should be. We’ve always been people who’ve gone to the nations,” Unzicker said. “This is a great opportunity for us to respond to the nations coming to us.”
David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C., and former president of the International Mission Board, also visited the border this week. He joined Gonzalez in serving meals to asylum seekers.
“At the US-Mexico border, spending time with brothers and sisters on both sides,” Platt tweeted Aug. 6. “Especially as citizens of another world, God give us wisdom and courage to live for justice and mercy in this one.”