With the current migrant crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border worsening by the day, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) churches and disaster relief volunteers are sharing the love of Christ by ministering to the displaced. Politics and views on immigration aside, for those serving along the border, the issues are humanity and eternity.
For Carlos Navarro, pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville), migrant outreach is nothing new. He and his church have ministered to the displaced for decades.
Since the migrant crisis escalated in 2019, West Brownsville’s Golan Ministries has supplied more than 8,200 people seeking U.S. asylum with Bibles, food, clothing and assistance in understanding their legal obligations. More than 3,245 have prayed to receive Christ following simple gospel presentations.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of West Brownsville’s migrant ministry occurred on the church campus or across the border, where migrants waited in camps and detention facilities in Matamoros.
Things have changed with both the pandemic and the shifting political climate.
“It’s three times worse than last time,” Navarro told the TEXAN. “We are seeing 200-plus per day in our part of Brownsville. Each day border officials release 200 who head to the bus station and from there go to New York, California, Boston, Florida, Missouri. Not as many stay in Texas.”
They come hungry and often hopeless. Navarro and his volunteers offer hope.
Volunteers gather at the West Brownsville campus to fill backpacks despite the pandemic.
West Brownsville Baptist volunteers distribute backpacks containing Bibles and other essentials to migrants released by immigration authorities and waiting at the Brownsville bus station for passage north.
Three times a week, West Brownsville vehicles bring donated backpacks filled with Bibles, socks, underwear, t-shirts (sizes S-XL), shoelaces, towels, packaged snacks, bottled water, Gatorade, toiletries and hygiene kits. New to the gift packs this year are hand sanitizer gel and face masks.
West Brownsville volunteers set up tables at the bus station and distribute items. With masks and other COVID-19 protocols in place, ministry occurs with as much social distancing as possible. Many of West Brownsville’s older members are still waiting on vaccinations and are unable to help as in years past. But the ministry gets done.
The SBTC and Send Relief, Southern Baptists’ compassion ministry arm, have provided support, according to Scottie Stice, SBTC Disaster Relief (DR) director. Corporations, religious organizations and individuals have donated backpacks and towels. Navarro said they can use anything, but clothes larger than XL are not needed.
Until the pandemic, West Brownsville’s facilities functioned as a day shelter, with meals, showers and counseling provided at the church. Now, volunteers pick up purchased or donated pre-packaged tacos or pizzas to provide a hot meal for migrants at the bus station awaiting transport north.
“Every day more and more come,” Navarro said. “It’s bad. Real bad.”
Navarro is aware that immigration continues to be a politically sensitive issue on both sides, but he knows the people who come have needs regardless, the deepest of which is Jesus.
Elsewhere along the border, SBTC DR volunteers deployed March 24 to assist the Salvation Army at an immigration release center in Del Rio.
“We’re working in support of the Salvation Army’s feeding operation,” Stice said. “Migrants arrive with little to no resources. A meal as they are released by federal authorities is greatly appreciated. … Our assignment is to be a blessing wherever we find a need.”
A two-person team from Rockwall and Texarkana will serve in Del Rio for the next couple of weeks.
The group has been called to serve because the immigration system is overloaded, Stice said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)