“Loaves and fishes” come to mind when people think about a Brownsville, Texas, church’s ministry to migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And a recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship grant illustrates why.
The New Testament describes how Jesus fed at least 5,000 people by miraculously dividing just five loaves of bread and two small fish. While the numbers don’t quite match Jesus’ scale, the Brownsville Welcome Center has been feeding and hydrating up to 3,300 migrants for a little under $1 each.
Late this spring, CBF Field Personnel Elket Rodríguez collaborated with Pastor Carlos Navarro and Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville to secure a $2,800 CBF Emergency Response grant for the church’s migrant welcome center.
With those funds, they have provided pizza, sports drinks and snacks, as well as caps and T-shirts, to migrants released into the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They stretched the buying power of the grant by partnering with local vendors for the food and caps, as well as with Florida-based Migrant Journey for the T-shirts.
“The expenditure of the allocated funds was meticulously documented, ensuring transparency and accountability in the relief efforts,” Rodríguez said. “The dedicated involvement of Pastor Navarro and the collaboration with various organizations exemplify the importance of building local partnerships and leveraging existing relationships of trust to maximize the impact of emergency response efforts.
“The relief effort not only provided tangible support to the migrants, but also offered them a sense of care, compassion and hope during a challenging period in their journey.”
Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville sits about two miles from Gateway International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande and links the United States and Mexico. The church operates the Brownsville Welcome Center on its property.
“The Rio Grande Valley is the CBP’s busiest sector, where more than 60% of global migrants cross into the U.S. from Mexico.”
“Customs and Border Protection drops migrants off at the Brownsville Welcome Center after it processes them and releases them to enter the United States,” Rodríguez explained. “The Rio Grande Valley is the CBP’s busiest sector, where more than 60% of global migrants cross into the U.S. from Mexico.”
Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville and Pastor Navarro have been affiliated with CBF since 2019. That’s when they joined Fellowship Southwest’s network of churches that minister to migrants, which spans from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.
Across those years, Fellowship Southwest has provided ongoing funding to support the welcome center and, pandemic permitting, it has channeled volunteers to provide hands-on help. Fellowship Southwest also constructed a building for the welcome center, complete with showers, laundry facilities and a guest room.
Rodríguez, based in the Rio Grande Valley, stepped up with the CBF Emergency Response grant to help the church meet needs caused by a massive uptick in migrants crossing the border in Brownsville.
“Generally, when there is a change in border policies there is also an increase in migrants crossing into the United States,” he said. “That is when strategic partners such as Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville and Pastor Navarro need a steady stream of assistance and volunteers to adequately meet the immediate needs of migrants.”
For years, he has witnessed how Navarro and the church stretch dollars for maximum benefit to migrants. Thousands of immigrants have passed through the church’s center every year. They receive food, often take showers and get clean clothes, rest and hear the gospel before moving to transportation hubs as they travel to live with sponsors while they await the U.S. asylum process.
Along the way, the church has presented the gospel to 48,981 migrants and recorded 16,937 professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
“Supporting Pastor Navarro — who has been welcoming migrants for years — is a blessing,” Rodríguez said. “The energy and passion he exhibits when he welcomes migrants into the country is incomparable. He is culturally sensitive, Spirit-led and experienced. When you see him in action, you witness the gift of welcoming at its fullest expression.”
And Navarro stresses feelings are mutual. “It is impossible to do this ministry without the support, prayers and trust of Fellowship Southwest and CBF.”