By Marv Knox
Mission opportunities are available for volunteers who want to minister to asylum seekers clustered on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border, reported Jorge Zapata, director of the Immigrant Relief Ministry of Fellowship Southwest, a regional network of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministering in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas.
Every contact with an immigrant refugee is a gospel encounter, Zapata added.
Up and down the border, small churches are providing shelter and food to immigrants on their doorsteps. The challenge of providing meals, comfort and spiritual care is exhausting, and they need relief, stressed Zapata, associate coordinator of CBF Texas.
“There is plenty to do, and Fellowship Southwest is helping with so many ministries,” he said. Small Hispanic churches are serving immigrants on both sides of the border, from the tip of Texas to the Pacific Ocean. They include Brownsville/Matamoros, McAllen/Reynosa, Laredo/Nuevo Laredo, Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras, Del Rio/Acuña, El Paso/Juarez, and Tijuana.
Zapata described ministries taking place in many of those locations:
• “We have shelters in Brownsville, Texas, where a church is hosting 50 to 60 refugees a day,” he said. “They feed the refugees three times a day, and they need help in the kitchen, preparing meals. They also are ministering one-to-one, offering prayer and sharing the gospel.
“You can come and help in the kitchen, serve meals, clean, sweep and mop. You also can relieve the night shift volunteers, so they can get some rest. Many stay up all night to monitor the refugees as they sleep.”
• “In Brownsville, another ministry makes breakfast tacos twice a week. They take them to the (U.S.-Mexico) bridge and feed the refugees who are waiting their turn for asylum. You can help cook, serve food at the bridge and pray for the refugees.”
• “At the Catholic Charities refugee shelter in McAllen, Texas, six churches cook lunch for 450 to 1,000 people every day. They need volunteers to help cook, serve, clean tables, sweep and mop.”
• “Up the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas, a pastor and his wife host 100 people a day at their house,” Zapata said. “They cook and serve and give shelter each night at their home. They also make phone calls to refugees’ relatives, to help them purchase bus/airplane tickets to go to their destination cities. You can be of great help to him and his family.”
• “In Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, Primera Iglesia Bautista is hosting 200 refugees a day, and they are doing the same kind of ministry as the other churches,” he noted. A grant from a family foundation has funded this church’s feeding operation for a year. But volunteers can relieve members from the exhausting grind of feeding and sheltering immigrants, on top of their day jobs.
• “An evangelical refugee shelter in Del Rio, Texas, serves 100 refugees a day, providing food, shelter and spiritual nourishment,” he said. Many of these refugees come from Congo, in Africa, fleeing persecution.
• Similarly, Fellowship Southwest maintains close ties to immigrant ministries in El Paso/Juarez, as well as Tijuana. Changing political circumstances impact the flow of immigrants, from one side of the border to the next, he said. But in each circumstance, congregations are serving refugees in Jesus’ name.
Zapata also appealed for financial support for the Immigrant Relief Ministry.
The churches stretch their grocery bills, but the sheer volume adds up, he said, noting most churches need $2 per day to feed each refugee, not counting other costs. “Once a church opens its building as a shelter, the utilities triple, including water, electric and gas.” he explained. “A church in Brownsville saw their electric bill soar to over $1,400, and their water bill climbed to over $500. They also have to pay the city $580 a month to pick up the trash three times.”
Fellowship Southwest operates its Immigrant Relief Fund, with all the money raised going to support the relief ministry through the churches. To contribute, click here.
Zapata invited prospective volunteers to explore the opportunities for ministry on the border.
“Come with a group of people from your area to see and understand how every church/shelter operates and to know their needs,” he said “It is different from reading and seeing photos when you see and hear on your own. … We can coordinate your trip and help you work with any shelter on the border.”
To reach Zapata, click here.
For more information, contact Fellowship Southwest, by clicking here.
And to read articles about Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry, visit its border ministry page.
Marv Knox is field coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas.