Texas Baptists River Ministry missionaries are currently at work in El Paso/Juarez, Del Rio/Ciudad Acuña, Laredo/Nuevo Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley, partnering with local churches and organizations and meeting the needs of immigrants, deportees, refugees and asylum seekers.
Daniel Rangel, River Ministry director, shared that the greatest need along the border right now is prayer. “There are great spiritual needs that our River Ministry missionaries and churches witness each day,” he said. “Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with each person we minister to.”
Additionally, Rangel invited churches and individuals to give monetary donations to purchase food, toiletries, clothing, basic necessities, Bibles and evangelistic materials to provide to immigrants. Churches are also encouraged to send mission groups and vision teams to work alongside churches in Texas and Mexico who are engaged in daily ministry.
“When someone goes to the border to serve and sees the needs, they can’t help but go back,” Rangel said. He encouraged churches to send vision teams to work alongside River Ministry missionaries for a few days and then prayerfully consider long-term partnerships.
Ruth Ortiz and her parents, Lorenzo and Aralia, are caring for 80-100 immigrants a day at their home in Laredo. When immigrants are released by U.S. Border Patrol from detention centers, they are dropped off at the Catholic Charities facility in Laredo. Volunteers from Catholic Charities register each person and family unit and then drive the immigrants to the Ortizes’ house. Ruth serves as a Texas Baptists River Ministry missionary in Laredo, meeting needs in the community and working with church groups in mission opportunities.
The Ortizes and other volunteers help coordinate travel logistics for individuals in need of tickets to travel by bus or air to their family members somewhere in the U.S. Aralia prepares hot meals from their small kitchen and serves everyone who passes through. Several shower units, donated by TBM, are set-up in the backyard. The immigrants and refugees also receive a toiletry kit and a clean set of clothes, if they are available.
Since 2014, the Ortizes have cared for immigrants and refugees on the border of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. They have ministered in many ways and since April, they have opened their home for ministry as needs increased and other space was unavailable.
“God continues to provide daily for our needs,” Ruth said.
Most importantly, the Gospel is shared with each person who passes through their home.
“We pray with them, share the Gospel with them,” said Lorenzo. “We have had services here as a home church. It’s a special moment for people - when they get out of the detention centers and they have that connection again, that encounter with God, it’s just amazing.”
The Gospel is going forth into the United States as the immigrants connect with their families. Additionally, through the deportation centers, those who hear and respond to the Gospel take it back to their families.
The River Ministry work in Laredo is supported through gifts to the Texas Baptists Worldwide Offering, partner churches, individuals, and many national organizations such as the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse and Focus on the Family.
Since May, around 100 immigrants have been passing through Del Rio each day. Due to overflow issues in McAllen, one to two times a week a plane full of immigrants are transported to Del Rio. River Ministry Missionary Shon Young has worked alongside several churches and community organizations to start the Val Verde Humanitarian Coalition to serve the increasing number of immigrants passing through their city. In the last three months, they have served more than 5,000 people from Central America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and other regions.
The coalition provides basic necessities to individuals and families passing through Del Rio. They have partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army and several other humanitarian organizations to provide meals, shower trailers, tents for overnight guests and supplies such as shoes and backpacks.
Several Texas Baptists churches have worked with the coalition through the summer, providing assistance with the immigrants and also showing love to the Del Rio community.
“These teams are making connections that will stay along the border long-term,” Young said. “It is a chance to see the border, get a feel for it and open their eyes to new ministry opportunities.”
Young encouraged Texas Baptists churches to continue to pray for their ministry along the border and to consider sending small teams of four to eight people to help relieve volunteers at the Val Verde Humanitarian Coalition. The ministry serves immigrants and also provides care to city officials, civil servants and other volunteers in the community.
In the Rio Grande Valley, River Ministry missionary Vanessa Lerma has seen a steady flow of immigrants over the summer, with as many as 900 people passing through on some days. Through her work with the McAllen Respite Center, she coordinates church mission teams who volunteer and give donations to the ministry.
“This is a 24/7 ministry going on and when someone comes from outside and relieves the volunteers, they can feel that relief and refreshing while someone else is taking care of the area of ministry that is needed in the center,” said Lerma.
Many churches have sent teams to work in the Valley this summer, providing much-needed support. Lerma encouraged Texas Baptists to prayerfully consider sending teams this fall and into next year. Since June 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants have passed through the Rio Grande Valley and on to their final destinations around the country. The ministry at the Respite Center has seen ebbs and flows but has been continuous for more than five years.
Lerma asked for prayer for volunteers and leaders at the Respite Center who continue to show love and compassion to each person who receives care at their facility.
“Personally, I ask that you pray for our strength and for a sensitive heart,” she said. “Pray that this doesn’t become work, but that it is an opportunity to minister, love others and show God’s love. Pray that we would be God’s hands and feet in everything we do.”
For the last four months, Jesus Galarza has been coordinating River Ministry efforts in El Paso. He serves the overflow from the city shelter. In addition to helping people purchase bus tickets and other travel arrangements, he assists with housing immigrants overnight who are in the midst of transition. The El Paso border crossing has been closed to immigrants for the last three weeks, but when the bridge is open, Galarza coordinates feeding for 100-200 people through donations. Galarza works with Iglesia Bautista Tierra de Oro and Iglesia Bautista Caminos de Vida to provide food and other necessities to those in need. Additionally, students from the University of Texas-El Paso Baptist Student Ministry and several other churches have volunteered in ongoing border ministry.
How your church can get involved:
Pray for God to move along the border and to meet the needs of immigrants, refugees, border patrol and public service agents and churches serving daily along the border in both Texas and Mexico.
Give financially to purchase Bibles, discipleship material, food, toiletries and other necessities. When you give through Texas Baptists River Ministry, your donations will be maximized to provide essentials to those in need. These gifts are lovingly delivered through local churches and River Ministry missionaries to those in need.
Go by sending mission teams from your church to work with one of our 16 River Ministry missionaries in Texas and/or Mexico. Visit texasbaptists.org/riverministry.