MCALLEN-The border issue: some call it a crisis, some call it a disaster, but to many Texas Baptists, it is an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
All eyes turned to the doorway as Daniela Cruz* and her two daughters, Lorena* and Carmen*, stepped inside Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. Volunteers with various religious backgrounds clapped and cheered as the girls entered.
It is a welcoming gesture, said Nadia Chapa, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities who is hosting the relief center in McAllen. It is how they greet each family who enters the facility, assuring them it is a safe place where volunteers genuinely want to help provide them with clothes, a shower, medical care and food.
“We're not sure if these folks will stay here (in the United States) or be sent back to their homes in Central America," said Chris Liebrum, director of church ministry resources for Texas Baptists. “Either way we can treat them with the kind of love and respect that is described in Matthew 25."
The Cruz's are one family among the thousands who have been traveling for months to enter the United States to settle with relatives in the country. Many are physically worn out by the time they pass through security and arrive at the relief center.
Carmen and Lorena were overjoyed to receive brand new pairs of shoes provided by Buckner International, a Texas Baptists partner, to replace their old ones, which they had traveled with from their hometown in El Salvador. Buckner donated 5,000 pairs of shoes to McAllen and 3,000 pairs to Laredo.
Across town, a volunteer from Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen picks up the dirty towels and sheets every day from Sacred Heart and brings them to an outdoor laundry unit in the church's back parking lot. Members volunteer their time to wash over 100 towels a day in the unit owned by Texas Baptist Men.
Further south on the border, Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association (RGVBA) has donated use of their mobile medical clinic to offer aid to families coming through Brownsville. The unit, originally valued for $160,000 was sold to RGVBA for $30,000. They are still looking to raise $7,000 more to finish paying it off, but it is getting used almost daily as families coming from Central America need medical attention.
At this year's Convencion, Primera Iglesia Bautista in Menard donated about 25 baby quilts. They are now being used for Central American babies coming through the relief center in Brownsville.
While these are ways Texas Baptists are currently helping, it is anticipated many more opportunities will arise within the coming weeks and months as the number of unaccompanied minors and family units crossing the border continues to rise.
“It's not like a tornado that has come through and is gone," said Robert Cepeda, director of missions for RGVBA. “The tornado is still spinning."
Calvary Baptist is awaiting a possible transition to occur in which they could potentially host the relief center in McAllen for 60 days. As they wait to hear whether or not it will happen, Julio Guarneri, pastor, and Chad Mason, pastor for mobilization and global impact, ask for prayer on their behalf and the support of the larger Baptist family.
“Jesus tells us to walk with the foreigner, to care for the poor," Mason said. “What would Jesus do if He was given this same exact opportunity? Would He turn them away or would He welcome them in?"
Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery is working to keep Texas Baptists informed on available volunteer opportunities. Currently, the greatest needs are in various donations for the relief centers. For updates on all needs from the border, visit Texasbaptists.org/forthechildren.