DEL RIO—When Border Patrol personnel asked Shon Young to mobilize Del Rio-area churches and others to meet the needs of immigrant families, he saw it as the opportunity to take the next step in a pilgrimage of obedience—walking through a door God opened.
After receiving God’s call to ministry about seven years ago, Young soon felt led to move from Colorado and serve along the Texas/Mexico border between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña. During the past four years, Young has seen God shape him and his ministries.
Young, along with other ministers, helped start City Church in Del Rio in 2015. A year later, he received the invitation from the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ River Ministry to serve as a missionary for the Del Rio area.
Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition formed
Young sees those experiences as preparation to chair the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, formed a few months ago at the request of area U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to help with the immigration influx.
“The Border Patrol came to us in April, and they said they needed to start releasing families held in Del Rio,” Young said. “And in their experience along the border, they’ve seen how churches and nonprofits can help fill the gap of that need to receive and help immigrants move forward.”
Young understood the church needed to take immediate action. So, the coalition began with several churches and a board of nine members, he said.
Individual churches previously helped occasionally with immigrant families. But now the aid comes from a collective group of churches, and more can be done because of that, Young noted.
Border Patrol agents call local nonprofit and faith-based contacts to let them know how many individuals will be released. That enables groups to prepare to receive families and provide what they need until their hearing in court or their transfer to another location.
Sector chief describes the State of the Border
In his recent State of the Border Address, Raul Ortiz, chief of the Del Rio Sector for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, explained some of the reasons immigration in the U.S. southern border has developed into an emergency.
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Family unit apprehensions rose in the Del Rio sector from 1,977 during the last fiscal year to 25,085 this year. Only about 8 percent of the apprehensions have resulted in felony charges, he noted.
Ortiz acknowledged agents receive no training to give consistent care to minors or pregnant women.
“We don’t have enough agents, enough personnel. We don’t have enough resources, yet we continue to go out there each and every day to perform what we call a very important mission,” he said.
Previously, most immigrants came from Mexico, Ortiz explained. So, once they crossed, they were apprehended and then sent back across the border. But now families with children come from Central America or more distant countries, he said.
Last year apprehended immigrants came from 37 countries, while this year they have come from 53 countries, Ortiz reported.
“We rank No. 3 in the country for the amount of apprehensions we are making on a daily basis,” Ortiz said, referring to the 45,000 apprehensions made thus far. “We are No. 2 in the country when it comes to detentions.”
Border Patrol agents now widen their duties to rescue lives from the heat and the river and to provide medical attention to individuals and children, Ortiz said.
Churches help stand in the gap
Given the overwhelming scope of the situation, the agency and its personnel needed help from concerned citizens in the Del Rio area—particularly from churches—to help immigrant families until they transition to their ultimate destination.
Del Rio city government provided the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition a building it could use. Volunteers give their time through various organizations and assist families as they continue their journey, Young said.
“We opened these doors around May 7 and started with roughly 25 people that day,” Young recalled. “Now we see around 150 people a day, with the highest number being close to 200 people.”
So far, the coalition continues receiving enough donations to continue its functions and different organizations have provided trailers so families can use lavatories and showers, as well as trailers to provide families with first-aid services, food and clothing, Young said.
“The main goal is to receive these people that are coming into our care for the little time that they’re here and show them the love of Christ,” Young said.
A mission field passing through Del Rio
Anything that brings a smile—simple things such as a shower—can help them feel human once again, Young explained.
About 99 percent are families, and a small number of individuals are pregnant women, he noted.
Since May, Young calculates the Val Verde border coalition has served nearly 6,000 people.
Out of that number, Young said 60 to 70 percent of them are professing Christians. Whether responding to needs of brothers and sisters in Christ or showing the love of Jesus to nonbelievers, Young noted the churches see the immigrants as a mission field passing through Del Rio.
“Being able to build (immigrants) up just for a couple of hours and get them to feel good again about themselves is a great thing,” Young said.
Through the work of coalition volunteers, God not only acts in the lives of immigrant families in Del Rio, but also the larger community, Young said.
“Yes, we’re serving these immigrants, but we’re also serving our community, because we’re providing a place for this to happen,” Young remarked. “We’re serving the Border Patrol, because they’re the ones who came to us. And we’re serving the hospitals that didn’t know what to do with immigrants when they were discharged.”
Churches participate in the ministry to immigrants not because they expect a return on investment in terms of building their congregations, Young noted. Rather, they act in obedience to God’s call and trust God to bless their investment in lives they touch with the love of Christ, he added.