Needs prompt Baptists in Texas and Mexico to plan summit

Members of Texas Baptist house churches volunteer to prepare and serve food through a refugee ministry in Nuevo Laredo. (Photo courtesy of David Miranda)

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Texas Baptists will join Mexican Baptists in Matamoros Nov. 17 for a Border Summit to discuss ways to respond to the needs along the Rio Grande.

Raquel Contreras, director and publisher of the Baptist Spanish Publishing House/Editorial Mundo Hispano in El Paso, will be the keynote speaker at the symposium. Additional leaders from Texas and Mexico will discuss challenges and opportunities for ministry. The summit includes time dedicated to brainstorming ideas on how churches can respond.

“The summit is a response to the urgent need for us to impact the Mexico/Texas border with the gospel,” said Abraham Cervantes, a River Ministry missionary who serves in Matamoros. “It is going to help us streamline our efforts so we can come up with a pastoral response for this region, which is encountering all sorts of major challenges.”

Participants will analyze the reality faced by people living on both sides of the border, including challenges faced by those who must remain on the Mexican side after failed attempts to enter the United States.

Increased ministry opportunities

Border cities such as Nuevo Laredo, Laredo, Matamoros, Reynosa and McAllen have seen an influx of immigrants, refugees and deportees over the last few years. Other cities along the border, including Piedras Negras and El Paso, are preparing for ministry needs as immigrants head toward the United States, said Daniel Rangel, director of Texas Baptists’ River Ministry and Mexico Missions.

In response to an increase in ministry opportunities along the border, Executive Director David Hardage encouraged Texas Baptists churches to “do what we always do—meet human needs and share the love of Christ.”

Ruth Ortiz, a River Ministry missionary in Nuevo Laredo, works with churches in Mexico to provide food, shelter and hygiene items to refugees and deportees. Over the last few months, Ortiz has seen an increase in the number of refugees from the Republic of Congo and Venezuela, in addition to Central America and Cuba. Volunteers rely on cell phones to translate conversations with the Congolese, who primarily speak Portuguese, as they meet basic needs.

Ortiz particularly recalled one refugee, a 6-year-old Congolese boy who traveled through the jungles of Latin America to arrive in Nuevo Laredo. He was separated from his family on the journey and survived alone in the Central American jungle seven days until he eventually reunited with his family. When they arrived in Nuevo Laredo, Ortiz and others provided necessities to the boy and his family.

She encourages churches to consider sending mission teams to come work in Nuevo Laredo and other border towns.

“I know people are nervous about safety, but we take a lot of safety precautions and are connected to the officials,” Ortiz said. “If anyone’s willing to come here, I’d love to take them across and let them see it all with their own eyes. They won’t go back the same.”

Several Texas Baptists churches have sent mission teams to serve along the border and support local churches engaged in daily ministry to displaced people. Since July, Imelda Corona has led three mission teams from Iglesia Bautista Getsemani in Dallas to serve in Nuevo Laredo. The church collected donated sleeping bags, socks, backpacks filled with school supplies and food to distribute. Corona described opportunities to pray with families, engage in activities with children, and share the gospel with many going through an extremely difficult time.

“God is bringing all the nations to one area to evangelize,” Corona said. “I encourage churches to see the spiritual and physical needs of those we serve.”

Rangel suggested several ways churches and individuals could give to support the continued work of River Ministry missionaries. Monetary gifts are used to purchase food staples, such as rice, beans and cooking oil. Through monetary gifts, hygiene kits also can be purchased for less than $1 per bag and shipped within two days to missionaries for distribution.

Donated sleeping bags and tents also are useful in areas like Nuevo Laredo where churches house 80 to 100 refugees some nights.

For more information, email Gloria Tillman at gloria.tillman@texasbaptists.org or call (214) 828.5182.

 

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