River Ministry responds to increased needs along the border

In Laredo, the Ortiz family and volunteers provide meals, access to shower units, toiletry kits, Bibles and assistance with travel for immigrants who pass through their town each day. (Photo / Jeremy Sharp)

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Missionaries with Texas Baptists’ River Ministry are at work along the Texas/Mexico border, partnering with churches and organizations to meet the needs of immigrants, deportees, refugees and asylum seekers.

But the greatest need along the Rio Grande is prayer, said Daniel Rangel, director of River Ministry.

“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.”

Rangel invited churches and individuals to donate financially to purchase food, toiletries, clothing, basic necessities, Bibles and evangelistic materials to provide to immigrants.

He also encouraged churches 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, noting the opportunity for long-term partnerships.

Hospitality in Laredo

Ruth Ortiz, Texas Baptists’ River Ministry missionary, and her family are caring for 80 to 100 immigrants per day at their home in Laredo. (Photo / Jeremy Sharp)

Ruth Ortiz serves as a River Ministry missionary in Laredo, meeting needs in the community and working with church groups in mission opportunities.

She and her parents, Lorenzo and Aralia, care for 80 to 100 immigrants a day at their home in Laredo.

When immigrants are released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection 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 Ortiz home.

Ruth Ortiz helps coordinate travel logistics for individuals in need of tickets to travel by bus or air to their family members somewhere in the United States.

Aralia Ortiz prepares hot meals from the family’s 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.

Byron traveled 17 days from his home in Guatemala to arrive in Laredo. Upon entry into the United States, he received care at the home of the Ortiz family. (Photo /Jeremy Sharp)

Since 2014, the Ortiz family has cared for immigrants and refugees on the border of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. 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 Ortiz said.

Each person who passes through the Ortiz house hears about Jesus.

“We pray with them, share the gospel with them,” said Lorenzo Ortiz, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel in Laredo. “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 spreads as the immigrants connect with their families, he added.

River Ministry work in Laredo is supported through gifts to the Texas Baptists’ Worldwide Giving, along with partner churches, individuals and national organizations such as the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse.

Providing aid in Del Rio

Since May, around 100 immigrants passed through Del Rio each day. Due to overflow issues in McAllen, one to two times a week, immigrants are transported to Del Rio.

In addition to serving as a Texas Baptists’ River Ministry missionary and as associate pastor for missions and youth at City Church in Del Rio, Shon Young chairs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, helping to meet the needs of immigrant families.

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 Del Rio.

In the last three months, the coalition has served more than 5,000 people from Central America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and other regions, providing basic necessities to individuals and families passing through Del Rio. The group has 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 Baptist 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.

McAllen Respite Center

Vanessa Quintanilla-Lerma, who serves with Texas Baptists’ River Ministry, has met and helped hundreds of immigrants every month for the past four years. (Photo / Isa Torres)

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,” Lerma said.

Many churches have sent teams to work in the Valley this summer, providing much-needed support. Lerma encouraged Texas Baptists to 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 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.”

Helping in El Paso

For the last four months, Jesus Galarza has coordinated 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 100 to 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.

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