Southern Baptists respond to border crisis with compassion, necessities


July 16, 2019


Border Crisis: First in a series

While state and national officials craft responses to the humanitarian crisis along the Mexico border, Southern Baptist entities, churches in the border states and believers across the nation are actively engaged in addressing the migrant influx.

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, said the border crisis “has the attention of Southern Baptists.”

“I am grateful for churches and ministry groups in New Mexico, Texas and California helping in a variety of ways, such as serving hot meals and non-perishable lunches and providing other ministries of compassion as they are able,” Floyd said. “The hands-on ministry being done through local churches working in partnership with one another and in their associational and state networks is what Southern Baptists are all about.”

The border crisis is nothing new to Southern Baptist churches in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, West Brownsville Baptist Church pastor Carlos Navarro explained.

Decades of ministry

Navarro, a native of Guatemala, has been involved in ministry to migrants since his arrival in the Valley 25 years ago.

The church formed Golan Ministries in 2018 after the Mexican Consulate in Brownsville contacted Navarro for help with that summer’s migrant crisis. Since then Golan has provided water, clothing, food and Spanish Bibles to migrants on both sides of the border.

In April 2019, West Brownsville Baptist began serving as an overflow migrant respite center when the city’s two other emergency shelters, operated by the Catholic Church, reached capacity, and the mayor and city commissioners approached Navarro for help.

Navarro said yes and West Brownsville members converted Sunday School rooms and other parts of the building — approximately half the church’s space — to shelter migrant families.

It is his duty to help, Navarro told San Antonio news outlet KENS.

“If I want to show my true colors as a Christian this is the moment to do it,” he said. “Otherwise it’s just a show.”

Up to 50 families per day have been dropped off at West Brownsville after being released by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Numbers have ranged from 75–100 individuals per day initially to 35–50 individuals coming in daily now.

“They are sending us the most vulnerable, moms and dads with children and single moms with children,” Navarro said.

Navarro believes migrants will continue to journey north until living conditions in Central America improve.

While the city of Brownsville has financed efforts at the other respite centers West Brownsville has received no city funding and has relied upon donations, including significant grants from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and North American Mission Board (NAMB). The Red Cross donated 1,000 toiletry kits, some blankets and 20 cots, and SBTC Disaster Relief has a shower/laundry unit at the church.

West Brownsville needs funds for supplies and has created a wish list at Amazon as a way to ask for specific needs and not overwhelm storage limitations (see sidebar, next page).

Following the law

In addition to the work of churches like West Brownsville along the border, SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers have teamed with the Salvation Army in El Paso and Del Rio this spring and summer to serve migrants who have passed through security, been vetted by CBP and undergone medical screening before arriving at temporary shelters.

Disaster relief laundry/shower units and SBTC Disaster Relief personnel are stationed on location supporting the migrant shelters and volunteers working in those cities.

In New Mexico serving asylum-seeking migrants is as simple as “a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name,” said Freida Adams, a 20-year veteran Southern Baptist missionary and current coordinator for medical personnel in Doña Ana County.

Adams is one of many Baptists in New Mexico providing humanitarian assistance to asylum-seeking migrants released by CBP agents en route to approved immigration sponsors in other parts of the U.S.

Many of those seeking asylum are acting in accordance with current United States asylum laws (8 U.S.C. 1158).

According to Scott Wilson, Baptist Convention of New Mexico (BCNM) missions mobilization team leader, asylum-seeking migrants “are vetted, have ankle monitors and sponsors somewhere in the U.S.”

Asylum seekers, Adams noted, typically spend less than 48 hours in their host city before boarding a bus or plane to connect with their sponsors. Serving migrants is “about obeying Matthew 25. It’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Adams said.

In the nearly three months since CBP began releasing asylum-seeking migrants in New Mexico several churches affiliated with BCNM have provided, or are currently providing, assistance to migrants in three communities — Albuquerque, Deming and Las Cruces. Several New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have also provided assistance and some churches have provided housing.

Churches in Albuquerque provided facilities for meal preparation and assisted in serving hundreds of meals to migrants.

‘Not political’

Stephen Baum, pastor of First Baptist Church, West Albuquerque, said the response is not political. Rather the priority is to “put food in hungry bellies and do that in the name of Christ and just show the love of Jesus to these folks,” he said.

Dennis Garcia, a NAMB church planting catalyst in Las Cruces, said in April that the situation provides “an opportunity to be light to our neighbors.”

“They may not be our physical, tangible neighbors for long,” he said, “but during the time that they are in our city they are the people God is bringing and we have an opportunity to be a tangible expression of God’s love and grace and mercy in their lives.”

Longer detentions

In a July 3 written statement Garcia said, “right now the number of families coming to Las Cruces [is] much lower than just a few weeks ago. This is good in the sense that aid workers have a more manageable situation. However, it also means these families are being held at the federal detention centers longer.”

In Deming released migrants are being housed temporarily at the Southwestern New Mexico State Fairgrounds and at a hangar at a nearby nonoperational airport.

Robert Hamilton, pastor of First Baptist Church, Deming, said as of July 1, the church had distributed more than 1,000 sack lunches to migrants. Hamilton said the situation is not ideal but his congregation has responded with compassion. He said he has been vocal from the pulpit about separating the political from the personal and showing love to those in need.

Hamilton, who is currently preaching through the Gospel of Luke, said he has emphasized “it’s never wrong to show compassion and often that’s the avenue that we have to then share the gospel.”

Connie Dixon, New Mexico state director for Woman’s Missionary Union, said “Deming would be a great place to go” for anyone looking to plan a missions trip over the summer.

“We’re called to minister to them, and what better place to do that than here?” she said. (BP, TAB)

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Ways to pray

• Pray for border patrol agents to have energy, peace and a kind spirit as they work in a situation that is overwhelming and beyond what they have been trained to do.

• Pray for those in leadership facing negotiations and decision-making.

• Pray for the churches on both sides of the border who are providing shelter for migrants.

• Pray migrants who do not already know Christ will find hope and faith during their journey.

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Ways to help

Currently U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities are not accepting any donations of supplies to help migrant families and children.

Government officials have refuted accusations that children in custody are not provided safe and sanitary conditions including essential hygiene items, but the CBP refusal policy has a legal foundation, according to Theresa Cardinal Brown, former policy adviser for CBP and now head of immigration and cross-border policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Federal barriers

Brown told CNN the federal Antideficiency Act prevents CBP from accepting donations.

“That law is a law passed by Congress that says the government cannot accept goods and services without remuneration because it cannot spend or use things that have not been appropriated to it by Congress,” Brown said. “If (CBP) was able to accept donations outside of that it would be overspending what it was authorized to spend.”

In addition Brown said ethical considerations would come up “if the executive gets to decide from whom it gets to accept donations and for what.”

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has proposed changes to the law that would allow charitable donations to be used for care of migrant children in U.S. custody.

In the meantime many organizations and churches on both sides of the border are providing aid to migrants.

How to give

Baptist organizations accepting relief donations include:

• West Brownsville Baptist Church: Purchase items from the Amazon wishlist for Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville Respite Center at https://tinyurl.com/WBBCrespite

• San Diego Southern Baptist Association: Choose “Juvenal Gonzalez-Tijuana” fund (church planting catalyst missionary in Tijuana serving migrants) and give online at https://app.easytithe.com/App/Giving/sdsba

• Baptist Convention of New Mexico: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://bcnm.com/give/

• Southern Baptists of Texas Convention: Choose “Disaster Relief” fund and give online at https://www.shelbygiving.com/App/Giving/sbtc

• Arizona Southern Baptist Convention: Specify an amount, then choose “AZSBC Disaster Relief” to give online at https://azsbc.org/give/.

(Compiled by TAB)


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