Texas Church's Ministry Extends Beyond Relief Efforts


Volunteers fold clothes at the immigrant respite center at Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in McAllen, Texas, one of many ministries in which Calvary Baptist participates. (Photo provided by Julio Guarneri)

What do clothes washers, clean beds and coffee have to do with each other? How do these three things relate to relief, development and sustainment?

For one, they are most likely a part of our daily lives that we take for granted. For us at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, these are vital means for ministry to the most vulnerable.

In the summer of 2014, our border area experienced a surge in undocumented immigrants from Central America.

They initially forecasted an influx of 50,000 unaccompanied minors through McAllen before the end of the year - the actual number was closer to 100,000. Many were unaccompanied minors. Some were mothers with their children.

Because of our previous involvement in the community, the city of McAllen contacted us to see how we could help.

An immigrant respite center was quickly set up at Sacred Heart Catholic Parish - the closest church building to the McAllen bus station where Border Patrol was dropping off busloads of mothers and children after processing them.

These Central American immigrants crossed the border seeking refugee status as they fled extreme violence.

Most had traveled for weeks - often without food, a shower or a change of clothes. Some were dehydrated, had heat rashes or other ailments related to their long and treacherous travel.

Many had been assaulted or experienced the loss of family members along the way. The wait for their bus prolonged their precarious state by several hours, sometimes overnight.

Calvary Baptist Church, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande, Buckner and other entities quickly organized and mobilized to provide clean clothes, hot meals, hygiene kits, showers and medical attention.

At the beginning of the summer, the respite center served about 20 immigrants a day. Five months later, up to 150 immigrants would come through each day.

As the numbers increased, the demand for clean towels and linens increased.

Bob and Flora Canterbury of Calvary Baptist initially took trash bags filled with dirty laundry to their home to wash and return to the respite center. Chad Mason, pastor of mobilization and global impact, arranged to borrow a clothes washer mobile unit from Texas Baptist Men.

We parked the mobile unit on the church's parking lot, and under the direction of Jeanette Ahlenius, we enlisted volunteers to wash, dry, fold and deliver a vanload of laundry every day.

Wives and children of federal law enforcement officers were among those who helped wash the towels and sheets for the immigrants.

While we have remained attentive and supportive of this continued relief effort, we have turned to development initiatives.

Our role in coordinating and networking for immigrant relief brought us in contact with multiple organizations at the state and national level.

We discovered that our area was a corridor for sex trafficking of immigrants to various parts of the country and that no real rescue operations were in place.

Calvary Baptist's Tracy Hughes took this need passionately and with the support of the church's missions committee established Tamar's Tapestry, a ministry for victims of sex trafficking.

This year, with help from Texas Baptists' Christian Life Commission and other entities, a shelter has been established. Girls who are rescued from this evil industry can have a safe place, a clean bed and a network of faith-based support to help them transition to a normal life.

For several years, Calvary Baptist has also been involved in Mexico's state of Chiapas, which borders with Guatemala and is home to multiple indigenous people groups.

Eufemio Bonifaz is an indigenous pastor who provides pastoral training throughout Chiapas. Many of these church planters support themselves through agriculture, artisanship or amber mining.

Chad Mason led Calvary Baptist to come alongside Bonifaz and plant 1,000 coffee trees to help provide support for this ministry.

This coffee plantation provides jobs and income to this training center and church planters, helping to alleviate material poverty and empowering the spread of the gospel in this area of the world.

Bonifaz's organization sells the coffee beans. Calvary Baptist buys some of these green coffee beans, roasts them and sells them to create awareness of this sustainment initiative and to invest back in the work of relief, development and sustainment.

Calvary Baptist's other sustainable initiatives and partnerships include a water company among the Maasai in Kenya; a pecan farm in Parras, Coahuila; a fish farm among the Mixtecs in Oaxaca, Mexico; and quail egg farms for bivocational pastors in the Philippines.

Calvary Baptist's McAllen has ministered to the "least of these" both directly and in partnership with other agencies for a long time.

We believe that ministering to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger (immigrant), the "naked" (materially poor), the sick and the prisoner is an evidence of being genuine Christians (Matthew 25:31-46).

Much of the material poverty and the immigration situation is a result of systemic injustice, corruption and criminal activity.

These three evils are often present in countries south of our border. However, they are not unrelated to our own country.

Drug trafficking and human trafficking (both labor and sex trafficking), for example, are not just issues of the country of origin but also of the country of consumption.

Suffice it to say that not all people have the same opportunities for life, freedom and the basic necessities of life.

Consequently, while the church can provide relief to those who are most vulnerable in the spirit of Jesus, such relief addresses merely the symptoms of bigger problems.

Luke 4:18-19 records how Jesus announced his platform as he launched his ministry. Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the imprisoned are Christ-like actions but Jesus' platform goes beyond that.

The Spirit of the Lord anointed him to bring about freedom from oppression. The church, in that same Spirit, must seek that same freedom for the oppressed and vulnerable.

Beyond relief, we must seek opportunities for development, sustainment and advocacy.

Julio S. Guarneri is lead pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a multi-cultural/dual-language church in McAllen, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @juliosguarneri.

Editor's note: This article is part of a series on local churches / Christian organizations and immigration.

Previous article in the series are:

Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant Leaders Endorse BRIDGE Act

Haitians, Others Arrive in Tijuana Seeking Entrance into U.S.

8 Reflections from Faith-and-Immigration Documentary

First Step to Ministry with Immigrants: Build Relationships

Migrants Sacrifice, Risk Death for Chance at Better Life

North Carolina Church Adopts Two Refugee Families

Love Across Borders: Ministering to Immigrants in Poverty

The Good Samaritan: How Far Should Love Reach?

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Tags: Baptists, Border Ministry, Immigration, Julio Guarneri, Missions, Refugees


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