By Marv Knox
Pastors and ministry leaders on both sides of the Mexico-United States border are gearing up to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the immigrant caravan that began in Latin America and now is marching through Mexico toward the United States.
A coalition of churches on both sides of the border, including pastors from Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, Mexico, and from Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, met with Jorge Zapata, associate coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, and other leaders to plan frontline ministry to the immigrants.
Key clergy involved in the effort include Alvaro Corales, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Alamo, Texas; Chad Mason, missions pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas; and Lorenzo Ortiz, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel in Laredo, Texas. They will create a Facebook page and website to provide consistent updates on the coalition’s ministry, as well as opportunities for supporting the missions endeavor.
The coalition of churches is a non-partisan, ecumenical endeavor, Zapata said. “We are working together for ministry, for the good of the people,” he stressed. “We are united, not divided.”
Participating organizations include the Assemblies of God; the Baptist General Convention of Texas; Children’s Hunger Fund; Child Fund; the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its regional affiliates CBF Texas and Fellowship Southwest; Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas; Define American; Hearts4Kids; Pentecostal congregations; the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association; the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Way of the Cross Ministries; and nondenominational congregations in the region.
The Mexican government also has indicated its support for the ministry, promising to open shelters for the immigrants and urging churches and other ministries to feed and serve the immigrants through the shelters, Zapata said. The Mexican government has advised congregations not to open their facilities or members’ homes to caravan participants.
If the caravan reaches the U.S. border at McAllen, Texas—the quickest route—it will arrive between the weekend after Thanksgiving and the first weekend of December, reported Ryan Eller, executive director of Define American. Meanwhile, members of the Families Belong Together Coalition are traveling toward the caravan and will provide updates on progress and needs, he said.
The U.S. government still is considering options for how it will respond when the caravan reaches the border, Eller added. Stays in detention could range from brief to extended, depending on the immigrants’ status regarding asylum and visas.
Also, if it follows the pattern of previous caravans, this one is likely to dissipate before it reaches the border, he said. Some immigrants will drop out, and some will separate from the larger group. Still, hundreds of people are expected to seek entrance into the United States. And with Mexican and U.S. government plans in place, they will need ministry and support in northern Mexico.
The coalition of churches plans to prepare for the caravan’s arrival within the next two weeks. Mexican and U.S. authorities have announced they will close the border on both sides, so supplies need to be delivered to participating Mexican churches ahead of that date, Zapata said.
Three Children’s Hunger Fund tractor-trailer rigs are available to take supplies from Texas into Mexico, Zapata said. The Mexican churches will distribute the supplies directly to the immigrants, offering medicine, baby food and formula, food for children and adults, water and hygiene kits. Also, immigrants in the caravan—from warm climates of Latin America—are traveling during late fall and may be detained during winter, so the coalition plans to provide them with warm clothes and blankets, he added.
The coalition is raising funds to cover the costs of driving the rigs to Mexico and back—$750 each or $2,250 total. It also is collecting donations to purchase food, medicine and other supplies. The coalition is not equipped to accept donated goods, but those items can be purchased in San Antonio and effectively shipped to Mexico, Zapata said.
To help provide food and supplies, as well as to cover the shipping costs, click here, or send contributions designated “Immigrant Caravan” to: CBF Texas, P.O. Box 15648, San Antonio, TX 78212.
At some point, U.S. volunteers may be needed to serve the refugees. But with an impending border closure, plans to travel to the area are premature, Zapata said. “Don’t rush to the border,” he stressed. “We’re going to work with the Mexican and U.S. governments to see if we can cross the border at some point. But don’t rush to the border now.”
A couple of other opportunities for response are available:
- The Hope Border Institute is receiving funds to support caravan participants in route and will deliver supplies to them in Mexico City.
- Josh Whinston, rabbi of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Mich., is organizing a rally in support of the caravan. It will be held near El Paso November 15.
Marv Knox serves as the Coordinator for Fellowship Southwest, a multicultural network of faith communities that improves lives and shares the love of God with people often discounted and overlooked.