Fellowship Southwest / immigration / refugees

Christmas miracle: Construction moves ahead for immigrant respite center

By Marv Knox

BROWNSVILLE, Texas—Construction of an immigrant respite center at Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville is moving forward, thanks to a Christmas miracle of generosity.

IB West Brownsville ministers to refugees who pass through Matamoros, Mexico, as they seek asylum in the United States.


Pastor Carlos Navarro of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville (right) and FSW Volunteer Co-coordinator Ray Cook Furr hold plans for a new immigrant respite center at IBWB.

The U.S. immigration policy requires asylum seekers to “wait in place” in Mexico. So, they live in a tent city in Matamoros—without running water, heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer—as they eke their way through the asylum system. They fill out applications and participate in multiple hearings with U.S. officials in northern Mexico. The process takes months. Then, only a tiny fraction eventually enter the United States, where they live with sponsors until they attend their final hearing.

IB West Brownsville and other local churches regularly cross the border to feed refugees in the tent city.

The congregation also serves the immigrants who get to enter the United States. Church volunteers receive them and provide them with the opportunity to shower. They give them fresh clothes, a warm meal and supplies for their journey to sponsors. The volunteers also share Christian love and the gospel story, and many immigrants express faith in Jesus on their first day on U.S. soil.

Up to now, the refugees have bathed in makeshift outdoor showers or, occasionally, a mobile shower trailer. The flow of immigrants has taken a toll on the IB West Brownsville building, which wasn’t constructed to offer hospitality to thousands of asylum seekers.


Pastor Carlos Navarro of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville (center) discusses the congregation’s immigrant relief ministry with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship state and regional coordinators during a border tour in early December.

So, Pastor Carlos Navarro has been dreaming of a new facility—an immigrant respite center on the church’s campus. That dream includes permanent showers for women and men, separate dorms for resting, and a commons area for eating meals and awaiting the next step in the asylum process. In Navarro’s dream, the center will have a long life, because it also will provide low-cost accommodations for mission teams that minister in the Rio Grande Valley.

Along the way, Fellowship Southwest shared Navarro’s dream. Ray Cook Furr, co-coordinator of volunteers and a certified contractor, has worked with the pastor to develop plans to build the facility. They calculate it will cost $40,000.

Shortly before Christmas, Fellowship Southwest shared the dream with friends and supporters. Over the holidays, they stepped up to put metal and tile, wiring and plumbing, and doors and fixtures and paint on that dream. Twelve families and individuals responded to the appeal for support. One congregation, Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, committed a significant portion of its Christmas offering. And a small business in West Texas, which prefers to remain anonymous, also  contributed to the cause. After the New Year got started, when all the gifts arrived, gifts totaled slightly more than the anticipated cost of the building.

So, Fellowship Southwest sent an initial wire transfer to purchase building supplies. Navarro worked with the city to secure construction permits. And although they don’t know it yet, some of the refugees huddled in tents in Matamoros have a hot shower and a comfortable bed in their future.

“It would be impossible to do this without Fellowship Southwest and CBF,” Navarro said. “Please mention this. Our church knows it well.”

Fellowship Southwest knows its entire Immigrant Relief Ministry would not be possible without the support of Christians who see the image of Christ in immigrants, love them and support this cause in order to serve them.

If you would like to support Fellowship Southwest’s ongoing Immigrant Relief Ministry, click here.

Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest. You can reach him at mknox@cbf.net.


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