By Elket Rodríguez
The pastors on the front lines of Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry do not labor alone. Their strongest allies—their spouses—support, encourage and fortify them as they fight hunger, deprivation, exploitation, injustice and vulnerability all along the U.S.-Mexico border.
These women’s tenacity, commitment and passion is unparalleled. They willingly sacrifice most of their time and effort for their ministries. Their success can only be measured by their loyalty to God.
Andrea Patricia Carrion wakes up every morning at 6:00 to eat breakfast, drink coffee and pray with Pastor Rosalio Sosa at their dinner table in El Paso. Together, they go over the day’s agenda—their practice across more than 15 years of marriage.
“Every day is different, but my support to him will always be there,” Carrion said. “We don’t have a routine. I’m thankful to God for what he does and our work with needy people.”
Sosa coordinates Red de Albergues para Migrantes (Migrant Shelter Network), a ministry that serves 2,400 refugees in 14 immigrant shelters in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.
His ministry keeps him away from home for long periods. Meanwhile, she sorts and transports donated food, clothes and other essential items that stock their shelters.
“We left everything behind to do the things of God and work with migrants,” Carrion said of their shared commitment. “A lot of people left our church when we started the immigration ministry, but our calling to help people regardless of whether they are or aren’t migrants is resolute.”
Carrion and Sosa serve together in Iglesia Bautista Tierra de Oro in El Paso, a congregation with a strong emphasis on loving their neighbor. They continue to serve the people Jesus called “the least of these” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Down near the Gulf of Mexico, pastors Carlos Navarro of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville in Brownsville, Texas, and Rogelio Perez of Iglesia Bautista Capernaum in nearby Olmito feed the needy on the streets of their communities week by week. But they are not alone. Dianne Navarro and Maria Isabel Pérez serve alongside their husbands.
Dianne Navarro describes life as a pastor’s wife as hectic. That probably is an understatement. She is the secretary for the church and its four mission congregations. She’s also her husband’s “right hand” in ministry and attends all church services and activities.
“It is like being a doctor’s wife. We are on call 24/7,” she observed.
IB West Brownsville operates an immigrant respite center, which ministers to refugees after they are released by the U.S. government for their final asylum court hearings as they pass through the city to live with sponsors elsewhere in the United States.
She’s central to the church’s ministry to refugees. She picks up asylum-seekers, transports them to the respite center and shares her faith in Jesus them. Considering more than 30 years of marriage, she said their ministry to asylum seekers is the “the best ministry I’ve ever been in.”
“Just to be with them—to live and to listen to them—is so satisfying. It brings tears to your eyes when you hear what they’ve been through,” she explained.
Maria Isabel Pérez understands the demanding pace. She has a full time job, tends to her children and takes care of the house. On top of that, she is IB Capernaum’s secretary, women’s leader, children’s Sunday School teacher and worship team member.
“It’s very difficult for me, because our church is very active. We work every day,” she acknowledged. “I try to support in the immigration ministry when I can.”
Ironically, “the quarantine has been a blessing,” she noted. The changing situation has enabled her to help her husband distribute food packages, especially to immigrants in need.
“Working with immigrants is very rewarding,” she said. “It’s very beautiful when people accept the help you give them. I love their appreciation, especially when I see kids smiling.”
Eleuterio Gonzalez and Norma Herrera live in Brownsville but operate a shelter for 800 migrants across the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. They have been married more than 26 years and love working with migrants.
Herrera is crucial to the success of the ministry as she helps her husband meet the spiritual and physical needs of the refugees who show up at their shelter.
“I enjoy it 100 percent. It is something beautiful,” Herrera acknowledged. “It is a blessing, because we have the same feeling. We love to be able to provide the physical and the spiritual need of migrants.”
Gonzalez and Herrera lead the efforts of Iglesia Bautista Valle de Barac in Matamoros. Herrera concedes the ministry requires “a lot of work since dawn.” But she wouldn’t trade it for anything, because the fruits of their investment in people are worth their effort.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Ortiz continues to feed and shelter 200 refugees with the help of his strongest ally, his wife, Oralia Ortiz Reyes. They operate two shelters in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and another one in Saltillo, deeper into the country.
Almost every morning, she wakes up early to sort and bag the food he will distribute in Mexico. She also prepares food for him as well, reporting, “There are days he goes without eating” unless she makes sure to remind him to care for himself.
“Sometimes I’m the one who delivers food to the shelters in Nuevo Laredo and (the state of) Coahuila,” she noted.
Her passion the immigrant ministry fuels her days, from getting up early to prepare food her husband delivers, to 10 p.m. or later, when he often returns home.
“We do it because we love to help people, and I support him because I like what he does,” she said. “I enjoy when the children show their affection to us. That encourages us to continue.”
Right by the Pacific Ocean, in San Diego, Juvenal González’s life has been transformed by the pandemic. His wife, Maria González, is a registered nurse who’s on the front lines fighting the effects of COVID-19. She was not available to be interviewed.
Still, Pastor González continues to oversee the operation of two shelters in Tijuana, which are home to 120 refugees. She used to help him by cooking for the migrants. Now, she’s focused on nursing, as well as mentoring other women in ministry through virtual meetings.
“She continues to do discipleship meetings with around seven Christian women,” he reported.
In Primera Iglesia Bautista de Piedras Negras in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Pastor Israel Rodriguez relies on his spouse, Rebeca Jimenez Flores, to support him. They’ve been married 40 years, and she’s been his rock throughought his journey with the Lord, he said.
“With her support, her encouragement and her understanding of me working out of the house, that is enough for me,” Rodriguez said.
Although Jimenez Flores was not available to be interviewed, Rodriguez said she’s a very busy music teacher whose helped him in the past with the church’s worship.
These women’s ministries reveal the extent of their families’ dedication to witness on behalf of Jesus in the most difficult of circumstances. Please pray for:
- Their health, so they can continue to be the presence of God in the midst of this pandemic.
- Their ministry to continue to serve the vulnerable.
- Their husbands, who are risking their lives every day exposing themselves to COVID-19 and the Mexican cartels.
- Their family to continue to be united during this time.
- Wisdom to discern God’s will in their lives moving forward.
These pastors and their wives are invested in their service to the Lord and to the vulnerable. Fellowship Southwest provides funds for food medicine and basic supplies for their immigrant ministries and in some cases provides rent for shelters and other operational funds. To support these ministries, click here.
Elket Rodríguez is the immigrant and refugee advocacy and missions specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.