By Marv Knox
A perfect storm of calamity—the immigration crisis, COVID-19 and a hurricane—has buffeted Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief ministry in Matamoros, Mexico. The needs are dire; the response is sacrificial.
Since 2018, Fellowship Southwest has supported feeding projects on the Gateway International Bridge between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, as well as in the sprawling immigrant camp just south of the bridge. Since this spring, FSW has sponsored the burgeoning immigrant ministry of Pastor Eleuterio González and Iglesia Valle de Beraca further into the city.
González and the church are responsible for feeding and securing shelter for about 1,600 immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. FSW is the church’s sole outside support, although we are trying to connect the rapidly growing ministry to other partners.
Thousands of refugees seeking asylum in the United States have flooded Matamoros and other cities located at ports of entry along the border. In Matamoros, about 6,000 immigrants overflow the tent camp at the northern tip of downtown, on the banks of the Rio Grande.
With that space completely filled, government officials have opened up shelters elsewhere in the city. González and church volunteers started helping feed and care for immigrants in the overflow effort. When needs outstripped the church’s resources, González reached out for help to Jorge Zapata, associate coordinator of CBF Texas and director of FSW’s Immigrant Relief Ministry.
Since mid-May, FSW has channeled $6,350 to support the church’s immigrant work in Matamoros. Primarily, the funds have paid for food and basic supplies. Thanks to support from several churches, FSW also is purchasing a van for the ministry, so González won’t need to haul refugees across the city in the back of his pickup truck.
The challenges and costs of caring for the Matamoros immigrants are escalating, even as the needs of other pastors in FSW’s immigrant relief network also are growing. The U.S. and Mexican governments’ responses to COVID-19 have slowed the flow of immigrants out of the border cities, so pastors along the border look out upon increasing numbers of refugees who depend upon their care.
This summer, the pandemic has made feeding and sheltering them even more complicated. COVID-19 is surging in the region. Immigrants—who do not have space to social distance and who share common eating, bathing and sleeping facilities—especially are vulnerable.
As COVID afflicted the refugees, González recruited help from local doctors who have treated ill immigrants for free. Hospital care is out of the immigrants’ reach, but the pastor has rounded up supplies to treat them as well as possible.
On top of this, Hurricane Hanna flooded large swaths of Matamoros in late July. González Immediately worked to keep the immigrants safe from the winds and out of the waters. Then came putting their makeshift accommodations back in place, plus removing pests—from bugs to rodents to snakes—driven among the refugees by the rising floods.
Fellowship Southwest has provided $2,500 for emergency-relief supplies, and we’re working with CBF Disaster Response, González and volunteers in the region to plan for long-term recovery.
With the pace of change, the refugees—and González—will face new calamities before the old ones are resolved. Please pray for this ministry to immigrants. Ask God to provide:
- Immigration reform, which will bless refugees and ease the crisis along the border.
- Safety and security for immigrants in the shelters and camps—from the elements, from the drug cartels and from the dangers of such close confinement.
- A hedge of protection from COVID-19, both for the refugees and for the pastors and others who help them.
- The financial resources Fellowship Southwest and other ministry providers need to continue supporting the pastors and caring for the immigrants.
- A sense of divine presence—the “peace that surpasses all understanding”—upon these refugees—among the most vulnerable people anywhere.
To support CBF Disaster Response, click here.
To support Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Fund, click here.
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a CBF network encompassing Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, northern Mexico, Southern California and Texas.