By Elket Rodríguez
Rosalío Sosa sat ringside when boxing legends Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield battled for the world heavyweight title in 1997. As millions watched the sluggers, Sosa waged his own fight, struggling with God’s call to ministry.
Holyfield defeated Tyson, and Sosa surrendered to God, although he felt like the winner. Twenty-four years later, Sosa is pastor of Iglesia Bautista Tierra de Oro in El Paso, Texas, and the 2021 recipient of CBF’s Emmanuel McCall Racial Justice Trailblazer Award. He also coordinates Red de Albergues para Migrantes—the Migrant Shelter Network—in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, providing leadership to Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief network.
Sosa, who was one of six siblings, grew up in poverty. When he was nine years of age, he started selling lollipops at the bus station in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, to support his family. At age 17, he moved to the United States dreaming of building a home for his mother, María del Socorro Martínez. At age 22, he accepted Christ as his Savior, only to later turn his back on God.
On her deathbed, when he was 27, his mother made him promise he would never reject God again. Soon, he returned to Westway Baptist Church in El Paso as the outreach director. But God’s call in 1997 required a deeper commitment.
So, there was Sosa, cornerman to Holyfield, a Christian who proclaimed God would help him defeat Tyson. Sosa doubted God would intervene, and that worried him. “I thought to myself, ‘If Holyfield loses, Christians will be ridiculed,’” he acknowledged.
But Holyfield won after officials disqualified Tyson for biting Holyfield’s ear. It was then that Sosa surrendered to God’s call to become a pastor. “Here I am,” he told God. “That day, I lost all of my fear.”
Since that time, Sosa hasn’t doubted God’s voice. And he has remained fearless in ministering to migrants, fighting racial injustice and advocating for the vulnerable.
Following the fight, Sosa launched his first ministry to migrants. “I was preparing to be a pastor when I started ‘border ministries’ in the El Paso detention center,” he said. “We used to preach to detained migrants every Sunday.”
After his ordination in 2004, he planted churches for the El Paso Baptist Association and started seven congregations, including Tierra de Oro—which he has led since 2007.
Sosa says his passion for helping others came from his mother, who fed the needy in Cuauhtémoc. “My house in Mexico was known as Socorro’s house,” he said. Ironically, Socorro—which means help—is the name of the Texas town where he opened his first migrant shelter.
“I am one of them,” he said of his love for immigrants. When he crossed into the United States in the 1980s, migration from Mexico was much easier than it is today.
Still, like most immigrants, he suffered.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry and to not have a home,” he said. “Migrants come to the U.S. because they are hungry, and they are desperate for help for their families, who are hungry and suffering abuses.”
Jesus’ earthly parents were immigrants who fled persecution and sought refuge in another country, he recalled. “If it was fair for Mary and Joseph to seek refuge, it’s fair and logical for me to flee to another country,” Sosa explained. “I would not mind losing everything I have to save my family. So, who am I to judge them?”
In August 2018, Sosa received a life-altering phone call. Jorge Zapata, associate coordinator of CBF of Texas and founder of Hearts4Kids, a nonprofit serving the poorest communities in the Rio Grande Valley, asked Sosa to shelter 162 migrants in the next 30 minutes.
Sosa called several Baptist pastors in El Paso to no avail. But a Pentecostal church, Camino de Vida, agreed to house the 162 migrants. “I cannot conceive that a pastor would prefer to have a cat or a dog in his air-conditioned building rather than sheltering people who don’t have a roof, especially women and children,” Sosa said.
That experience led Sosa to encourage churches to shelter immigrants in El Paso and neighboring Juarez. In early 2019, the Trump Administration implemented its Migrant Protection Protocols—known as MPP. The policy forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in northern Mexico for their cases to proceed through the U.S. immigration system.
MPP prompted the birth of Red de Albergues para Migrantes—RAM—which shelters 2,600 migrants. “We ran out of immigrants in El Paso,” he explained. “We started distributing food to the shelter-churches opening in Mexico, and that’s how RAM was born.”
RAM’s shelter network coordinates with the Mexican government and other non-governmental organizations to serve migrants across Chihuahua. RAM also is a key partner in Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief ministry on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The network Rosalío has built is an incredible model for migrant ministry,” noted Fellowship Southwest Executive Director Stephen Reeves. “The strength of his passionate personality and his commitment to serving the most vulnerable in the face of adversity has drawn others to this work, including government agencies. He’s done so while proudly waving the banner for Fellowship Southwest and CBF, and we’re equally proud to support his innovative, faithful service.”
The shelter that requires most of Sosa’s energy is in Palomas, 100 miles west of Juarez, deep in the Chihuahuan desert. It sits astride one of the Western Hemisphere’s busiest drug-trafficking and human-trafficking routes. Every day, border patrol expels dozens of immigrants caught entering the United States into Palomas.
The little town doesn’t have a hospital; so Sosa transports injured immigrants—such as those who fall off the border wall—to Juarez for medical treatment. In that environment, Sosa has been a light in the darkness, protecting minors and women who are victims of human trafficking and criminal organizations.
“Rosalío’s huge, fearless heart propels him to places most folks wouldn’t venture,” observed Marv Knox, founder of Fellowship Southwest. “He embodies the love of Jesus for folks who feel unloved. He’s the safety of the Spirit for people who feel completely vulnerable. He’s the power of God for the utterly powerless.”
RAM’s shelters serve migrants from all over the world—predominantly Central Americans, but also Haitians, Nigerians, Cubans and Venezuelans. Despite differences between U.S. and Mexican immigration systems, Sosa has witnessed a dispiriting constant—Black and indigenous people suffer disproportionate discrimination.
“With Blacks, U.S. and Mexican immigration officials are less impartial, and they are more restrictive when applying the laws,” he said.
In April 2019, Sosa helped free 800 Black immigrants illegally arrested in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost city and one of the world’s most important migration corridors. Local authorities are being investigated for torturing immigrants and violating their human rights.
Sosa and others traveled to Tapachula to observe the migrant caravan and to assist local pastors willing to use their churches to shelter immigrants. When they arrived, they witnessed more than 4,000 immigrants, predominantly Black immigrants, gathered around the detention center.
Some told Sosa that Mexican immigration officers had imprisoned their relatives for no apparent reason. “I tried to get inside the station, but I was not allowed in,” he said. So, the next day, he returned, accompanied by a Mexican senator.
“The immigration officials gave us a tour of what they wanted us to see—the empty cells,” he said. “But I insisted on seeing the yard, where I could hear people screaming.”
Sosa saw more than 800 hungry Black migrants in the overcrowded yard. “The officers told us the migrants were not arrested or detained, but ‘sheltered’ to avoid disturbing the community,” he said. “But they were kidnapped, and all were Black.”
Since the immigration officers had admitted that the immigrants were not detained, Sosa broke the lock and let the migrants out. “Some hadn’t eaten in days,” he reported.
RAM partners with attorney Florentina Jurado to denounce human right violations to the Mexican government.
“I work making sure the Mexican government doesn’t infringe upon the human rights of migrants,” said Jurado, who helps Sosa file complaints against Mexican immigration officers when migrants are mistreated, injured or abused.
“I help migrants out of love for Christ. He sacrificed for me. He pulled me out of the miry clay. He got his hands dirty for me,” Sosa said. “I do what God tells me to do, and that’s it.”
In 1997, boxer Holyfield wrote the words of Philippians 4:13 in his trunks. Today, Sosa is convinced he can do everything in Christ who strengthens him.
“No dudo nunca más,” he concluded. “I never doubt again.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of fellowship! magazine. Read online and subscribe at www.cbf.net/fellowship.