Featured / immigration / Missions

Central Texas church opens Naomi House for asylum seekers

By Caleb Mynatt

So far, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the crisis at the border. But a Cooperative Baptist Fellowhsip church in Waco, Texas, is doing what it can to help those who are in need.

The community, along with multiple churches, came together in Waco, TX for the blessing of the Naomi House, a mid-term length shelter for women and children seeking asylum

Amid a pandemic, food shortages and political and ethnic persecution in Central America, the number of people attempting to enter the United States border has reached an all-time high. It has never been more difficult to enter the U.S. as an asylum seeker, and the resources are limited due to demand.

“It would be hard not to call it a humanitarian crisis at this point,” said Tiffani Harris, associate pastor at DaySpring Baptist Church.

The dire conditions in South Texas have prompted DaySpring to start a new ministry called the Naomi House. This ministry project, whose name comes from the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi, is designed to provide food, housing and work opportunities to those who are seeking asylum in the United States. For Harris and the DaySpring congregation, this ministry provides the same thing Naomi was able to give Ruth when she needed it most.

“Naomi allows Ruth to come with her and brings Ruth back to her own community,” Harris said. “We were drawn to that story and the idea of how we might extend hospitality in the way that Naomi did.”

While a project of this magnitude is never easy to undertake, it’s something that Harris and DaySpring have felt called to do since forming relationships with other churches already helping combat the crisis. One church, the San Antonio Mennonite Church, was receiving nearly 10,000 people a week during the summer months. It was Dayspring’s work with this congregation, as well as their partner churches on the border, that caused them to want to do more than just provide funding.

“The pastor at the Mennonite Church really challenged us to care for the asylum seeker,” Harris said. “It was our work and conversations with them that solidified our desire to help. It helped our congregation to see how another church was doing it. It demystified this type of ministry for us.”

The inaugural residents of the Naomi House are a family of five from Honduras who came to America fleeing persecution and, as Harris describes, “horrific violence.” They found their way to the Naomi House after a Spanish-speaking Baptist partner church from Brownsville found the family on the streets in need of help. CBF field personnel Elket Rodriguez, who serves communities and migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, connected the church with DaySpring.

Volunteers wrote blessings and prayers for the asylum-seekers in Waco on the walls of the Naomi House before they were painted.

The family, according to Harris, are a perfect fit for the Naomi House ministry, and are hopeful that their partner churches will be able to steer more people to them.

“We really rely on our partner churches that we’ve connected with through Fellowship Southwest and CBF,” Harris said. “Elket Rodriguez has done a lot to connect us with churches down there so that we can begin to do this kind of work.”

The asylum seeker in America faces a different set of challenges compared to anyone else crossing the border. Refugees are given a funding stream through the government when they come to America, albeit a small amount. Refugees may still need help from the community to put their lives together; but asylum seekers must rely on other help as they receive no government assistance. They also aren’t legally allowed to have a job for 180 days while their paperwork is processed. In that time, they must depend on the kindness of strangers to survive, which is why DaySpring has chosen women and children asylum seekers as their intended group to assist through the Naomi House.

“Asylum seekers face these obstacles even though they came here legally,” Harris noted. “That’s a real challenge to overcome, which is why they often become targets for trafficking. That’s why we wanted to open the Naomi House for them.”

The Naomi House is not a one-congregation operation. The needs of a family that comes to the U.S. with nothing is a lot for one church to handle alone. The ministry has created a network of churches to help DaySpring in their mission. There has been an outpouring of volunteers, funding and resources from other churches in the Waco area who share DaySpring’s call to help the vulnerable people at the border.

“We hope and it is our prayer that other churches are inspired to start their own hospitality house,” Harris said.

“The idea of doing important work like this, with refugees and asylum seekers, is very interesting to people at our church,” said John Hunt, associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco. “People here have a heart to try to help vulnerable populations where we can. We may even eventually try to start our own house down the line.”

For Harris, that goal is exactly what she has in mind. As the situation at the border becomes more unstable, the amount of assistance asylum seekers need will grow. Harris hopes that with the Naomi House as a guide, churches in Texas can start a network to support asylum seekers. Harris feels that there is enthusiasm to address this need and that churches in Texas will have the ability to face it head-on. “The long-term vision is that there will be other churches in the state that will join us in this work. We want to be a model so that other churches in Waco or beyond, can join us,” Harris said.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of fellowship! Read and share online at www.cbf.net/spring23.

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