Church across the Rio Grande imparts life to Mexican villages

by Bonnie Pritchett, posted Thursday, January 22, 2004 (15 years ago)

TERLINGUA, Texas (BP)--In a region as sprawling and sparsely populated as West Texas, it takes divine coordination to bring people and supplies together for getting baby formula to an infant in desperate need.

The Southern Baptists involved in saving the life of a newborn baby and helping nourish two other infants in three small Mexican villages just across the border from Terlingua, Texas, give God the credit for arranging the circumstances that yielded a supply of baby food from the sacrificial labors of a small Baptist church -- one which is in need of a new building itself.

Big Bend Baptist Church is a small congregation in Terlingua, a town known for its rowdy "International Chili Cook-off" each October. Aside from that one time of the year, few people live in the border town. The numbers swell somewhat in the winter months as "snowbirds" -- retirees who flee the colder climates of northern states -- settle into the desert community.

Pastor Earl Pitman said the food and clothing pantry at his church has been an invaluable resource to people in his own community but especially for those living across the border.

Bernie and Gracie Segura especially act as a lifeline for the people of Lomas, a village of 12 families, Porvenir with 15 families and Pilares with 22 families just across the Rio Grande. The families live off subsistence farming. Some raise sheep. But none make enough money or grow enough food in the unforgiving land to adequately meet the needs of their families. So the Seguras make the 183-mile trip from their home in Van Horn, Texas, to Big Bend Baptist to deliver supplies, along with a word from God, to the villagers.

Gracie said she and her husband have been doing this since 1978. Once they arrive with the necessities, word is sent that Bernie will preach in services at a local church.

One trip last fall was particularly significant. Gracie said three babies were in need of formula, one critically perhaps because of an allergy to the mother's milk. Baby formula was the only answer and it was not usually something kept in stock at the Big Bend church.

"It was one of the neat things that happens here," volunteer Margie Ball said. A recent delivery of clothing had been dropped off at the church from Border Ministries, a nonprofit organization based in Midland, Texas. While sorting the clothes, Ball came across a box containing about 12 cans of formula.

Ball said a few days later a mother who had run out of formula came to the church seeking help. Going to the grocery store just to get more formula was not a simple undertaking because the nearest store is 80 miles in any direction. So Ball gave the women a couple of cans and thought no more of it.

Gracie called later that week. A mother in one of her villages was in urgent need of formula for her infant. The Seguras picked up the remaining cans and took them to the mother.

Ball said she called Border Ministries to thank them for their timely gift, but the person she spoke with did not recall sending any such package. "Milk? What milk?" was the response.

"Well," Ball said, "we know where that milk came from."

God supplies the needs of many through the work of Border Ministries and its generous donors. Bobbie Lookabaugh, who operates the 501C3 organization with her husband, Ed, is the first to say they are able to do what they do because of God working through caring people in their community. The ministry has become so well known that it is not uncommon for people to leave donations on the couple's doorstep for delivery to Big Bend Baptist Church and other points along the border.

For their 262-mile trips to Big Bend Baptist, Bobbie said their church donates the use of its van, a closed-in trailer and gas credit card. She said Ed parks the van in their driveway the night before a trip. Recently a neighbor from around the block saw the van and, knowing that a trip was impending, called Bobbie to give her more supplies to take to Terlingua.

It is generosity like that, Bobbie said, that keeps the ministry alive. All kinds of things are taken to the Terlingua church for redistribution. A supply trip in November consisted of televisions, linens, shovels, ironing boards, sports equipment and ball caps. The people need and use everything, she said; for homes with dirt floors, for example, a supply of carpeting was a welcome gift.

Bobbie and Margie Ball said getting resources to the other side of the border is not always easy. Limits on the amount of goods that can be taken into the country are set by the Mexican government. "They say it hurts the economy," Bobbie said. "But the people don't eat if [the volunteers] don't give it to them."

In addition to meeting the physical needs of the Mexican villagers, many have spent time making sure the children and their families know about the love of God.

Back in the late 1980s, on one of her first visits across the border, Joyce Morton of Pecos, Texas, said she was touched by the reception she and those traveling with her received.

"They didn't know we were coming ... [they] saw us on the other side of the border ... and came [by boat] and got us," Morton recalled. She said they immediately gathered their children and took them to the river to clean up and prepare themselves for their visitors from the United States.

Morton did "Clowning for Christ" as a ministry to the children. But this first trip was no laughing matter. In order save time and travel space, she usually wore her clown costume under her regular clothes. In addition to the costume, the clowning gear included a big wig and heavy facial makeup. She soon found out why the small metal boat needed some cooling off -- the place where they were going was La Caldera, "The Caldron." "I didn't know it was 120 degrees down there," she said. "One of the pastors saw I was sitting under the only tree in misery ... so we swam back [to the States that day]. I know he saved me."

The cool waters of the Rio Grande River probably thwarted a full-fledged heat stroke. Morton revised her costume to be more accommodating to the temperature extremes and continued to share the Gospel with children across the border.

Today she is director of the Pecos Valley Baptist Association Woman's Missionary Union. She said the women of the 26-church group wanted to do more than pray and send money to the people of Mexico and other places within the state. So once a month they coordinate a project designed to meet a specific need. Whether it's paper plates and utensils for a student ministry in Midland or collecting Christmas gifts for the families in Mexico, the Pecos WMU is busy.

One of their most recent projects, Morton said, was a particular joy: The association decided to have a baby shower for the mothers who recently had babies in the Mexican villages. Blankets, toys, diapers, all kinds of supplies were furnished.

"You should have seen ... [the] ladies having a baby shower and having a ball!"

The efforts to reach the people in Mexico for Christ crosses all denominational boundaries, Ball said. Nuns from an orphanage in Mexico came to Big Bend Baptist for assistance that was readily given, she said. Even the people who worship and volunteer at Big Bend Baptist during the winter months are members of different denominations back home, she said.

Much can be accomplished with divine coordination, Joyce Morton said, "[when] you love the people and you love the Lord and you bring the two together."


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