Caring for child refugees, church is 'stretched' at Texas border 'to be more like Christ'

McALLEN, Texas (BP) -- While most of America sees the border crisis on the nightly news, leaders at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, recognize it as a mission field in their own backyard.

Chad Mason, pastor for mobilization and global impact, recounted a meeting where Calvary Baptist leaders agreed that "We have to do something. We have to be involved in this. These people are here, and it's incumbent on us to be the hands and feet of Christ with our actions."

"I just love this church's heart," Mason said of Calvary Baptist's response to the crisis. "Even the people who had practical concerns, their heart was totally right. There was not one time that someone said we shouldn't do it based on political agenda. I was very proud to be a part of this church where their faith is influencing their stance. Their faith is the leading part of who they are."

In facing what he described as a "massive humanitarian need right here in our community," Mason said church leaders have had conversations with White House staff members and Border Patrol at many levels trying to get access to unaccompanied minors. "As of the moment, we have no access to them," he said. "That's probably the biggest piece of information that is misunderstood nationwide. We keep being told that any day that might change, and we have hope that we will have access to the minors."

Thus Calvary Baptist is focusing on other aspects of relief work and ministry amid the chaos at the border, despite limited access to the unaccompanied refugees.

The church has discussed responding to the needs of Border Patrol personnel, Mason noted.

"That is one of the things that we really would love to be doing. We are trying to start an intentional effort to thank and care for the Border Patrol agents [in a larger way]." In August, the church hopes to host between 200 and 300 Border Patrol agents in an event partnering several organizations to say "thank you" and to show the church's concern for how the agents' work can be overwhelming.

Through cooperation with various organizations, Calvary leaders have had opportunities to communicate to government officials what the workers and refugees are experiencing at the border.

"This last weekend we had three senators and seven congressmen who were in town, and they wanted to hear from the volunteer faith community. I was blessed to go and sit in this meeting and speak and share as an equal voice.... We got to tell them what we were doing; we got to ask for their help.... We got to push them on issues that we would never [have been] asked to have any influence [over]."

With the influx of refugees, the need for showers, laundry services and other basic needs was so high that Catholic Charities was asked by the government to open a relief center. Days later, Calvary began assisting, along with the Salvation Army and other humanitarian organizations. Calvary's volunteers focus on laundry service by using mobile laundry units provided by the Texas Baptist Men missions organization.

Calvary also has launched a website, southtexasrefugees.org, to facilitate communication among those interested in helping.

"We feel that we are being stretched, to become more like Christ," Mason said. "God is using this opportunity tremendously."

The greatest need

"All of the facilities that are hosting these unaccompanied minors nationwide are looking for foster homes to place children whose families aren't in the United States," Mason noted.

If not put in a foster home, the refugee children face being housed in a government facility for years, in many cases, while awaiting their hearings.

Although the agencies are not allowed to advertise the need for foster care for the children due to security concerns, Mason urged -- as a third party -- interested individuals to contact southtexasrefugees.org. The requirements are quite extensive and speaking fluent Spanish is a must.

"As soon as the border closes, these opportunities for relief are going to stop. When that happens our relief-based ministries will cease to exist, but foster care is going to go on for years. I would just stress to churches and Christians nationwide to consider opening your home. Let your home become a mission field."

He continued, "[H]ere's the thing: You talk about access to unaccompanied minors, that's the limited access.... The most influential and life-changing opportunity to show the love of Christ is to open your home to one of these kids ... to share the Gospel and demonstrate the Gospel all at the same time."

Families are needed for every age child, Mason said, while also pointing to the needs of the many 13-to-17-year-old mothers who crossed the border while either pregnant or with young babies.

Foster care, Mason said, is "where transformation can happen.... I think that's a massive opportunity that needs to be embraced nationwide."


Myriah Snyder, who will be a senior at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., is a summer intern with Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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