Mexican and U.S. Presbyterians look to ‘bridge the past and the future’ of border outreach

Bi-national ministries reflect on shared needs, restoring relationships

by Catherine L. May | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Mission co-worker Mark Adams walks away from the migrant cross on the Mexico side of the U.S. border fence/wall. (Photo by Dan Abbott)

AGUA PRIETA, Mexico — In November, 18 Presbyterians met in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico to consider the future of the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO). The relationship between the Mexico and PC(USA) denominations ended, major financial support had been dwindling for years, and communications between the six border ministry sites had become slack. On the surface, it was remarkable that so many still active in the border ministry were determined to travel as much as a thousand miles to meet on behalf of an organization that appeared to be in its final days.

What happens in the border region affects millions of lives every day. For more than three decades, Mexican and North American Presbyterians have confronted the challenges of bi-national ministry, sharing love, demonstrating compassion, working for justice and giving hope. The PBRO has been a relevant presence faithfully living the Gospel while striving to reduce poverty and violence and building community in the border region.

The 18 participants represented border ministry sites and regional presbyteries from Mexico and the USA. Some arrived with the benefit of many years’ experience, while others, new to border region work, brought fresh ideas and new energy. Whether working in small groups or plenary sessions, the challenges of language and cultural differences melted away in the environment of mutuality.

Since 1984, the direct result of the work is reflected in the 40 new churches planted across northern Mexico and the countless connections facilitated between peoples of both countries to walk together in the face of the often-horrific challenges of migration, poverty, violence and substance abuse.

Looking ahead, the group set a simple course designed to bridge the past and the future. Recognizing the importance of working together, the participants committed to maintaining unity, building strong channels of communication, active listening and, to meeting regularly; to share worries, successes and hopes. A new board was elected to manage the necessary business of the organization. Despite the current state of relations between the two denominations, despite the administrative challenges and the loss of funding, faith in the importance and the wonder of the work on the border is alive and well.

When business was completed, the group met one final time under the Migrant Cross that hangs on the Mexico side of the USA’s border wall, joined hands and shared concluding thoughts of unity, commitment, compassion, trepidation and faith.


Note: In 1980, following eight years of suspended relations, the Presbyterian leadership of Mexico and the PC(USA) affirmed a bi-national covenant for a new mission relationship between the denominations. An early focus on the expanding needs along the shared border quickly grew into the Presbyterian Border Ministry (PBM) which included six bi-national ministry sites along the 2,000-mile border. In 2011, a new schism between the Mexico and PC(USA) denominations forced the PBM into uncertainty. By 2014, the leadership and the ministry-site workers felt the organization was floundering. Still many remained faithful to the vision and to continuing the work. With the support of the PC(USA) World Mission, and with a new name, Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO), the group spent the next three years discerning a new direction for mission implementation.

Catherine L. May is president of Presbyterian Border Region Outreach.

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