Presbyterian Borderlands Ministries welcomes people of all faiths to join its ministry

 

There are many ways to partner with groups serving across the border

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Border Region Outreach has changed its name to Presbyterian Borderlands Ministries.

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian Border Region Outreach has changed its name to Presbyterian Borderlands Ministries to better represent its ministry on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The binational organization has four ministry sites from Arizona to Texas and Sonora to Tamaulipas. On its website, the organization describes itself as engaging with “a wide variety of people in our community on both sides of the border — young and old, ‘properly’ documented and ‘differently’ documented, rich and poor, conservative, progressive and in-between — and we welcome people from all faiths to join us in ministry.”

Ministry partners include the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian congregations in México, with a focus on “establishing and cultivating relationships between people and participating in God’s mission in the world … as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”

The organization’s president, Caly Fernández, said the need is great and growing. In order to focus their efforts, they are spearheading five projects, with more in the incubation stage.

During a phone interview, Fernández said the first project is a collaboration with the University of Texas at San Antonio called “Building a Healthy Temple,” which offers health education to different denominational churches throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

Another effort is the Colonias Project, working and serving in collaboration with Texas A&M University in unincorporated communities in South Texas.  Every Thursday a group visits a different colonia, an economically distressed area  that’s has been identified by A&M’s community health workers. Fresh produce and health education are provided along with health care services for pregnant women and nutrition classes.  The Rev. Ezequiel Herrera of New Life Faith Community Church in Mission Presbytery provides pastoral care.

“Rev. Ezequiel and I have traveled to colonias in Hidalgo County since last year,” Fernández said. “We first started visiting the colonias during the pandemic, taking food and essential items because many of the families in the colonias are undocumented. They are not receiving stimulus checks, so we take diapers and whatever was needed, and continue to do that.”

The third project is a healthy lifestyle program featuring health education on diabetes prevention and diabetes management. This year they have added a gardening component through another partnership with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Gardening classes were offered virtually during the pandemic and have only recently returned to in-person classes. They plan to set up 10 more community gardens at churches that are participating in the “Building a Healthy Temple” program.

A typical migrant camp. (Photo by Caly Fernández)

“And then we have, of course, our border ministries, collaborations with different groups and different [non-governmental organizations],” Fernández said. “We are assisting with the infrastructure for the migrant camp in Matamoros. All of us are working together because there’s so much work across their border, there’s really no way that one group could handle all of the work. The work that we’re doing in Reynosa is really just helping other NGOs with supplies, financial support and resources. We are partnering with a Presbyterian pastor in Mexico to develop a new project in Huixtla, Chiapas, which is located near Tapachula, where most of the migrants journey through to get to the border.”

Fernandez said the program in Chiapas will include a shelter, a migrant resource center and a children’s ministry, all under the leadership of the Rev. Edmund López Pérez. The land has been purchased and the shelter and migrant resource center are under construction.

They have also been working with Hispanic pastors and Hispanic ministries, helping them to apply for grants and resources to continue to serve and grow their local ministries. They assist with filling out the grant applications in English for pastors who aren’t dominant English speakers, and they walk alongside them through the process by extending compañerismo, or fellowship.

Other partnerships with the Mennonite Church and Methodist Healthcare Ministries have provided financial support to provide health education at the migrant camps. As soon as July, they will offer natural family planning classes to the women at the camps.

Another image of a migrant camp. (Photo by Caly Fernández)

“I’m really excited about that program in particular,” said Fernández. “My background is in public health. I am also a community health worker and instructor. I’m retired from the Department of State Health Services here in Texas. I worked there for 20 years, and I’m super passionate about serving and building capacity in my community.”

Another idea taking shape, but not yet developed, is to identify youth leaders and provide them with the skills needed to create and run their own businesses.

“I love, love, love this community,” Fernández said. “We moved here from New York in 1974. My father was a physician, and we were always doing things in the community and serving our community. And then I moved away, and I lived in Austin for 21 years, and returned to South Texas to serve. I came back because I love it down here. I love the people, the community,  the culture.”

Fernández’s ministry and Herrera’s efforts have combined to sponsor an asylum seeker from Cuba who is a musician and now contributes to the weekly worship service. Fernández helped with travel arrangements, finding him a place to live and providing ongoing support.

“I’ve learned so much about our immigration system and how broken it is —  how much work it is to become a citizen and how much time it takes. It is no easy process,” she said. “He has been a blessing for us. We love him. He’s just like family. He’s learning a lot from us, and we’re learning from him too.”

The situation at the border is always changing, and new groups arrive daily. There are many ways to help and partner with the groups serving across the border.

“Right now, the U.S. is expelling Cubans and Central Americans. Instead of sending the Cubans back to Cuba, they’re sending them to Mexico. They’re just dropping them off in Mexico,” Fernández said. “They’re out in the streets and we’re scrambling to find placements for them. And so one of the things we’ve been advocating for is more shelters both here and in Mexico.”

Just over a week ago, she said Reynosa received 2,500 Haitian refugees all at once. They were living in the plaza in tents. One night recently the plaza was raided with no warning. The migrants lost what few possessions they had.

“They started tearing down all the tents and confiscating all their personal belongings and throwing them in the trash. And everybody was running around frantic, trying to figure out what to do. Pastor Hector Silva, who runs one of the largest shelters in Reynosa, Senda de Vida, went immediately to the plaza and started gathering families just to get them out of the street,” she said.

Within hours, all of the shelters took in hundreds of people at once, causing shortages of food, water and other essentials. There is still a desperate and immediate need of resources.

A group photo of Presbyterian Borderland Ministries including mission co-workers the Rev. Mark Adams (back row far left) and Miriam Maldonado Escobar (front row far right). (Contributed photo)

Fernández said because there is so much need and so much work to be done, some have become exhausted. Still, she sees hope. Groups like Senda de Vida, Catholic Charities, Angry Tias and Abuelas, The Sidewalk School, Asylum Seekers Network of Support, Team Brownsville, Dulce Refugio, Border Missions and the Kaleo Institute are all working together and responding to the ever-changing needs at the border, she said.

“We have hard times, and we have a lot of poverty. But the way that communities, especially in the colonias, help each other out and fill in the gaps for each other is inspiring,” she said. “I love that sense of community and I was really hoping for an immigrant community to develop here instead of going all over the United States.”

To learn more about the border ministries at Puentes de Cristo or to look for ways to get involved, contact Caly Fernández at puentesdecristo@gmail.com.


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