Along the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Baptists River Ministry missionaries work hard to share God’s love with the immigrants, refugees and locals who live on both sides of the border. To help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the US-Mexico border closed on March 20. This closure, along with other recent restrictions have changed what ministry looks like for these missionaries. Read below as four River Ministry missionaries share the changes COVID-19 has brought to their ministry and how your church can pray for them.
In El Paso, a “Stay Home, Work Safe” Order by the city has led to the temporary closure of schools and non-essential businesses and travel limitations. River Ministry missionary Jesus Galarza has seen a huge shift in his ministry operations. Normally, Galarza runs a feeding ministry out of a local school. With the schools closed, however, Galarza has been unable to continue this ministry. Furthermore, mission trips that Galarza had planned with churches have had to be canceled or postponed. As of now, he is unsure when these trips will be able to resume.
Galarza has asked churches to pray for him and his ministry during this difficult time. Spiritual help is the most important thing churches can give right now, he explained. Pray also for the mission trips that will take place later in the year, after the virus has passed, and that they will be fruitful.
Dr. Gloria de la Pena serves as a River missionary in Piedra Negras, Mexico. She works with women’s prisons, orphanages and migrant camps, coordinating mission trips with churches to serve these at-risk people. With mission trips no longer happening, de la Pena asked churches to pray for the people in these facilities. One of the orphanages, Casa Bethesda, houses 26 special needs children, some of which could be more susceptible to high-risk cases of COVID-19.
She hopes that this time of social distancing and working from home will be a time for people to turn to the Lord and safely minister to those in their immediate surroundings. De la Pena encouraged churches to ask God to turn these setbacks into blessings.
“Pray that everyone can use this quiet time working at home to look to the Lord, learn to have more gratitude and a happy heart, and love our families, friends and all the people who need to know about Jesus,” she said.
River missionary Cristina Lambarria serves in Matamoros, Mexico, where she works in immigrant camps, providing food, clothing and other resources, like English classes. However, she and her team have been unable to enter the camps because of the risk of infection. It is both unsafe for them because of the crowded living conditions and unsafe for the immigrants, who could be exposed to the virus by them.
“Nobody can go into the camps right because we want to protect them. If one gets sick, everyone will get it. They are in communication all the time. They cannot be like us in their homes. The restrooms are outside and they have to cook in a communal kitchen. So, we decided not to go in the camp right now,” Lambarria explained.
Lambarria asked that churches would lift up the immigrants and pray for their protection from the virus. She also asked for prayer as they look for ways to safely get resources to the immigrants in the camps, many of whom will starve or be in need without their help.
Shon Young is a River missionary in Del Rio, where he is the president of Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition. Val Verde was formed in April 2019 when Border Patrol agents approached local churches about ways to respond to the increased number of immigrants passing through Del Rio. The coalition provides supplies and helps immigrants reach their final destination in America. The Coalition has served thousands of immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, but with the border closure the needs have grown more complex.
“There are so many variables and we are really trying to keep our eyes and ears open to the chance to minister to those in crisis,” Young said. “Please pray for the border and the congregations on both sides of the river. It is already a vulnerable context with problems that vary from the rest of Texas and adding an extra layer on it will be difficult. Please pray for pastors of the churches that already run on a tight budget and that their churches will continue to support their work even in an atmosphere that people are not able to work or are working less.”
For more information about River Ministry, visit txb.org/riverministry.