Migrant ministry in El Paso sees salvations, provides physical necessities

by George Schroeder on January 17, 2023 in Stories of Impact

Kelly Knott did a doubletake. He’d just presented the gospel to a group of immigrants at the El Paso Migrant Center and invited the group to respond, raising their hands if they wanted to place their trust in Christ – and almost everyone had.

“I was in shock,” Knott, a River Ministry missionary, said. “I was thinking maybe they didn’t understand me.”

But Knott, who speaks fluent Spanish, knew this group of around 60 recently arrived immigrants were from Spanish-speaking countries, so language wasn’t a barrier. To be sure, he presented the gospel again and gave another invitation. Once again, almost everyone raised a hand.

“I was just kind of in awe,” he said. “They were hungry to receive the Lord.”

Although Knott’s gospel presentation doesn’t always draw such an overwhelming response, he is committed to providing the migrants that pass through the El Paso Migrant Center with the Good News. It’s one way the center, a ministry of the El Paso Baptist Association staffed by volunteers from local Baptist churches, is working to care for the sojourners who continue to arrive on Texas’ international border, meeting their physical and spiritual needs.

Larry Floyd, executive director of the El Paso Baptist Association, said the goal of the ministry is simple.

“We look at it as we’re being Christ to our community,” Floyd said. “We have a wonderful relationship with our outside partners in our city because of it.”

The El Paso Migrant Center works in conjunction with the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and El Paso city officials. Although the number of migrants ebbs and flows – December saw a large influx – the migrants who pass through the El Paso Migrant Center are typically weary and often wary, even after they have crossed the border from Mexico and assigned temporary legal status by government officials.

“You can see the confusion and the despair,” said Knott of the arrivals. “You see the worry, the anxiety. Some are embarrassed because they haven’t taken a shower in days, or maybe weeks or months. They’re dirty, and they’re hungry as well. It’s great to see that when they hear we have clothes for them and a shower, they start to rejoice.”

Funded in part by gifts to the WMU of Texas’ Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions, the El Paso Migrant Center was started in July 2021, in partnership with Scotsdale Baptist Church, which hosts the Migrant Center. The Mary Hill Davis Offering was set up to advance Texas Baptists missionary efforts to help people come to know Christ. In 2022 alone the the offering supported over 80 missions efforts across Texas.

Floyd saw the influx of immigrants at the border and understood the immense need.

Working with government officials, volunteers from local Baptist churches serve 60-80 migrants per week at the center, providing them with a backpack filled with a hygiene kit and a set of new clothing, and the opportunity, often for the first time in days or even weeks, to shower. The shower trailer was donated by Texas Baptist Men and renovated by volunteers from the El Paso Baptist Association. The hygiene kits and other supplies, including shoes and clothing, are typically provided by churches. Each immigrant is also offered a Bible.

The center, which is among several serving immigrants in the area, is not a shelter so much as a waystation. The migrants received by the El Paso Migrant Center are claiming asylum. They have sponsors, typically in other parts of the United States. Their stay at the Migrant Center lasts between 24 and 36 hours. Along with having their basic needs met, volunteers help them connect with their sponsors and explain how to purchase airfare or bus tickets. The migrants are provided transportation to the bus station or airport.

Every Monday the migrants from various countries. Although many have come from Central America, the El Paso Migrant Center has hosted arrivals from Cuba and Haiti, as well as from far-flung places across the globe like Ukraine, Turkey and Georgia.

Knott said the center’s purpose is clear.

”It’s our job to love them as well as we can,” Knott said.

“Whatever their background or their ethnicity or their language, I know it’s God leading them here to hear the gospel,” he continued. “That’s what hits me, God opening doors to hear the gospel. I know that Jesus died for them. That’s why I do it, no matter the price.”

Knott, who is also pastoring a church plant, Iglesia Corona de Vida, said he is grateful to Texas Baptists for their support for his ministry.

“Thank you,” he said, “for believing in me and supporting me in prayer and financially, so we can work together to continue to enlarge the kingdom of God one soul at a time, from different backgrounds, ethnicities and countries. Together we are stronger to fulfill the Great Commission.”

The Mary Hill Davis Offering supports missions and ministries across Texas. For more information, go to iamtexasmissions.org.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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