“If your hand is closed, God can’t fill it. If your hand is open, God will fill it,” Texas Baptists River Ministry missionary George Solis said as he walked through the storerooms at Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville.
The rooms were overflowing with donations of clothing, hygiene kits and other basic necessities that would be handed out to immigrants crossing into Brownsville and sent out to other River Ministry missionaries along the Texas/Mexico border.
Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville has been a hub for immigrant relief work since they began working with migrants in April 2019. They first began when Pastor Carlos Navarro heard of a large caravan of immigrants and realized they would need assistance when they arrived.
“I thought, that’s going to be a great revival. We’re going to meet them with love and the gospel,” Navarro recalled.
Navarro was right. Since the church has begun their ministry, they have served over 22,000 migrants, giving out 9,500 Bibles and serving over 41,000 meals. They have seen 8,437 salvations.
Meeting physical and spiritual needs
The church is working in partnership with the Border Patrol, who alerts them whenever a new bus of immigrants arrives from processing at the border. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Border Patrol would bring the migrants to the church, where church members would give them hot meals and help them prepare for the next leg of their journey. Now, however, each Saturday, church members go to the bus station, where they set up tables of hot meals and chairs for people to relax in while they wait for their next bus, train or plane to take them to their final destination in the United States. Border Patrol lets them know how many people are coming and their estimated time of arrival so that they can come prepared with enough items to serve everyone.
At the bus station, the church creates a long line of tables with Bibles, clothing, non-perishable snacks and hot meals. The clothes that are distributed are weather dependent, with sweatshirts given out in the winter and t-shirts in the summer. Solis also explained that they ask the migrants where their final destination is before they pass out the clothing. People traveling to Michigan, for example, would need heavier clothing items than people going to Florida, he said.
As the migrants rest, church members share the gospel with them and messages of hope. Pastor Navarro sits with them, telling them his own testimony. He migrated to the United States from El Salvador, so he has empathy and understanding for the hardships that many of them have been through.
In addition to their migrant ministry, Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville also serves the homeless population in their city twice a week.
The church named the ministry Golan Ministries, after the city of Golan, which was named as a place of rest in Deuteronomy.
In the church building, there are storerooms full of donations from all around the world. Solis explained that they have never done any fundraising, but their active social media pages have drawn the attention of many organizations looking to help along the border. For example, in 2020, a major airline saw a drastic reduction in flights due to COVID-19. They found out about Golan Ministries and donated all of their unused first-class hygiene kits for the ministry to distribute.
Solis first became involved with the ministry when River Ministry Director Mario Gonzalez saw how busy the church was running the ministry. Gonzalez saw that Navarro needed a coordinator for the ministry, and Solis stepped in to fill the role.
Serving beyond Brownsville
In addition to coordinating the day-to-day operations of the ministry, which include sorting donations and organizing the weekly homeless and migrant ministry, Solis also acts as a connection point for distributing donations to River Ministry missionaries in surrounding areas.
“Whenever I get things that I think anyone could use, I send them off to whoever it can help,” Solis explained.
Most recently, Solis has sent first aid kits to Gloria de la Peña, who works as a healthcare missionary in Acuña, Mexico. He has sent additional supplies, including hygiene kits, medical supplies and other donated items up and down the border.
As restrictions ease up, Solis and Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville are excited to welcome immigrants back into their church. They have built a housing facility on their property that can house families who have to wait overnight until their next bus or plane arrives. There are also laundry facilities for those who need them.
As the ministry continues to grow, Solis said that above all, the church needs prayer, Bibles to distribute and volunteers to continue connecting on a personal level with the migrants who come through Brownsville.
“They’re already here; somebody has to help them,” Solis said. “We hope that by sharing the gospel, we can make an impact that follows them for the rest of their lives.”
To learn more about ministry at Brownsville and the work of River Ministry, visit txb.org/riverministry.