Texas Baptists celebrate 55 years of River Ministry

by Teresa Young on July 18, 2023 in Annual Meeting

Just miles from the border between Texas and Mexico, Texas Baptists gathered during the 2023 Texas Baptists Family Gathering to celebrate 55 years of River Ministry at the Missions Banquet.

Before opening in a word of prayer, Dr. Craig Christina, associate executive director for Texas Baptists, said it was fitting that the emphasis take place as the meeting is held in the Rio Grande Valley.

“This is where it all began 55 years ago after a hurricane. Our goal is to meet needs in the name of Christ to share Christ,” he said. “Our River Ministry missionaries are heroes in my book. Many of them are bivocational, and thousands of people have come to faith in Christ due to their work.”

Dr. Julio Guarneri, president of Texas Baptists and lead pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, shared a message about the shift in missions due to Pentecost. A native of Mexico City, Guarneri and his family came to the United States as missionaries after attending a missions conference and feeling God’s call to leave their home country and work with Spanish-speaking people in Texas.

“We read in Acts about this shift of missions. Every disciple is given the Holy Spirit; every disciple is a witness; every disciple is a missionary,” he said. “Texas Baptists are a diverse family, and we’re striving to be a movement. Just as this passage shows us, the spirit empowered them. The miracle of Pentecost was God empowering his church for mission. The miracle is that they were speaking languages they had never studied. I rejoice that we have gathered, and as we’ve walked the halls and attend the meetings, there is more than one language we hear.”

However, Guarneri noted, the miracle had a deeper purpose than just breaking a language barrier, which likely could have been accomplished by everyone speaking Aramaic.

“The barrier that was broken was one of culture and geography. This accomplished the sense of inclusion,” he noted. “Pentecost told people that God sees you and invites you to His table. It’s a new humanity. But there is more than being included in the family; we are to be included in the mission of God.”

Guarneri encouraged the full banquet hall to experience that same empowerment and make an impact.

“The nations have come to us, here at the border and all over Texas. And we are still called to go to them. Wherever we are, we are missions. I encourage you to be the family of God, a family on mission and figure out what it means to do that,” he said.

Mario Gonzalez, director of the River Ministry and Mexico Missions, then recognized the River Ministry missionaries for their service as part of the emphasis. He also thanked Texas Baptists for their support through the Mary Hill Davis state offering and other gifts that make the missions possible.

The missionaries honored, many of whom were present at the dinner, include the following: Mario Alberto Carranco, Victor Hugo Castillo, Abraham Cervantes, Dr. Luis Arturo Davila, Jonatan Guerrero, Yamileth Guzman, Dr. Susana Hernandez, Kelly Knott, Ernesto Luevano, Damaris Martinez, Dr. Hugo Mendez, Pedro Baltazar Munoz, Vanessa Quintanilla-Lerma, Cutberto Ramirez, George Solis, Shon Young, Angel Daniel Zorazua and Angel Gamez Zorazua.

In closing, Josue Valerio, director of the Center for Missional Engagement, shared ways to support the mission efforts both in the Valley and beyond, with the offering for the evening specifically earmarked for River Ministry efforts.

“How can we fulfill the Great Commission if we are not sharing the gospel? God is a sending God, and He sends us to share the good news to others,” Valerio said. “We want to ask you to respond with a ‘Yes, Lord, I will pray for missionaries’ and ‘Yes, Lord, I will give to missions.’”

To learn more about the Center for Missional Engagement, visit https://www.texasbaptists.org/ministries/center-for-missional-engagement.

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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Read more articles in: Annual Meeting, News, Missional Engagement, River Ministry