Byron traveled for 17 days from Guatemala, through Mexico, and into the United States. When he crossed the border from Mexico at the end of May, Byron was provided a ride to the home of Lorenzo and Aralia Ortiz. There, he received a warm meal, a shower, toiletries, assistance booking a bus ticket to get to his sister, and spiritual encouragement. Being welcomed at the Ortizes’ house felt like home.
Byron unfolded a small note card from his pocket and reflected on the scripture 2 Peter 1:2 and a short, but powerful message. “I was praying for you while I was preparing this hygiene kit. I prayed that you might know the true blessing of God’s peace, grace, and love in your life,” the card read. The card was prepared by junior high students at the recent Congreso youth rally. That small bag of toiletries and the prayer brought hope to Byron.
“God took care of us on the road. As immigrants, God has a purpose for us,” Byron said. That day, Byron was one of at least 70 people who came to the Ortizes’ home in a small sub-division less than a mile from the border of Texas and Mexico. One of 70 who received help, hope and a prayer for grace and peace.
Seeing the Gospel go forth through ministry
In 2017, more than 1,200 Cubans were stranded in Nuevo Laredo after the “wet foot/dry foot” policy which provided amnesty to Cubans was repealed. Suddenly, the Mexican community of Nuevo Laredo was faced with the task of caring for many people who were no longer able to enter into the United States. Lorenzo Ortiz, a pastor in Laredo, was moved with compassion for the stranded immigrants and decided to help mobilize Mexican churches to meet needs.
Two years later, the number of immigrants, deportees, and refugees in Nuevo Laredo and Laredo has only increased, as has the Ortiz family’s passion to care for those in need.
Lorenzo and Aralia’s daughter, Ruth, serves as a Texas Baptists River Ministry missionary in Laredo, working with church groups participating in mission opportunities in the area. She also encourages and trains local church leaders on how to minister in their communities. This summer, Ruth worked with several mission teams from churches including Lamar Street Baptist Church in Sweetwater and First Baptist Church of Elroy.
The Ortizes’ care for 80-100 immigrants a day at their home in Laredo. When immigrants are released by Border Patrol from the detention centers, they are dropped off at the Catholic Charities facility. They are registered and then volunteers from Catholic Charities drive immigrants to the Ortizes’ house.
Ruth, Lorenzo, and other volunteers help coordinate travel logistics for individuals in need of tickets to travel by bus or air to their family members somewhere in the U.S. Aralia prepares hot meals from their small kitchen and serves everyone who passes through. Several shower units, donated by Texas Baptist Men, are set-up in the backyard. The immigrants and refugees also receive a toiletry kit and a clean set of clothes, if they are available. Gifts through Texas Baptists Worldwide have been used to purchase food and the Ortizes rely on donations and support from local churches and volunteers.
“God continues to provide daily for our needs,” Ruth said. One day a neighbor brought over a bucket full of jalapeños. Another day, someone dropped off several dozen eggs. Aralia is not sure where the food will come from each day, but the Lord continues to provide. Most importantly, the Gospel is shared with each person who passes through their home.
“We pray with them, share the Gospel with them,” said Lorenzo. “We have had services here as a home church. It’s a special moment for people - when they get out of the detention centers and they have that connection again, that encounter with God, it’s just amazing.”
The Gospel is going forth into the United States as the immigrants connect with their families. Additionally, through the deportation centers, those who hear and respond to the Gospel take it back to their families in Mexico.
“We thank God that we are in this spot,” Lorenzo said. “We have shared the Gospel and more souls have come to Christ in this part of the border than in our entire city. There have been many salvations. We thank God that this is one of the crucial spots that we can share the Gospel with them and we thank God for the churches who do the follow-up with them later.”
Caring for deportees and refugees in Nuevo Laredo
In Nuevo Laredo, Mexican Baptist churches serve food weekly at a deportation center where Mexicans pass through on their way back to their homes in the country. Small churches in the city, with very few resources, also minister to refugees every day who have taken up temporary residence in the community. At a refugee center in the city, hundreds of people from Central and South American countries, as well as several African nations, huddle in tents and wait for their numbers to be called for entry into the U.S. With little access to water and food, families struggle to make ends meet as they wait.
Primera Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Laredo opens the church building for refugees to use three days a week. Access is given to their fellowship hall and kitchen so families can gather together, have a respite from the outdoor center and cook meals together. Pastor Jose Diego Robles said his church opened its doors to refugees back in November when he noticed many were outside the church in need of a refuge.
“I felt the need to open our doors to them,” he said. After seeking approval from his congregation, Pastor Robles began welcoming refugees inside the church walls each week. He was not sure where the money would come from to provide for food and needs, but he knew God would provide.
“God has provided for every need,” Robles said. “God has blessed us as we have served the refugees. If someone doesn’t have food, there will always be something for them to eat. They rest here. They shower here. We pray that God will continue to provide for them and that they would give their lives to Him.”
Pastor Robles has seen many refugees come to faith in Christ over the last few months. Individuals from Venezuela, El Salvador, Cuba, the Congo and many other nations have walked through the church’s doors to find love, compassion and renewed hope.
Support through Texas Baptists Worldwide provides funds for Mexican churches to purchase food and feed up to 300 deportees daily at the bus station in Nuevo Laredo.
Stories of ministry in both Mexico and Texas take place daily all along the border. Sixteen Texas Baptists River Ministry coordinators work tirelessly to coordinate food, medical and Gospel-centered ministry to thousands crossing the border. Texas Baptists churches are invited to join in the work by praying, sending teams for ministry and giving donations to provide supplies and resources to meet on going needs.
“The nations have come to us,” Ruth said. “Churches are invited to come to be a part of the work God has called us to, as we minister to people from around the world and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Visit txb.org/border to get involved today.