“No Choice” Echoes Asylum Seekers’ Desperation, Pastors’ Compulsion

 In Telling a Better Story

July 6, 2021

By Marv Knox

A paradox of the refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border sat smiling on the floor of a Chihuahuan desert shelter. She cooed and waved and charmed three visitors.

Joined by my colleagues Stephen Reeves and Elket Rodríguez, I recently completed a tour of various immigrant ministries supported by Fellowship Southwest, the ministry I helped to found. We traveled 1,563 miles—from Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, to Tijuana, just south of San Diego. We spent nine days visiting eight ministries. And we met hundreds of refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

They included this little girl, conceived in violence and born into trauma. A Central American gang member raped her mother. Then he demanded an abortion. Then her mama ran. She ran north, toward a border she hoped would offer safety. She never dreamed of leaving her homeland until she had no choice.

“No choice” echoes up and down the border. Over and over, refugees told Stephen, Elket and me they only want to come to America because they have no other choice. Over and over again, pastors who serve and protect them said they sacrifice for this ministry because they have no choice.

We met refugees who fled after gang members murdered their family. We talked to immigrants who left home because they couldn’t pay the gangs’ extortion fees and ran for their lives. We heard how climate change has delivered horrific hurricanes and devastating drought, forcing farm families off land that supported generations of their ancestors.

And as if the trauma that prompted their flight weren’t bad enough, they reported unfathomable challenges along the way: “Coyotes”—human smugglers—who extracted thousands of dollars in fees and then dumped them in the desert. Mexican drug cartels, which kidnap as a business practice and rape for pleasure. Police who look the other way. Blisters from excruciatingly long walks; thorns from desert flora. And despair. Because despair is only natural amidst so much unfairness of things.

But our tour revealed beauty and hope and joy. Because those are the natural responses to the love of Christ flowing through the border pastors in our network and the ministries they offer those seeking refuge.

Those ministries are as varied as the terrain and weather and cuisine and culture that encompass a border wider than half the North American continent. They’re also as varied as the personalities and perspectives and passions of the pastors who propel them. They include…

  1. Eddie and Elizabeth Bernal, who started a ministry to immigrants in the Harlingen, Texas, airport.
  2. Carlos Navarro, whose church, Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville, provides respite care for asylum seekers admitted into the United States.
  3. Eleuterio González, who journeys to colonias spread across the edges of Matamoros to feed and to ferry migrants who depend upon him and his congregation, Iglesia Valle de Beraca.
  4. Lorenzo Ortiz, who maintains relationships with the cartels and the police in Nuevo Laredo, all in order to keep refugees safe and secure.
  5. Israel Rodríguez, who has led his church, Primera Iglesia Bautista in Piedras Negras, to shelter refugees from many lands—and to lead many of them to faith in Jesus.
  6. Rosalío Sosa, who directs Red de Albergues para Migrante, which operates 21 shelters in the state of Chihuahua, across from El Paso and the eastern half of New Mexico.
  7. Juvenal González, who daily feeds 3,000 refugees in el Chapparal, the massive tent camp in downtown Tijuana, and who also makes sure local pastors and their families have enough to eat.

So many of the people whom we met across the border region felt they had no choice but to flee their homelands. But we were continually inspired by these pastors and ministries, each serving selflessly to provide the only response they believe the church can offer as we seek to follow Jesus. Because, as the Apostle Paul said, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14).

My prayer is that the church throughout this country will be compelled by Christ’s love to respond with compassion and kindness to these vulnerable neighbors forced from their homes, and to advocate for more just policies.

Marv Knox became the founding leader of Fellowship Southwest in 2017 after a four-decade career in Baptist journalism, including almost 20 years as editor of the Baptist Standard in Texas. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has worked at the Baptist Home Mission Board in Georgia, Southern Seminary in Kentucky, the Baptist Message in Louisiana, Baptist Press in Tennessee and the Western Recorder in Kentucky. He has been involved with CBF since before its founding and served on its BWA Task Force.

Marv and Joanna live  in Coppell, Texas, and they are the parents of two daughters who have two children each. They are  active members of Valley Ranch Baptist Church. Marv likes to read and enjoys running—after he is finished.

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