Texas Church Takes on Migrant Ministry

Pastors and planters from nearby churches planted by West Brownsville Baptist Church gather around a map of Cameron County and surrounding areas which the church hopes to fill with new churches. Texanonline.net photo

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (BP) — For Carlos Navarro, pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church, the human need seen in migrant caravans moving from Central and South America toward U.S. borders is nothing new. Navarro, once an illegal immigrant himself, has been ministering to migrants in the Texas Rio Grande Valley for a quarter century.

The Southern Baptist TEXAN interviewed Navarro and Diana, his wife of 36 years, in Brownsville this past fall as the couple celebrated 25 years at their church while preparing for what was anticipated as the latest migrant emergency.

Navarro said his biggest needs are not monetary but practical: clothing, toothbrushes, sanitary supplies and Spanish-language Bibles — preferably 1960 King James versions with black covers.

“In summer, any kind of t-shirts will do,” Navarro said, holding up shirts from a 2014 political campaign as a reminder that people who have nothing are grateful for anything. Hoodies are needed in winter, he added.

Navarro distributes such goods at a local immigration center and sends volunteers with West Brownsville Baptist Church’s own Golan Ministries across the border to offer humanitarian assistance in Matamoros. Golan teams carry backpacks of supplies and clothing into Mexico, careful not to take too much, lest the material be confiscated.

West Brownsville also gives monthly financial assistance to its church plant in Chiapas, Mexico, on the Guatemalan border where migrants have been flocking to the church for help.

Golan Ministries — its name a reminder of the pastor’s support of Israel — “where my Lord and Savior will one day return,” he emphasized — was formed last April after the Mexican Consulate in Brownsville contacted Navarro for assistance with the summer 2018 border crisis.

The consulate’s request for Navarro’s involvement was not surprising.

Certificates of appreciation and photos with dignitaries — including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and President George W. Bush — adorn the walls of his church office, recognition of his years of service among the region’s under-served. Cameron County recently acknowledged the silver anniversary of his ministry in an official ceremony.

When Navarro moved to Brownsville in 1993, a retiring pastor who had taught detainees at a local immigration center asked him to take over the volunteer ministry. Navarro did so until that facility closed, then moved in 2006 to the new Southwest Key Casa Padre Center where he still preaches most Saturday mornings. Although Navarro is not the only faith representative, some 1,500 of the approximately 2,000 young men and boys at Southwest Key choose to attend his weekly Bible study, and he estimates 150-200 people trust Christ each Saturday.

His messages resonate with those from Central America, where evangelicalism is much more widespread than in Mexico, Navarro said.

“The boys know me. The guards know me. I am from Guatemala. I came to the states illegally. I speak their language,” Navarro said of the background he shares with the young detainees.

Necessity brought him to the U.S., he said.

Following a military coup led by General Efrain Rios Montt in 1982, Navarro, a reservist, fled his country to save his life.

“I was 18, with no chance to stay in Guatemala,” he recalled. While friends opted for Australia, Navarro headed for the closer sanctuary city of San Francisco.

He accepted Christ as Savior the day he left Guatemala City, carrying a Bible from his mother, a believer who sent him to evangelical school as a youth for a Christian education, which became real as he left home forever.

“I understood the plan of salvation, the Roman Road, all that,” said Navarro, admitting that he had “hated chapel time” and Bible class at school.

Believing “every single door was shut” and that God had plans for him, Navarro told the Lord, “I am leaving my country. I am leaving my family. I don’t want an easy life. Just give me a chance.”

In San Francisco, he started reading through Scripture, finding this note from his mom: “Read the Bible. You will be amazed what God can do for you.”

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Source: Baptist Press