The U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas, is on the front line of a humanitarian crisis that continues to drag on while legislators in Washington, D.C., figure out how to address it. Abilene Christian University trustee Abel Alvarez (’82) and others from his 100-member local congregation – Harvey Drive Church of Christ – are assisting by helping up to 1,000 people a week through one of several shelters in their city.
Abilene-based Global Samaritan Resources, where Danny Sims (’85) is executive director, is pitching in as well.
Alvarez said most of the Spanish-speaking refugees immigrating across the border are fleeing Honduras. Many of the volunteers are not bilingual, so Alvarez and others help interpret.
“The refugees either turn themselves in to the Border Patrol or they are caught,” Alvarez said. They are, in turn, delivered by immigration officials to bus stations in border towns and cities such as McAllen and El Paso. People wait there for hours at a time for a family member in the States to buy them a ticket. When concerned local families began to invite the refugees into their homes several months ago, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley stepped in to help. A local group, Faith Communities for Disaster Recovery, called a meeting to discuss the roles local churches could have in a humanitarian effort beyond any one congregation’s ability to staff.
“There are not a lot of things Catholics and Protestants cooperate on with each other,” Alvarez said. “So it was interesting to be in an initial meeting where leaders of kinds of churches – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, the Salvation Army – were present to discuss what they could do to assist. It was good to be in a room where no one was arguing about the situation. We were just trying to figure out the logistics of helping people.”
The Sacred Heart Catholic Church shelter where Alvarez volunteers is on 15th Street, two blocks from the bus station, and one of several overseen by Catholic Charities. It needs 190 volunteers a day to provide each refugee with a hot meal, clean clothes (shoes, socks, underwear, jeans), access to a hot shower, a place to rest, medical attention (including Pedialyte to treat dehydration in infants and children), and a backpack with supplies for the rest of their journey. Alvarez said a Baptist church provides laundry service and the Salvation Army operates a kitchen in the shelter.
The refugees are largely women and children; two women gave birth in recent weeks at the shelter, which houses 90 people each night. McAllen sees a need for two more shelters; last week Catholic Charities began asking other churches in town if they would agree to be an overflow site.
Alvarez said it feels most days like the need will be “never ending,” which creates a lot of uncertainty among the volunteers.
“Politically, I’m not a fan of the current administration and the way it’s handling this situation, but I’m pretty clear on what the Bible says Christians should do to care for aliens among us,” said Alvarez, who grew up in poverty in Mexico before his family immigrated to South Texas when he was a young boy.
Sims was part of a team from Global Samaritan that delivered 230 cots and blankets to the shelter in mid-July. GSR will make another trip to the South Texas city after a current drive in Abilene ends this month to collect clothes for women and children at the border. Online donations for the effort can be made on the GSR website or the website for Catholic Charities.