Rio Grande Valley coalition organizes to show hospitality to “angels”

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An ecumenical Protestant/evangelical coalition has organized to “feed the hungry and welcome the stranger” along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley on the southern tip of Texas.

The Hebrews 13:2 Coalition of the RGV held two organizing meetings—one primarily involving Baptists and the other more broadly ecumenical—in McAllen, Texas, Aug. 5. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

“The Hebrews 13:2 Coalition of the RGV exists to coordinate the efforts and (financial, physical and human) resources of both local and outside churches and agencies in ministering to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of vulnerable immigrants along the border of the Rio Grande Valley for greater effectiveness and efficiency,” explained a statement distributed by Julio Guarneri, lead pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen and a key organizer of the coalition.

“This interdenominational coalition … will seek to minister to vulnerable immigrants in the RGV as well as to Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officers,” Guarneri said. “We are thankful for all the ministry the Catholic Church has done here in the Valley, but a coordinated effort of Protestant/evangelical churches and organizations is overdue.”

The coalition’s primary strategies will include:

  • Immigrant hospitality center(s).Existing humanitarian aid shelters in the Valley often are overwhelmed with the flow of immigrants, Guarneri said. The new coalition intends “to either (1) establish a new hospitality center, or (2) find churches/entities who are doing it and support/enhance their capacity or (3) find churches/entities who would like to establish one and support them.”

  • Distribution centers.Ministries that serve immigrants constantly need supplies—from clothing, to hygiene kits, to snacks, shoelaces and disposable diapers, he added. The coalition plans to launch a center or centers to receive and distribute humanitarian aid items.

  • Pastoral carefor hospitalized immigrants. The coalition will cooperate with government officials to determine how to provide this service, he said.

  • Ministry to Customs and Border Protectionemployees and other law-enforcement personnel in the Valley. The coalition will develop this project after the hospitality and distribution centers have been started, he noted.

Jorge Zapata, associate coordinator of CBF Texas and director of Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry, will be the point person for the coalition until a director can be hired, Guarneri said. In addition to his CBF assignments, Zapata is executive director of Hearts4Kids, a ministry he established to serve children and their families on the border. It functions seamlessly with CBF Texas and Fellowship Southwest. 

Initially, Hearts4Kids will serve as the “umbrella” organization for the new coalition, Guarneri said. Once it is organized, the Hebrews 13:2 Coalition will seek to form its own 501(c)(3).

In addition to Hearts4Kids and Fellowship Southwest, coalition partners include Assemblies of God, Baptist General Convention of Texas, non-denominational, United Methodist and other denominational and faith-based groups, as well as congregations in the Valley and beyond. 

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Texas Baptist groups involved in the coalition include Buckner International, Christian Life Commission, Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association, River Ministry, Texas Baptist Men, Valley Baptist Medical Center’s Center for Pastoral Care, Valley Baptist Missions Education Center and Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas.

“Fellowship Southwest is delighted to partner with the Hebrews 13:2 Coalition of the RGV and all these related groups to serve people Jesus called ‘the least of these,’” FSW Coordinator Marv Knox said. “Jorge Zapata is our hero on the border. He may have facilitated ministry to more refugees on the border than any other individual. So, we are delighted to continue to support Jorge’s ministry, which will multiply as these new partners come alongside.”

To view the new coalition’s website, click here.

Jay Pritchard