MCALLEN, Texas (BP) – First Baptist Church in McAllen has a closeup look at the border crisis, and Steven Gaither, the church’s pastor, said despite the challenges, “we are still called to see the image of God in every person.”
“How do you help hold the line for what is right and legal, and how do you also love your neighbor as yourself?” he asked. “How do you function as the Good Samaritan? I think that’s part of the unique challenge that’s here on the border.”
In some churches in the Rio Grande Valley, border patrol agents worship alongside first generation immigrants, Gaither said. Some immigrants in a congregation may have gone through the proper channels, he said, while others may not have.
“It’s really heartbreaking because we know the rules of our country, and we are for them, and we want things to be done in an organized manner, but we also know there’s a face of desperation that is the immigration crisis and that many people are fleeing from horrific situations, and they’re looking for help,” Gaither said.
On a recent flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, Gaither estimated 60 percent of his plane was filled with people seeking asylum being flown to different locations.
“What I noticed on that flight was a lot of young families with young children, and everyone looked scared – like they’d never been on a plane before, and they didn’t know where they were going,” he said.
The pastor felt compassion for the people on the plane and couldn’t imagine their stories.
“It’s really easy to lump everybody into the same category and demonize people and their motives, but it’s different when you look into a child’s face, when you look into a scared mama’s face, when you look into a young man’s eyes and you realize this guy is desperate and he doesn’t know what to do,” Gaither said.
First Baptist McAllen, which began in 1908, has a long history of strong Cooperative Program support and has sent many missionaries throughout the world through the years, Gaither said. Church members also have worked with missionaries just across the Mexican border to minister to people hoping to enter the United States.
“You’ll have groups of people who have kind of migrated toward the border from southern Mexico, and they’re right here at the Texas border, but for whatever reason, in a sense they get stuck there and they kind of form their own communities,” Gaither said.
Missionaries and churches are able to provide food, clothing and education to people in those groups, whereas once they’ve crossed the border into McAllen, many are in holding facilities that aren’t as easily accessible for ministry.
As believers follow the border crisis in the media, Gaither hopes they’ll consider that only a partial picture is conveyed.
“These are complex situations, and real people are involved in them on both sides – those who are trying to enforce the laws and those who are sometimes even completely unaware of the laws,” he said.
“Just understand that we should be stirred up to love and good works. We should be stirred up to pray for these situations. When you’re in your community – it doesn’t matter where you are in the U.S. or across Texas – as you watch people, it’s probably not a long shot that you’re interacting with somebody who is a first generation American or may be in your community for the very first time, and there may be an opportunity to share the Gospel with them.”
Sometimes people lose the ability to see others as humans, the pastor said, but most people have the same emotions, the same concerns for their families and for their well-being, no matter what country they’re from, what their heart language is or what color of skin they have.
“A bottle of water goes a long way,” Gaither said, offering an idea for how to start a connection.
Despite the border crisis, despite COVID and despite a revitalization period at the church, the Great Commission, the great commandment and the great challenge of Acts 1:8 have remained pillars at First Baptist McAllen, Gaither said.
“We understand the deep history of Cooperative Program giving here at this church,” he said. “To me, knowing its history, this church has said, ‘No matter what has changed in the world, we absolutely believe that cooperating together to spread the Gospel to the nations is a high priority, if not the highest priority.’
“… I think there’s a long history of this church saying, ‘We can’t do this by ourselves, but as we cooperate with other churches from all over the place that we may never interact with, we believe that we’re investing in the Gospel, and that’s an investment we want to make until Jesus comes back.’”