We are witnessing something beautiful today in Tijuana: a church intent on being a blessing to the nations.
Over the past decade, there has been a gradual refocus of church life and ministry among the Baptist churches in Baja California, Mexico.
The shift has moved from one centered largely around the programs, ministries and perceived needs of the local congregation to a serious and meaningful effort to be about God’s mission.
As a result, they are becoming more engaged in our barrios and communities, even to the most vulnerable of those in our midst.
In addition, there has been a real effort to be a blessing to the nations through short-term mission trips to peoples and places of Mexico and other parts of the world, even commissioning, supporting and sending missionaries.
But what would happen if the nations of the world – and ones in dire need at that – would come to us? Would we respond? The answer is no longer in doubt.
There are six Baptist churches in Tijuana, a Mexican border city just south of California.
They are home to more than 500 asylum seekers – men, women and children, who have made a long, arduous and dangerous journey across continents from Brazil and Chile making their way on foot and bus through Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala to the very borders of the U.S.
Members of each group making their way north suffered disease, sickness and robbery, most having to bury at least one of their own in a makeshift grave.
What began as a few Haitians who arrived in late May 2016 swelled to thousands at the beginning of October.
They, along with others, mainly from Africa, have spent the last years working on the Olympic venues and in other labor-intensive work in South America, but the work has dried up.
They come to Tijuana waiting their turn to cross into the U.S. and be taken to detention centers where they will be vetted – some to be deported, others given temporary stays.
More than 15,000 have arrived in Mexico, and thousands more are expected. They sleep on mattresses on the floors, share small bathrooms, cook, eat and play in cramped facilities, and fellowship with the churches.
So many have expressed their wonder at being received so graciously for the very first time on their long journeys.
No one knows how long this ministry will continue. It is a very fluid situation.
For the past three months, some guests have left the shelters each week for their appointment at the border. Other refugees then are invited in to take their places.
The appointments are not made by the refugees themselves, but rather by the Mexican immigration authorities who are in contact with U.S. authorities.
Now, with the Trump administration in Washington, new questions, concerns and fears face both guest and host alike in Mexico.
Will the appointments be honored? How many will be immediately deported to Haiti? Should they even present themselves to the U.S. immigration authorities at their appointed time? Many, if not most, have decided not to present themselves.
Where do we go from here? The faith journey embarked upon will continue. As at any pivotal time in the history of a church responding to God’s mission and not to its own needs, there has been dissension and strife within.
As with any person, group or church that purposely seeks to live the values of Jesus at a greater depth and to reach out in compassion to the most vulnerable, sacrificial generosity of time, energy and resources is a given.
Indeed, our borderlands are experiencing upheaval and change on a level not seen since the border itself was established at the conclusion of the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848.
Yet one, perhaps small, but invaluable piece of the church’s life and witness speaks to those on both sides of the fence: Nations are being blessed, and Baptist churches no longer occupy the side streets, in the shade, where they are not seen or heard.
Rather, to God be the glory, they have become a light that cannot be overlooked.
Timothy Long has been a missionary with International Ministries, ABCUSA, for 33 years, and has served in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and presently ministers in theological education with the “Dios con Nosotros” Baptist Convention of churches in Baja California, Mexico.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on local churches / Christian organizations and immigration.
The previous article in the series is: