HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — Jim Howard, the 70-year-old pastor of a small Baptist church in northeast Texas, regularly drives over 600 miles to the South Texas border to deliver donated items to asylum-seeking migrants in Reynosa, Mexico.
This week, he made another trip with his wife, Linda, and the Mccoart family, who are members of West Side Baptist Church in Atlanta, Texas.
On Friday, as they made their last delivery across the international bridge and before they drove out of town, they took time to speak with Border Report about what motivates them to do this type of ministry.
“I’ve been working down here for 30 years and we’ve established Baptist churches down here in four places in Reynosa. So we work with the church. We connect with the church. We helped them all during the pandemic. We brought food down. And from them we found out where the migrants were living on the downtown plaza and we started helping them,” Howard said.
Neither the Howards nor the Mccoarts speak Spanish but by using tiny translator devices, they are able to communicate south of the border. Mostly, they said, they try to show love and empathy to those who have so little.
“It’s like a sea of tents,” Linda Howard said. “It’s just a miasma of people and tents and I can’t even put it in words. To see the human suffering, the human want and the human need. It can be overwhelming the first time you walk around that camp.”
This week was her second trip to the region since mid-December. But her husband comes every couple of weeks.
Parishioner Jim Mccoart, who drives a truck for a major retailer, has come five times since mid-December.
“Whenever I get some time off, we come down,” he said showing the emptied white passenger van that just hours earlier had been filled with blankets, shoes, crackers, coats and canned goods they delivered to the migrants.
Atlanta, Texas, has just over 5,000 residents, but Howard said many of the other churches in the area know of their ministry to the border and they bring them items to bring down to the migrants.
“We’ll load the van up in the morning, sort up what we can get across the border for that trip — because we can’t get it all at one time. There’s too much. We’ll go over there and pass everything out that we’ve got and then we’ll come back across the border and get another load and go back. It usually takes two trips a day,” Mccoart said.
His 12-year-old son, Gabe Mccoart, and wife Brenda, 55, made their second trip with him this week.
Gabe brought bags of Legos and passed them out to the migrant children.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s like the kids with the tops and the Legos. We see them playing with them when we go back and just to see them doing it. It’s amazing,” Joe Mccoart said.
On Friday, the pastor helped a sick baby who was dehydrated.
Missionaries from West Side Baptist Church helped migrants in Reynosa, Mexico, who live in a downtown plaza in the dangerous border city. (Courtesy Photos)
Linda Howard, who is a retired nurse, said she visited with a young man from Nicaragua who told her he’d been waiting for seven months to cross the border. He asked for their help.
“I don’t know how to help these people other than to tell them about the Gospel and introduce them to the Lord who can work things for them and who can work on their behalf,” she said.
Linda said she is a believer in immigration laws. But she said folks can still have compassion and do something to help them.
“They need to be vetted. We need to know what’s coming across our borders. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have compassion for these people, the human needs and even sponsor some to come across and take those responsibilities or even take the food across,” she said.
She also hopes other churches will join in and also bring goods to the border to minister to the migrants.
“Our church body loves this ministry. They love these people on the other side of the border,” she said.
“Everything we carried over it’s a drop in the bucket but it mattered for the ones that we could hand them something,” she said.
Rev. Howard said they work closely with the four churches they helped to build in Reynosa, and those pastors keep them abreast of changes and needs of asylum-seekers on the border.
They’re concerned about not being able to deliver goods, however, if the migrant camp is moved further inland to a baseball field that the city is readying for the asylum seekers.
In the meantime, they’ll continue to come bearing their translator devices, and love.
Brenda Mccoart said the experience has opened her son’s eyes and she says his school allows him to work virtually whenever he makes missionary trips.
“He is learning hopefully how to serve the Lord, as his parents are doing. He has a heart for missions. He loves the children. He gets out and plays with them. He brings his Legos and toys and shares. I just hope that the Lord can do a work in his heart that will last and he will continue to want to come down here,” she said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at email@example.com