In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Abara Borderland Connections serves a network of 20 migrant shelters in the sprawling metropolis of 1.7 million across the border from El Paso.

In these shelters, Abara offers staffing support, builds self-esteem by doing makeovers for the women and art projects for kids, helps migrants support themselves and serve others by providing training in carpentry, jewelry making and other micro-enterprises, and provides shelters with showers, water supplies, bunk beds and more.

Abara uses an asset-based community development approach, believing that migrants bring not only needs, but assets that can contribute to others and to the common good.

Our recent Abara Border Encounter trip included an afternoon at a migrant shelter at Alabanzas Al Rey Church in Ciudad Juarez. This shelter currently houses 110 migrants, in a facility meant for 60, as they wait for asylum hearings in the United States while sleeping on cots or pads on the cold concrete in makeshift dorms or temporary plywood shacks and tents scattered in a concrete courtyard along the side and back of the church building.

Pastor Alfanso (pictured left above), a humble, quiet man in his 50s with a big heart and rock-solid commitment to Christ and his people, never intended to start a migrant shelter here. But in the second year of their four-year-old congregation, the Lord started moving the church in this direction, prompted by a donation of 25 sets of silverware and dishes he wondered if he would ever use.

But as he prayed, God revealed that he had a use for these housewares. Not long afterwards, the government asked them take in 98 Cuban refugees, even though their property had no beds, restrooms, showers or kitchen.

Since then, this evangelical congregation has housed many hundreds of people, arriving from Central America and beyond who have faced persecution for their faith, whose family members have been killed or have had their lives threatened, or are fleeing severe poverty.

A seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week commitment, Pastor Alfanso runs this shelter with only two committed volunteers. With so few volunteers and only minimal support from international agencies, Pastor Alfanso prays constantly for God’s provision for beds, blankets, a roof overhead and daily meals to nourish their bodies while they also provide worship and music, Bible studies, art projects, and prayer to nourish their souls.

“Even though we live in a desert,” says Jossy, an Abara staffer who works with this church, “we want our border region to be like a growing tree that provides food, shelter and life.”

When asked what they most need from the U.S. church, Pastor Alfanso urged people to come and see for themselves the issues people face. “It’s important for Christians to get outside our comfort zones,” he says.

“Because usually the needs are greater than we realize unless we get out and actively look for them.”

In the end, Pastor Alfonso is clear about their motivation for sacrificing for these men, women, boys and girls that Jesus loves so much: “Everything we do,” he says, “we do for God’s glory.”

*This article is Part 4 of the Stories from the Border series.

Responding to Migrant Needs

With so many people and needs at our border, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Steve Eng, NAE advocacy director, offers four ideas for us to consider.

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