Immigration – one of the most politicized words in the United States, and possibly all of North America, today.
Perhaps that is why all throughout the political spectrum people have varying reactions to “ministry to immigrants” and often those reactions are strong and emotional. Maybe you’re even experiencing an emotional reaction to this article already. Stick with me.
Likely, there are places on this issue in which we can all agree: There is a crisis on the border (even if we disagree on what it is and how to handle it) and immigrants are human beings who are loved by God. If we all start here, we can appreciate the ministry of Trinity on the Border, deep in the south of Texas.
Harlingen, Texas is 15 miles give or take from the Mexico border. As recently as this summer, hundreds of immigrants from all over the world were pouring into the United States here each day. A nice city of approximately 65,000 residents lined with palm trees and modern development, Harlingen is neither run down nor filled with desert and tumble weeds like some outsiders might expect from a Texas border city. But it does face the border crisis daily.
This is why the Rev. Michael Jarrett and his wife, Dr. Erica Jarrett, moved to the city in 2015. While serving in other parts of Texas the previous year, the Jarretts had a growing concern for the number of immigrants coming into the United States and the lack of an Anglican presence there to meet them in their need. So, when the Jarretts asked the Lord to send Anglicans to the South Texas border, He – in His good humor – sent them.
“It was clear that this was a significant issue that we felt that the Church, the Anglican Church in North America, needed to have a response to. Over time, we realized we are the Anglican Church in North America and if the Province is going to have a response, maybe it’s us,” Fr. Michael said.
After a web search, the Jarretts found and connected with La Posada Providencia, the only shelter of its kind in the Valley of South Texas. La Posada is a mid-way shelter. It houses immigrants who are beyond detention centers but not at their final destination. Run by three women who are members of religious societies, the shelter provides housing, English language and U.S. culture classes for all levels and ages, transportation and help with appointments, and more. Most importantly, though, at the very real, human level, they provide friendship, love, and a smiling face.
When he first arrived in town, Fr. Michael was a driver for the shelter, but the partnership has grown significantly. Eventually, the Jarretts also began a medical clinic and began leading worship services. Two years ago, they started a Christian school. All together these ministry areas now make up what is Trinity on the Border.
“We are a chapel and outreach mission serving Christ along the South Texas/Mexico border,” says Fr. Michael. “We just came and started doing whatever a doctor and priest could do to serve down here.”
Trinity on the Border serves its community by meeting tangible needs, both for immigrants and residents. Many in the community have medical needs but are unable to afford the necessary care. Using a Matthew 25 grant, Trinity on the Border was able to build out its central mission location with offices, a chapel, and two exam rooms for their free clinic.
Dr. Jarrett and another local doctor, who attends the worship services and has kids in the school, provide free medical care to those in need at the Trinity on the Border mission building every week. Additionally, Dr. Jarrett makes weekly “house calls” to the La Posada immigrant shelter.
Today, the partnership with La Posada is far more than it originally was. Not only does Dr. Jarrett provide medical care for immigrants, other staff of Trinity on the Border have roles there as well. The Rev. Daniel Behrens, Missionary Curate for Trinity on the Border, teaches English classes three times per week. His wife also participates by leading children’s activities.
The Trinity school meets a need for Christian education in the city. Using the Charlotte Mason curriculum, it provides a different approach to education and child development that is unique in the area. The school now has about 15 students between kindergarten and 3rd grade.
Finally, the chapel ministry of Trinity on the Border is the piece that flows into all others. With a healing prayer service on Thursday mornings at the Culture of Life clinic, Eucharistic services at a shelter on the Mexican side of the border, and Thursday morning chapel at the school, this ministry goes beyond their congregational Sunday services.
“We’re not Trinity for the Immigrant even, we are Trinity on the Border. We are for whoever is here,” says Fr. Michael before describing his newest ministry pursuit: to be a chaplain for the Coast Guard, a Department of Homeland Security position. “We keep reminding our team that we’re here for everybody. We serve Border Patrol, we serve Customs, we serve immigrants, we serve the poor who live here, we serve the rich who live here.”
Yet, Fr. Michael and his team are not ignorant of the political climate. “People want us to speak into the political situation. And we have personal opinions on that. I don’t think everybody on our team has the same personal opinion,” he said, “but as far as our work, that stays pretty simple. If they’re here, if they’re a human being, we are going to love them with the love of Christ and what happens to them is not really in the realm of what we can do anything about.”
One thing the team knows is that every person they encounter has a different story. In mid-September, those stories included a father and son from Angola who had been separated at the border but were reunited and at La Posada together. Because of their earlier separation, the father had already received asylum and the young child was still going through the process. They included a young, English-speaking single mother from Uganda staying at the shelter while working to earn her GED and secure a driver’s license.
At the clinic, the room hosting the healing prayer service was packed with those in need, all with their own stories as well. Notably, a young man, a musician who spent most of his time in bars, had just quit drinking the week before. He wants to be a better father and give his time to the Lord in service. He received prayer and anointing.
For Fr. Daniel, who is nearly one year into his curacy, it is a privilege to serve these people and that is evident in his care for them. It’s been “difficult” and “awkward” at times, he says, but “awkwardness may be evidence that you’re doing something cross-cultural.” To him, the ministry of Trinity on the Border is a “special thing, very different from other ministries in the Anglican Church in North America.”
Ultimately, the Jarretts and their team are accomplishing what they set out to do: bring Jesus to the Texas and Mexico border through the Anglican expression. And that is something we can all be proud of.
For more, listen to the Things Anglican podcast on the Anglican Church in North America App, on Apple Podcasts, or here.