Eagle Pass: This weekend I had the privilege of participating in the Del Rio/Uvalde Baptist Association River Ministry Retreat. It was my first time to the border since of was a teenager and traveled to El Paso with the North Fort Worth Baptist Church youth group on a mission trip. Over the years the situation along the border has dramatically changed since the early days of the River Ministry.
I was asked to be a keynote speaker, but I must admit I learned a great deal more than I suspect I shared. I traveled to Eagle Pass with a hunger to learn more about how our Texas Baptist family can positively impact the Kingdom work along the border.
After the evening session, I had a very enlightening conversation with Jeff Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Del Rio, and one of his mission pastors Moses Reyes who serves across the border. Moses is a BUA graduate and has many years of experience along the border. As we discussed the needs and challenges, Moses shared a deep concern he has with our traditional approach to border ministry.
Moses referred to our efforts as the “Santa Clause” effect. He shared how the people of his village were “trained” to chase the “white church vans” to get the gifts and hand outs. The “Santa Clause” effect left the local churches and pastor in a strange bind. Due to their limitations, the local pastors could not “compete” with the gifts of the Americans, and so their churches were limited in their ability to reach out effectively. The well meaning American Christians sought to help, but in reality they were hurting the work.
As I listened to this pastor’s frustrations, I thought back to numerous mission efforts I had participated in and wondered how much we had really helped. We wanted to help, but I fear that because of naïve enthusiasm we only had a limited positive impact on the people and the churches.
I believe as we seek to redouble our efforts along the border that we need to look long and hard at our strategies and efforts. It would be wise for those sitting in the “headquarters” of our churches to talk to those in the “foxholes” on the front lines before we deploy our people. Of course this challenge is only magnified because of our freedom and autonomy as churches, I believe with the help of the Spirit of God, and communication and cooperation, we can transform the “Santa Clause” into the “Spirit’s cause.”