The executive director of a 25-year-old human services ministry near the southern tip of the United States-Mexican border answered a call from the Outreach Team and old friends at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Temple late in February to tell his story and help raise funds for his ministry’s supporters.
The Rev. Feliberto Pereira, a Cuban native, gave a sermon to the local church’s congregation on the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 about two members of mutually hostile groups on a highway. One man finds another beaten by robbers and left to die in a ditch, carries him to an inn and pays for his care.
Pereira, an ordained Christian Church minister, founded Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries near Los Fresnos in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas in 1985 to assist poverty-stricken populations on both sides of the border. Members of First Christian Church of Temple were among his greatest benefactors, said the Rev. Mike Snell, current pastor of the church who calls Pereira “my spiritual hero”.
Pereira’s February visit and sermon in the church supported an annual special offering in February for Week of Compassion, which supports the nationwide denomination’s worldwide humanitarian projects. The fund is a major contributor to SWGSM’s work on the border.
SWGSM is a member institution of the Southwest Region of the Christian Church, which covers Texas, New Mexico and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, and is governed by a board of representatives from Christian Church organizations.
Pereira said that decades of rapport with federal border authorities have built an atmosphere of trust and cooperation in dealing with increased number of refugees crossing the border. Among other efforts, SWGSM helps house refugees in this country along with ministering to those still awaiting admission in Mexico.
In his sermon, he said that in 1965, officials of the new Communist government of Fidel Castro told him to stop preaching. Then a 27-year-old pastor, he refused and was taken to a forced labor camp, where he remained for 1,431 days, or nearly four years. In 1969, he and his wife and two young children left Cuba on a freedom flight sponsored by the United States and Swiss governments. The Samaritan in the story Jesus told was a foreigner to the Jew he helped, rescuing him from possible death in a roadside ditch, and it was foreigners who rescued Pereira.
“In the 50 years since then, I have expressed my gratitude to our God through service to God’s church and God’s children with a focus on helping refugees,” he said. “Each refugee has a story. Each has been in some kind of ditch.
“Our Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries gives safe shelter to many refugees in cooperation with immigration and customs enforcement officials. We partner with volunteers in Brownsville who cook every day, then others take enough of the cooked meals to feed 1,000 refugees or more on the Mexico side of the bridge. We help children of God with food, clothing and toiletries, as well as medical and legal advocacy. It is a way for us to be present for a rebirth—rescuing children of God from the ditch.”
Among SWGSM ministries the group’s literature highlights are:
—Casa Bethel, which coordinates various programs and distributes money to provide scholarships, uniforms and supplies, food, clothing and toys to poor children in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville.
—Administration of the Rice and Beans program sponsored by two areas of the Christian Church in the Southwest, providing tons of rice and beans to poor families on both sides of the border.
—The Jericho Road program, providing home repair for disadvantaged South Texas families. Pereira said the poverty rate in Cameron County, Texas’ southernmost county exceeds 25 percent, compared with the national average of 15 percent.
Mike’s Kids, an annual project of the North Texas Area of the Christian Church to supply a semi-truck full of clothes and toys to poor and abandoned children throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
The ministry also distributes disaster relief supplies, a neighborhood medical clinic in Matamoros and operates an educational facility based in the South Texas town of Bayview for young families to learn parenting skills, English as a second language and computer skills.
The staff is assisted by youth and adult volunteer groups that stay at the Bayview facilities for up to a week.