Nearly a decade ago, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention launched Borderlands Reach to saturate the most under-evangelized and under-churched region of Texas with the gospel of Jesus Christ. El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley are the key areas in a church planting strategy that trains local leaders and utilizes volunteers from across Texas.
Far to the west, El Paso was named among the top 100 best places to live in the United States for 2017. The city also retained its ranking as one the safest cities in the U.S. It’s a “wide field for mission,” a multicultural community that is home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Bliss and a host of ethnic people groups, says Chuy Avila, a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church planting missionary based there.
These factors make it an attractive place for churches to do evangelism work, Avila added.
U.S. News and World Report ranked El Paso 76th of 100 metro areas studied, according to “quality of life, job market, value of living and people’s desire to live there,” the El Paso Times reported. And while violence across the border in Juarez, Mexico, remains problematic, El Paso is a contrast: it is second in the nation’s 2017 safest cities rankings released by SafeWise, a home security and safety awareness company that uses FBI crime data to support its findings.
Avila stressed the need for bicultural churches to serve Korean, Japanese, Hindi, Spanish and English-speaking groups, plus millennials of all ethnicities.
Since Avila’s arrival six years ago in El Paso, the number of SBTC churches has grown from six to 22. Also promising has been the start in May 2013 of the El Paso Bible Institute housed at La Verdad Community Church. To date, 23 students in two graduating classes have completed the program designed to train pastors and church leaders, Avila said.
After completing a curriculum similar to that of the Laredo Bible Institute, some El Paso students have already begun graduate work through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Avila said.
Farther east along the border, the Laredo Bible Institute, headquartered at that city’s Trinidad Baptist Church, is situated in a region where numerous churches are thriving. It recently graduated its first class of 20. Among the churches planted with SBTC support that continue to thrive in that area are San Ignacio Baptist Church and Nuevo Pacto (New Covenant) Church, the latter described by Avila as “among the fastest-growing churches in Laredo.”
Prior to relocating to El Paso, Avila served in Laredo, utilizing service projects in schools and other community institutions in order to build good relationships with school officials and start Bible studies in school facilities.
Through their partnership in Laredo, the SBTC and North American Mission Board sponsored spring break missions opportunities in 2011. During four weeks of door-to-door witnessing and various evangelistic events, 727 professions of faith were recorded after the effort.
After volunteers visited 39,000 homes and the convention hosted school assemblies, one evangelistic event drew 4,800 people to the city’s Energy Arena. Four new church planters were introduced to the crowd that gathered, tasked with starting churches in nearby Rio Bravo.
In the Rio Grande Valley, some 30 SBTC-affiliated churches serve communities in and around McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville. Five new SBTC churches have launched in the past four years, David Loyola, SBTC field ministry strategist for the region, said.
Spring break mission trips to McAllen in 2012 paved the way for volunteers to knock on 108,000 doors to leave invitations to an evangelism rally. Churches from across the state teamed up with McAllen-area churches and saw 403 people profess Christ as Savior.
To better serve the Valley, an SBTC Rio Grande pastors’ network launched in February 2018 with a prayer vigil and meeting at a Raymondville ranch. Loyola and SBTC church planting missionary David Ortega led the meeting attended by pastors from Edinburg, Mission and McAllen.
“The network will help strengthen pastors’ lives and ministries,” Loyola added.