|Border Health Partnership Builds on Local Initiative|
Pharr, Texas, March 20, 2009--A new United Methodist Border Health Partnership in South Texas is building on the work of a small membership congregation in the city of Pharr, near McAllen and just across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Reynosa.
The new initiative aims at effectively addressing the critical issues of poverty, the shortage of health services, and immigration tangles that affect people living in colonias. Colonias are unincorporated communities along the northern side of the border. They lack adequate housing, water, sewage, and even basic plumbing.
The office of the Texas Secretary of State reports that 400,000 Texans live in 2,294 colonias along the 1,248-mile border. Sixty-four percent of that population is Hispanic and 85 percent are under 18 years of age and were born in the US and, therefore, citizens.
The Open Arms Project of Pharr United Methodist Church is a pivotal partner in the new health effort. This is a broad ministry that involves not only health but free legal services for immigrants through a recently established office of Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON). JFON is related to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Other partners are the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Annual Conferences, Methodist Health Care Ministries, the Office of Hispanic/Latino Ministries of the Evangelization and Church Growth unit of the General Board of Global Ministries, and numerous other United Methodist congregations and regional and local service organizations.
An objective of the health effort is to bring the colonias into the sphere of United Methodism's comprehensive understanding of mission and ministry. Pharr UMC has received a $10,000 United Methodist Racial Ethnic Ministries grant to fund a community outreach worker for assignment to two colonias, but that is only part of the funding picture.
Pharr church is remarkable in the extent of its evangelistic and social outreach. It has 117 members, the majority Hispanic. Worship is bilingual, and worship attendance exceeds membership.
"We take very seriously the mission we have inherited from Jesus Christ," Pastor Robert Clark said in a telephone interview. "This means preaching good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight, and the other mandates in the Gospels. It means helping God's kingdom to come on earth; it means loving our neighbors and ourselves."
Hildago County, where Pharr is located, is one of the poorest counties in the United States, with an average per capita income of only $9,899, according to the US Census Bureau.
The Open Arms Project creates synergy among different groups working to meet the diverse needs of their indigent immigrant neighbors. This invites a partnership approach to health and other social issues. Pharr church has a strong track record of work with other community organizations, including:
Pharr's Community Outreach Project, led by Carole Lahti, the first lay minister in the McAllen district, covers home repairs, life-skills development, health and wholeness, and a community of faith. Life-skills development includes ESL courses and instruction in guitar, haircutting, sewing, and other skills.
Health and wholeness emphasize health education and nutrition. Pharr regularly feeds 65 families through its food pantry and in the summer provides some 7,000 meals (lunch five days per week) to young people aged 1-18. The church is well grounded in connectional community ministries and is part of the Communities of Shalom network.
Pastor Clark points out that social ministry is only part of Pharr's outreach. "We never forget that our goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ," he said. "Community outreach includes the community of faith. We offer Bible studies and worship to those whose lives we touch."
The involvement of the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences, and that of Methodist Health Care Ministries, came about through the efforts of Bishop Joel Martinez (retired), former leader of the two conferences and also former president of the General Board of Global Ministries. Last August he convened a group of church-related health professionals and congregation leaders to explore health-ministry possibilities.
Strong endorsement by both conferences is described as "historic." The Rio Grande Conference is an ethnically defined annual conference that operates alongside the Southwest Texas Conference.
The regional Methodist Health Care Ministries was set up in 1996 to serve the physical, mental, and spiritual welfare of those persons served by the Southwest Texas conference. One of its programs provides parish nurses, called Wesley Nurses, to congregations, the Pharr church among them. Methodist Health Care also provides a licensed counselor to Pharr.
Enthusiasm was high February 1-2, 2009, when a border health care summit took place at First United Methodist Church, McAllen, bringing together the major players in the emerging Border Health Partnership.
Date posted: Mar 20, 2009