“Nothing good can come from here...,” that is what they say about “Little Mexico,” a Colonia outside of a Texas border town. Colonias are the shantytowns of the Valley. They lack a variety of resources, oftentimes basic necessities like running water and plumbing. But appearance does not tell the whole story.
“I came from here,” said Pastora Margarita Martinez, gazing out the car window at the dilapidated, high-crime neighborhood in a Colonia ten minutes from her church. Martinez’s church, Alamo Community Church/Un Paso De Fe Ministries, an Urban Strategies partner and community-oriented church that serves local residents and immigrants, also came from this Colonia. In fact, they used to meet in a 200 square foot building that could only seat 40 chairs, which could not hold all the congregates, much less store the food supplies for the weekly distribution.
On Sundays they would move all the food supplies outside to make room for church goers to sit. Those who arrived after the building reached capacity would stand outside in the South Texas heat to listen through the windows.
It is this heart for the community and stewardship of resources that caught the attention of a church in Alamo, just a ten-minute drive away. They invited Martinez and her congregation to meet in their church gym. Eventually, the church bequeathed the entire building to Un Paso De Fe,which is now also known as Alamo Community Church (ACC).
Martinez remains committed to serving the community,providing a weekly meal and food distribution, offering free citizenship classes and low-cost legal services and hosting a Christian radio program and prayer team for callers each Thursday night at 9 p.m. ACC is also a leader in the migrant crisis response efforts in the region by partnering with Urban Strategies to serve as a relief supplies distribution facility.
Martinez, an immigrant from Mexico, knows her community and is well acquainted with the struggles of living on the border. She optimizes her lived experience and platform to relate to and address the needs of the whole person – spiritual, emotional and physical.
ACC partners with Urban Strategies to lead Bienestar (“Wellness”), a program that recognizes faith leaders as public health promoters and trusted gatekeepers of the community. Urban Strategies is asocial enterprise that tools, resources and equips community and faith-based organizations to improve the social, educational, economic and health outcomes of Latino communities in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Latin America.
Urban Strategies has helped Martinez get connected with a local health insurance enrollment specialist and many people at ACC now have access to health insurance and are becoming more confident.
Martinez hosts healthcare enrollment fairs at her church, distributes fresh produce to low income families, is preparing to start a nutrition program and regularly reminds attendees of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
After discovering she was prediabetic, Martinez began her own health journey. From the pulpit, she shares her progress, even how much she weighs. She says church and community members are asking her how to become healthy.
Martinez’s transparency, energy and humility converge with her holistic approach to ministry, making her an inspirational role model and guide for the community and other faith leaders.
The Church is a catalyst for community transformation. It is time we follow Martinez’s example and broaden our vision to see past resource limitations; steward what we have, whether that be our finances, neighborhoods,congregation or health; and leverage leadership to generate long-term impact.
If you and your church are interested in learning how you can partner with Urban Strategies, contact us here.