Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries:
Saying ‘Yes’ when God shows up at your door
Talking with Emma Espino Olvera reminds you we’re all called to be saints, that perhaps the only thing standing in our way is a willingness to say “yes” to the call. Since 2019, Emma has hosted migrants who need a welcoming place to arrive in the U.S., up to 40 people per day at the peak. She lives on site with her husband Julio Vasquez, the pastor of Iglesia Luterana San Lucas (St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, in English). They named their work Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries, located at San Lucas, on the border across from Piedras Negras, Mexico. 

“We started to see groups of kids, just sitting on the corner waiting, waiting for nothing,” Emma said. “Whole families were there, with nothing to eat.” 
Emma (left) and visitors to Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries.
When U.S. Immigration determines someone who crossed the border has a right to apply for asylum, they are released to find their own way to sponsors. That family member or friend who agreed to host the refugee in the U.S. is often many states away, and the journey one has made from their home country now continues on U.S. soil. 

In the spring of 2019, someone proposed that all churches on the border have the obligation to work with migrants, Emma said.

“One of the pastors looked to me, ‘Emma can you do it?’ I said yes. But I didn’t know what he was talking about, I just said yes,” Emma laughs retelling the story. 

Emma started using the sprawling land and buildings of San Lucas to start the welcome ministry. She hosted travelers for three days once released, providing a place to sleep, shower, eat, and worship.

Emma emphasizes spiritual care as much as anything in her work. “We welcome people and say here you are, God gave you the opportunity, now we’ll pray and give thanks, share dinner.” They often host a church service with singing when a group arrives. “People find a lot of relief in the prayer.” 

The work is just starting. Emma’s vision is to raise major funds to tear down and rebuild the dilapidated building currently housing the worship space and eight guest rooms. The wood paneled rooms with ancient bunk beds are falling apart from age and use. Once she found a bird perched on the fan in one room, having flown in from holes in the wall. “I asked ‘What are you doing here?’” Emma joked. “He didn’t answer me.”

She hopes to also build guest rooms for immersion groups. Visitors and church volunteers can learn about immigration directly from folks on the journey, while supporting Frontera Ministries by donating to stay on site. Her work needs the funding, not just for buildings and maintenance, but to hire more staff, so she’s not on her own with a smattering of volunteers. 
Volunteers help serve dinner to welcome guests at Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries. 
Emma was a single mom for 12 years, after she and her three daughters left an abusive husband. She cleaned houses in New York, one of few jobs available since she had entered the U.S. without documentation years ago. 

“My heart always felt this big need,” Emma said of her life then. Eventually, she met Father Julio at a Catholic church. He went back to his home country for a while, but felt the need to have a family. When he returned to the U.S., he left the priesthood, and the two met again, started dating, and married. 

A pastor friend told Julio, if he wanted to stay preaching, he needed to find a church where pastors could be married. The couple attended a Lutheran church in Long Island for three years. 

That same friend later visited the couple to ask if they would like to work for a church in a far off corner of Texas. 

“I just said yes, not even thinking about how tough it would be to move far away from my three daughters,” Emma said. “I asked them to come with me, but they were in their 20s and had roots now in New York.”

Emma and Julio arrived in Eagle Pass in 2018 to a humble church with a big heart. 

“It's a poor community,” Emma said. “The church doesn’t have much income, and people sell food to try to support the church itself.” 

Emma and other volunteers recorded 40 stories from migrants they’ve hosted, detailing the horrific circumstances that prompt people to move thousands of miles from home. One man came home to find his mother and grandmother killed because they couldn’t afford to pay the gangs. Another woman’s son was viciously killed by gang members. Emma wants to highlight the stories and construct a Stations of the Cross in the peaceful tree-filled space behind the church. “We have here authentic Christs, walking their Calvary,” Emma said. “Everyone needs to think of the ‘why.’ People aren’t leaving their homes to come here on a whim.” 

Those who stay at Frontera Ministries for three days have legal papers to continue in the U.S., usually applying for asylum.

“There are also those who arrive without papers just passing through,” Emma said. “But I give them food because it is a Christian obligation.” 

Immigrants arrive from across the world, including Mandarin-speaking Chinese migrants and French-speaking Haitians. “We just have to use hand signals!” Emma said, since she speaks only Spanish and English.
Young guests at Eagle Pass Frontera Ministries. 
While founding Frontera Ministries, Emma traveled to San Diego for training as a Mission Developer. “As always, I said yes to going.” 

When she visited a church right on the California border wall, she realized that was the exact point where she entered the U.S. years ago. 

“It reminded me of when I arrived as a girl, with torn up shoes covered in mud.” 

Emma seems almost grateful for the experience now, since it propels her work. “If I know something, I can talk about it,” Emma said. “My heart feels the same heaviness. My heart knows the suffering of the people crossing.”
Your generous Mission Support makes it possible for the work of the synod to strengthen our congregations and ministries. Thank you for your continued generosity to this ministry we all share. We invite you to consider additional gifts here at www.swtsynod.org/pages/give
Southwestern Texas Synod www.swtsynod.org