Even as drug cartel-related violence and poverty in Mexico's northern border cities continue to make headlines, members of The Potter's House kept their tradition of bringing Christmas to the impoverished city of Reynosa.
About two dozen people from the Dallas-based megachurch, which is headed by T.D. Jakes, crossed the border earlier this month to bring food, clothing, and a message of hope to local orphans and abused women.
This was the eighth year in a row that MegaCARE Missions, the church's humanitarian arm, has organized mission trips to Reynosa.
Pastor Ronnie Guynes, executive director of MegaCARE Missions and associate pastor at The Potter's House, said he arrived in Reynosa a few days ahead of the Christmas outreach to make sure it was safe for the team to go.
"We're very careful to keep our team out of harm's way," Guynes told The Christian Post. "There's not a country that we go to that I or another team member hasn't gone there first to build relationships and make sure we have a good safe place and a good base to work out of."
During this year's visit, MegaCARE volunteers celebrated an early Christmas with children at three orphanages in Reynosa. They gave away toys collected by mission team members and new shoes donated by members of the church's young adult ministry.
Students of the Potter's House children's ministry Destiny House, Clay Academy and Casa de Fe, sent handmade Christmas cards to their peers in Reynosa, a favor that was returned by the youth at the orphanages.
The children come to the orphanages under many tragic circumstances.
One of the eldest orphans there was abandoned when he was 3-4 months old because of his deformity and mental disability. Now in his 30s, the man has the mentality of an 8-year-old.
However, Guynes said he was moved to see how joyful he was to receive a Christmas gift or pitch a football.
"That blessed me so much to see how a simple thing could make – for the moment – the day be the greatest day of his life," he shared.
Many children come to the orphanages or safe houses by court order due to a violent or dangerous situation at home. Their parents are allowed to make periodic visits but after some time, some stop coming altogether, leaving their children in the hands of the orphanages.
"It's a really blessing to a lot of the children who have been abandoned to see some of same faces coming back again and again," said Guynes, who has done missions work in Reynosa for over 20 years. "It gives them value and it makes them feel special that we keep coming back."
Without the group's visit this year, the children at the orphanages probably wouldn't have had a Christmas at all. With violence plaguing the Reynosa community, more and more missions teams and humanitarian organizations have stopped coming.
"Because of the violence, a lot of the churches that had committed to come called and said they weren't able to make it this year," explained Guynes.
During their time in Reynosa, MegaCARE provided beauty makeovers for women who had suffered domestic abuse.
Women from a local domestic abuse shelter and single mothers in the community were invited to join a day of pampering at Oasis in the Desert, a non-denominational church headed by Pastor Jorge Maisonet, a long-term friend of Guynes.
For many of the women, it was their first-time receiving hair styling, manicures, and makeup application. But the experience helped to boost their self-esteem.
"Many had their eyes to the ground and felt like that they weren't worthy to be there," MegaCARE staff member Richard Wesley shared with The Christian Post.
"By the end of the day they were so happy with smiles on their faces that someone spent a little time to show them that they were loved. "
Wesley, who coordinated the Reynosa trip, said most people in the community are just trying to make ends meet with an annual income of $1,000 to $3,000.
Some women earn as few as $500 per year as they sell paper mache or jewelry items made from scrap materials salvaged from the local landfill.
"They are trying to work on just surviving one more day," he said.
Understanding the need, the outreach team set up a free shopping experience for the women. Each woman was given three grocery bags that they could stuff with donated clothing, shoes and handbags. The items were donated by Potter's House members and also members of the local church.
In addition to providing encouragement to the needy in Reynosa, the MegaCARE team also had the opportunity to share the Gospel message during a holiday carnival that offered clowns, a dramatic production and local musicians.
Guynes said he expected to preach to a predominantly adult audience but instead spoke to a crowd that was 85 percent children.
He likened the situation faced by many residents in Reynosa to the Bible story of the widow who went to bury her son, saying many could be in the position where they have to bury their dreams and hopes. But he reminded them that just like Jesus resurrected the widow's son, he could resurrect their dreams amid grim circumstances.
"I was encouraging the group that no matter how big their dream was that God's dream for them was bigger than that and He wanted to resurrect that," said Guynes.
"God can come in and resurrect things that we can't even comprehend."
MegaCARE Missions will return to Reynosa in February 2011 when they will be ministering to women and men in prison.