Matamoros Meeting is small, but full of life. Like the rest of the world, that life has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with new ways of reaching out to members and beyond.
Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting sent the first Quaker missions to Mexico over 150 years ago, and a brick meetinghouse was built in the border town of Matamoros, Tamaulipas (across from Brownsville, Tex.) as early as 1880. Multiple yearly meetings have supported the ministry through the years. Iglesia Evangélica Amigos has been the primary base for Friends in Matamoros since its pastor, Hilda Martinez de Vasquez, began ministry there in January 2017.
She began by visiting people in the neighborhood, Colonia Esperanza y Reforma, inviting them to worship times and children’s events. Mostly children came in the beginning. Hilda and her husband, Fernando Vasquez, cleaned and spruced up the building, which had been closed most of the time since 2012. Helpers from the yearly meeting, Iglesia Evangélica de los Amigos en Mexico, including other pastors and work teams of young adults, traveled from the state of Coahuila to replace the roof and do other major repairs. A small team from Friends Church of North Carolina joined in on a couple of the trips.
While the building needed refreshing, most of the energy poured into the meeting comes from Hilda, a bivocational preschool teacher, and Fernando. That energy is contagious to the helpers who teach the children, lead women’s Bible study, and teach Sunday School lessons. The small but dedicated congregation even began their own mission to an island village south of the city.
Fernando Vasquez talks with children at VBS.
The pandemic brought huge challenges to the meeting, as it did everywhere. The meetinghouse was closed during the shutdown. Hilda even had to teach her preschoolers from home, for a time. But the ministry never stopped: they started teaching and praying over Facebook live. Hilda, Fernando, and their friend Milca Martinez go live on Facebook almost daily, leading Bible study, praying, or speaking words of encouragement. They’re reaching more people. One commonality between people who have many amenities and people who live without indoor plumbing—much less a car—is that someone in the family uses a smartphone. The congregation now includes people who live in other places, including one person as far away as Pennsylvania.
With some restrictions lifted, Matamoros is now a hybrid meeting. People meet for Sunday worship in person, as well as through social media broadcast. Kids’ club and monthly women’s and men’s meetings meet in person. Weekday devotions continue on Facebook.
Every other month, meeting members go to the island Isla Fantasía, taking donated clothes and food. Sometimes Hilda leads a worship service. Sometimes they take a special volunteer, like a dentist or barber, to help the people there.
We visitors from North Carolina (United States) and Coahuila (Mexico) joined one of their trips to the island in January 2020. After worship at the meeting in Matamoros, volunteers piled into two vehicles. After stopping for gas, we poured salsa and queso into bags of chips as a quick, to-go version of nachos. Then we settled down for the long drive, as the city melted into a desert-like countryside of sparse shrubs. About an hour later, we reached a huge lake or sound by the barrier islands of Tamaulipas.
Everyone grabbed bags of food, donated clothes and toys, and crowded into an open boat. We took a few selfies at the dock and donned sunglasses against the bare sun. Everybody laughed a little nervously at each other as the boat settled low in the water with its overfull load. The boat’s owner started the motor, and it plowed through the calm water to Isla Fantasía.
Pastor Hilda Martinez leads the children in prayer during vacation Bible school (VBS)
at Matamoros Meeting.
A small meetinghouse shared by multiple denominations stands at the top of the sandy hill, surrounded by ramshackle huts and outhouses. As we unloaded the bags of donations onto tables under a shelter, women and children appeared, with hugs and warm greetings for pastor Hilda. While some volunteers sorted the clothing into categories, others got to hold little ones while their mothers “shopped.” One little girl hugged her new stuffed unicorn as she eyed the strangers. Little boys ran over and gestured, using the universal language for “Take our picture!” Afterwards, the women of the village shared their hospitality with a lunch of seafood soup and tortillas for all of the visitors.
Similar visits continue. In addition to donated clothing and toys, the meeting raises money for its ministries through hamburger lunches. Last summer, they invited local children to a farm-themed vacation Bible school (VBS), complete with goats and chickens. Then they took the supplies, lessons, and fun to share with the children on the island, hosting another VBS there.
Members of Matamoros Meeting pray that God can use them. They are living out that prayer—and example—online and in person.