By Verónica Martínez / La Verdad

Ciudad Juárez – Four years ago, a small Methodist church nestled between ravines and dirt roads in the western part of the city became a temporary home for migrants making their way to the United States.

Since then, El Buen Samaritano has received hundreds of migrants from 27 countries.

“When we arrived here, we found ourselves blessed that there is a very comfortable and warm shelter for families and migrants. It is very gratifying to know that arriving here is like arriving home,” said Marianni, a Venezuelan woman who is staying at the shelter after arriving in Juárez with her family a month ago.

In winter 2018, migrant shelters and services in Juárez became overwhelmed with the great humanitarian need created by large caravans of migrants arriving here in record numbers. Casa del Migrante, a shelter run by the Catholic Church, was full, and the government’s temporary shelter at the gymnasium of the Colegio de Bachilleres de Chihuahua was reaching its capacity, leaving state authorities scrambling for shelter space.

The Methodist Church of Mexico in Juárez stepped up to help.

“At that time, we only had 20 bunk beds to receive 40 people,” said Juan Fierro, the church’s pastor. “One night this past November, we received 260 people.”

Aside from space limitations, the shelter only accommodated men. Women and families were sent to another church, Buen Pastor, which opened its doors to those groups of migrants.

El Buen Samaritano recently inaugurated its new family area named after Fierro’s wife and shelter co-founder, María Dolores Aguilera de Fierro, who died last year. The expansion increased the shelter’s capacity to more than 200 people, adding a second floor equipped with bunk beds and two additional restroom areas.

El Buen Samaritano migrant shelter in Juarez recently expanded, adding more beds and restrooms. (Photo courtesy La Verdad)

The expansion was financed by the European Union and the UN Refugee Agency.

Enrique Valenzuela, director of the State Council on Population, or COESPO, said that El Buen Samaritano was one of the first churches to open its doors to migrants in 2018. 

“At that time, the best of alliances was born. We got to know the work. We got closer, and we met the pastor and his wife, who we remember today,” Valenzuela said at the inauguration event on Feb. 17.

When it first opened as a shelter, the church had an open farm area. Over the years, volunteers and migrants helped put a tin roof over the farm and brought in bunk beds and other furniture.

Volunteers and migrants help with the expansion of El Buen Samaritano shelter in Juárez in June 2021. (Alicia Fernández / La Verdad)

But Fierro saw greater potential in the space.

“There was a lot to do here, and we started talking about the possibilities and (Fierro’s) intentions for the space,” Valenzuela recalled. “Everything was born from that vision and from that perspective.”

The shelter’s expansion now allows COESPO and Mexico’s National Institute of Migration to refer more migrant women and family groups there.

The vast majority of people at the shelter these days are from Venezuela, but there are also a good number of Mexicans and Guatemalans.

Among them is Luis, 21, who came to El Buen Samaritano on the recommendation of COESPO. Along with his sister, nephew and brother-in-law, he has been in Juárez for three months awaiting an appointment to appear at the U.S. port of entry to request asylum.

The young Venezuelan remembers the relief he felt when he and his family managed to get into the shelter in December – and no longer had to spend nights on the streets.

“It’s a good thing that there is a new space and therefore more people can be accommodated, as it was a blessing for us,” said Luis, adding that he often finds odd jobs in Downtown Juárez but always finds some way to help at the shelter. “I feel good to be here.”

‘We need people who are hurting to feel at home,’ says Pastor Juan Fierro of El Buen Samaritano, a migrant shelter he runs in Juárez. (Verónica Martínez / La Verdad)

Fierro said what El Buen Samaritano has accomplished is thanks to the help of volunteers, a slew of organizations and the community.

Beyond providing a roof and food, Fierro said it’s necessary to provide migrants with emotional and educational support, counseling and recreational activities.

The shelter has a sewing workshop where migrants have made bags and face masks, as well as bedding for the shelter’s beds. Computer workshops, English classes and elementary education lessons are also provided.

“We need people who are hurting to feel at home here, and in some way, get everything they have lost,” Fierro said. “They need to get rid of their stress, and for them to let go of all that, we need to give them attention and give them love.”

The shelter receives support from a number of organizations that help women who have been victims of violence, carry out activities for adolescents or provide legal assistance and information on immigration and asylum application processes. The city’s public health department assists with basic health care and vaccination services.

Fierro said the work has just begun.

Now with the space to receive 220 people, the challenge will be raising funds to cover costs, including food, and calls on the community for support.

“We are going to continue working with all our enthusiasm, and this space has already been set up to grow,” Fierro said. “We have to plant seeds, sow and minister to leave someone else to continue with the mission.”