Christ’s Gifts Freely Given

A Texas congregation continues to minister to members on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).

Hector and Victoria Burciaga lovingly welcomed their pastor, the Rev. Daniel Fickenscher of Iglesia Luterana Cristo El Salvador, Del Rio, Texas, to their home in Acuña, Mexico, on a Saturday in April. They ushered Fickenscher through the small store in the front of their house, where their eclectic wares hang from the ceiling like suspended raindrops, and into the dining area.

Hector pulled out a notebook with pages of notes taken from his studies of the Bible. Fickenscher took a moment to admire his zeal before starting the Bible reading and devotion. On the walls of their home are crosses, crucifixes and a depiction of Jesus Christ instituting the Lord’s Supper. They are delighted to have their pastor visit during the pandemic when they’re unable to travel to the congregation across the border in Del Rio.

‘I Go Out and I Share the Word’

Cristo El Salvador — or Christ the Savior — is an LCMS mission congregation situated just a short driving distance from the United States and Mexico border. It serves primarily Spanish-speaking congregation members, who live in both Del Rio and the neighboring border city, Ciudad Acuña.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the ability of those saints of the congregation living in Mexico to cross the border, so Fickenscher and his wife, Deaconess Taylor Brown-Fickenscher (both called to the church as district missionaries in 2020), cross the border and go to them. Each week, congregation members open their homes to host worship and send worshipers back to their own homes with takeaway containers of food.

“I go out and I share the Word with people … I tell them they are forgiven for Christ’s sake. I give them Christ’s body and blood,” said Fickenscher.

That same day, congregation member Patricia Perez gathered about half a dozen neighborhood children on her outdoor covered patio for a Bible story time — something she’s been doing for over a decade. As she taught Revelation 22:20 to the children, a dog slept lazily nearby. Perez watches the livestreamed worship from Del Rio but misses worshiping in person and receiving the Sacrament alongside her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

After crossing the border by car, Fickenscher parked on the street outside Perez’s house and visited the group. He prayed with the children before driving to the Burciagas’ house for the visitation and then across the city to another member’s home where that afternoon’s Divine Service would be held. In the cargo hold of his small car were all the necessities for worship, including a large wooden cross, vestments and altar paraments.

At the Divine Service, Cristo El Salvador members gathered together under a checkerboard tent in an outdoor courtyard of the home and received Communion. Children sat in school desks near the makeshift altar. Fickenscher prepared a sermon on Luke 24:36–49. He preached that Christ has purchased peace between God and man through His necessary suffering, death and resurrection, and that His work of salvation is ongoing now in that repentance and that the forgiveness of sins is now preached through His church. At the conclusion of the service, members took Spanish-language copies of Portals of Prayer and Bibles. A member appeared from the kitchen with plates of rice and chicken in ancho chili sauce.

Visitors Jose and Mariza Gomez were among the small crowd of worshipers that day. Jose is from Del Rio and speaks English. His wife, Mariza, speaks Spanish and is unable to cross the border right now. He is thankful that services are being held after another church closed nearby. “Being here [at worship] has been a blessing to us, and it’s keeping us in the Word. Being able to stay in the Word is the best thing,” said Jose.

“It’s been an exciting time,” Fickenscher said, “and God has certainly given me the encouragement of seeing His wonderful work being done here in Del Rio and in Acuña. There is an excitement and real desire to receive His gifts.”

Ministry Along the Border

In Del Rio, Taylor Brown-Fickenscher teaches Sunday school, leads the midweek children’s Bible class and handles material donations to the church. She focuses on helping the poor and assisting the able to provide for their own families. When her husband recently visited members in Acuña, she stayed behind and tended to the church.

Vicar Luis Morales was also there, preparing his sermon for Sunday’s worship service. Morales is a son of the congregation — he came to Cristo El Salvador as a teenager. His family loved the preaching and the teaching of the Lutheran church. At 14, Morales was baptized into Christ, and within a few years he realized he wanted to pursue the ministry. He was mentored by the Rev. Richard Schlak from the LCMS Recognized Service Organization Lutheran Hispanic Missionary Institute before enrolling in the Cross-Cultural Ministry Center at Concordia University Irvine, Irvine, Calif., where he now studies to become a pastor while continuing his vicarage at his home congregation.

“The people of Acuña and Del Rio are like brothers and sisters,” Morales said. “It’s a whole culture to live on the border … we grew together. We are the same people. It’s not like we’re Americans and Mexicans.” While he preaches now in Spanish — the primary language for many people living along the border — he reaches out to young adults and children with English, which he said is the primary language for the younger generation.

“I know the people. I know their culture. I know who they are,” Morales said. “It’s a joy to serve the people I’m growing with.” In between his studies, Morales leads guitar classes at the church as an outreach.

Morales is temporarily unable to cross the border due to visa restrictions. Because of the pandemic, he also hasn’t been able to visit his parents in Acuña for months. He longs to visit his family and see his brothers and sisters in Christ again, but he knows it’s all in God’s time.

On Sunday, Morales preached and Fickenscher led the Divine Service at Cristo El Salvador in Del Rio. Those who could gathered together in person. And while the saints from both cities wait for the border to open both ways — and it may soon — Christ crucified is preached and His gifts are freely given. “It’s not a mystery for us as the Lutheran church,” said Fickenscher. “Christ has given us these tools.”

Pray with Us

Your love, O Lord, cannot be contained by borders. As You sent the apostle Paul to preach the Gospel in foreign lands, so You call the servants of Your Word to preach the Gospel in various places. We thank You for Cristo El Salvador and Pastor Fickenscher as they serve people in Texas and Mexico. Bless Fickenscher’s ministry and the work of Vicar Morales as they continue to adjust to the changing circumstances, so that Your Word and Sacraments are provided for Your people for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Bless all pastors and members of their congregations through Your Means of Grace, and draw us all to Christ and His resurrection. Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

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Erik M. Lunsford 

Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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