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Keeping The Faith in South Texas: Insight and Encouragement from Pastor Jorge Tovar

It all started when local officials in Laredo announced a mandatory lockdown with no more than 50 person gatherings in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

As Laredo Prayer Task Force president, I contacted the secretary pastor Reynaldo Gonzalez to discuss what the City was doing and if our First Amendment rights were being tested. Being the South Texas Church Coordinator for Texas Values, I contacted them immediately for counsel and at the same time contacted the mayor and a city council members for some clarity on their intended announcement.

Pastors and their churches in our area were questioning if the local orders were directed to the faith community. Based on the City’s order at the time, I immediately started contacting local pastors explaining that we could still have religious services of no more than 50 people in a room and even outside services could have no more than 50 people in a group. Others Pastors were encouraged to have online services if they didn’t have the facilities to host multiple smaller gatherings.

But on the same week we were planning our 50 person gatherings, the City Council had an emergency meeting and unanimously passed a ban on ten people gatherings. We had intended to speak to the Mayor and some of the City Council members about this so the churches and government could be on the same page, but it seemed our request fell on deaf ears.

I had never faced this type of crisis before in my life time as a Christian (49 years). “What do we do now?” Was our prayer to God. “Show us what to do next.” That next morning the Lord spoke to my heart and told me this is what He meant last year in April while visiting Washington DC when He told me: “Get me out of here.”  The Lord wanted us to unite and get out of the four walls of our buildings to let our light shine to a pandemic dark world.

So we started to execute drive-thru food drives where people would stop by in their cars, without getting out their cars, to receive bags of food prepared beforehand by church volunteers.  We also offered drive-thru prayer.

As Laredo Prayer Task Force president and church coordinator for Texas Values, I had been communicating with local and out of town pastors, informing them what we, as pastors and churches, could do and not do, in and for, our respective communities.  But then after all this, the City put out another flyer announcing new rules stating church services need to be held online. The City’s flyer read “Religious Services Online” under the “Can Do” column, with no explanation offered.

Laredo pastors were disappointed and didn’t understand why the City was announcing, just before Easter, new restrictions. Jordan River Church, my church that I pastor, had already held a drive-in Palm Sunday service with no incident. We started having Zoom meetings with pastors explaining and discussing Governor Abbot’s Executive Order clarifying that churches were and are “ESSENTIAL”, and providing essential services.

Being in communication with Texas Values from the beginning, they kept us well informed as to Governor Abbott’s Executive Order which said churches are essential. So on Easter Sunday, we were excited to host another drive-in service at my church that followed Gov. Abbott’s order and the counsel of Texas Values, and we look forward to continuing to do that in the future.

We, as churches, will continue, as essential places, working and shining as the Light of the World, and giving back to the Community. The “church is an Essential place and the people need to know that they can still go to the House of the Lord to fill their much needed spiritual lives on a daily basis as one needs gasoline, food and others essential needs.”

I encourage my fellow Pastors and Churches to  keep connected with Texas Values as we make sure the faith community remains protected under our First Amendment.

*Written by Pastor Jorge Tovar of Jordan River Church in Laredo. Pastor Tovar also serves as Texas Values’ South Texas Church Outreach Coordinator. 

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