Serving Neighbors in the Rio Grande Valley

January 8, 2024
Group of Baylor Medical Students on missions

Just before Christmas, students from the Baylor Medical Student Association (BMSA) paused to serve. On a six-day expedition, these students traveled to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas to walk alongside hundreds of individuals in need of medical care and food. The trip afforded students the chance to serve neighbors in need while simultaneously strengthening their understanding of the role they could someday play as medical practitioners.

On the trip, students had the opportunity to observe and accompany a local physician, gaining insights into the typical services they provide. Additionally, they volunteered at a humanitarian respite center enriching their understanding of the diverse culture and community in the Rio Grande Valley area. A primary goal of the mission trip was to promote education and raise awareness among students regarding the narratives of refugees who have fled violence and poverty. This initiative took place at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX.

Dr. Fernandez-Luna stated “I am deeply moved by the remarkable resilience displayed by immigrants arriving from challenging conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean. It brings me joy to extend service, compassion, and assistance, all of which are mirrored by the incredible dedication of our Baylor students.”

The trip was offered by Baylor Missions, Service, and Public Life at Baylor, whose main objective is to equip individuals for leadership and service, fostering their readiness to make positive impacts both locally and globally. Bringing students and faculty together, the trip was led by Dr. Ramon Lavado from Department of Environmental Science, his wife, Dr. Maria Teresa Fernandez-Luna from the Department of Biology, and their 9-year-old daughter. This marks the second consecutive year these faculty members have spearheaded this mission trip.

The mission also encompassed visits to various Colonias, facilitated by Pastor Robert Cepeda of the Olmito Community Church. Under his guidance, the students observed impoverished communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, noting the absence of fundamental amenities such as water service and paved streets.

Student Voices

Students on the trip received a unique blend of practical experience for their future as caring medical professionals, along with a Christian heart of service both in and out of their professional practice. Several of those students shared their insights from the trip:


“Volunteering at the Respite Center was very humbling. We fed at least 500 refugees per day that aim to escape from violence or war. I was inspired by the immigrants that could still show positivity, striving me to serve the marginalized communities in my future career as a physician.”

-Dana Azzouka. sophomore University Scholar with a secondary major in Biology on the pre-medical track


“It's been incredible to see the perseverance and faith the individuals in the Rio Grande Valley have despite their circumstances. It has also shown us the importance of recognizing how blessed we are and all the opportunities to give back to the community”

-Cendra Rodriguez, senior bachelor of science major with a minor in medical humanities


“Visiting the respite center was a profoundly humbling experience. Observing the resilience and hope in the eyes of the immigrants, who arrived with minimal resources and little to no family support, was deeply moving.”

-Adarsh Garapati, junior on the pre-neuroscience major track


“Witnessing the harsh conditions of the colonials and volunteering at the Respite center for incoming immigrants, while seeing the hopefulness and relief the immigrants show in their poor condition impacts my faith and my pursuit for a career in medicine tremendously”

-Elliott Fujinami, a junior student with a major concentration in biology.