Saturday, March 23, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 24

Bishop Keener Issues Appeal to Build Church in Laredo, “The Strong Should Support the Weak.”  March 25, 1882

Bishop John Christian Keener (1819-1906) was the MECS Bishop most closely associated with the denomination’s Mexican Missions.  It was Keener who founded the MECS Mexican Mission in 1873.  He had been elected bishop from the editorship of the New Orleans Christian Advocate in 1870 and continued to reside in a New Orleans suburb.  For most of the first part of his episcopacy he was thus the MECS bishop who lived closest to Mexico.  In the fall of 1881 Keener presided over the Texas conferences.  At the West Texas Conference he appointed T. W. Biggs to Laredo.
1881 was a pivotal year in the history of Laredo.  That was the year that the International and Great Northern Railway extended its tracks from San Antonio to Laredo.  Also in 1881 rails connected Laredo to Corpus Christi.  The rail connections made Laredo the most important inland port connecting the United States and Mexico.  It continues to hold that rank.  In 2012 there were 2,800,000 truck crossings at Los Dos Laredos.   

As Laredo became an important center for international commerce, it also became important for MECS missions.  In 1880 the wives of two presiding elders took some Mexican girls into their homes to teach them.  From such small efforts by Mrs. Frank Onderdonk and Mrs. Joseph P. Norwood came Laredo Seminary.  Laredo Seminary was later renamed Holding Institute.    
Just months after appointing Biggs to Laredo, Keener wrote the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate an open letter appealing for aid in helping Biggs raise funds for a church building. 

  Here is the letter from the March 25, 1882 Advocate.

New Orleans---At the last West Texas Conference the Rev. T. W. Biggs was appointed to Laredo.  He was judged to be a very fit man for that very important frontier rail road city, which les on the border of Mexico and Texas.  His first and greatest need is a church building, and to this work he is now addressing himself.  If Southern Methodism would hold the keys of the state of Texas we must do by faith and works.  That she has the faith, who can doubt?  But faith without works will not hold Laredo, whatever it may have accomplished else where.  There are at present only a few church members there, but a large population of rail road men and new settlers are coming who will attend upon the preaching of the word if opportunity is afforded them.  Thus by the blessing of God and the presence of the Holy Ghost, these bones on the border may be breathed to life. , and become a strong force in the great campaign.

It is a well settled principle in Methodism that the strong should support the weak and I therefore commend Bro. Biggs to all the church he may visit in furtherance of building a good and creditable house of God in Laredo.   J. C. Keener.


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