Feliberto Pereira is founder and executive director of Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries, a non-profit organization based in Los Fresnos, Texas that serves refugees and the poor at the Texas-Mexico border. A refugee from Cuba who entered the United States on a Freedom Flight in 1969, Feliberto has spent nearly 40 years giving back to the country that rescued him and “paying forward” to help thousands of refugees to America acquire their U.S. citizenship. Through Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries, Feliberto offers refugees food, clothing, shelter, counseling and resettlement funds.
Since 1979, Feliberto has assisted refugees from more than 40 countries and of all religious backgrounds. Feliberto believes that the success of refugees in the United States depends greatly on the welcome they receive when they arrive. He considers his ministry a full partner of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help those seeking freedom from persecution and oppression. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ICE Division routinely calls on Feliberto to assist with the settlement of Cubans seeking asylum at the International Bridge at Matamoros/Brownsville. Once initially processed, Cubans are paroled to Feliberto’s custody. Feliberto is an inspiring and compassionate individual whose life experience as a refugee uniquely qualifies him to assist other refugees as they seek to start their lives again in the U.S.
The national office of Refugee and Immigration Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis, IN, estimates that Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries has assisted approximately 20,000 refugees. Many of these refugees have gone on to become Naturalized citizens of the United States—people who once had no hope, but have become productive Americans.
Through gifts and time/talent contributions from mainly Texas churches, Feliberto has built a five-acre facility called “Casa Compasión” (House of Compassion) in nearby Bayview to receive and temporarily house asylum seekers and refugees and to host church mission groups who come to the Texas-Mexico border for volunteer projects, such as building housing for the poor.
Born March 9, 1938, on the family farm near Iguara, Cuba, Pereira received his calling to fulltime Christian ministry at the age of nine. A graduate of Los Pinos Nuevos Seminary (a seminary of the Evangelical Association of Cuba), Feliberto’s first and only Cuban pastorate was in the small town of Lugareno, Camaguey Province, in central Cuba.
Following Fidel Castro’s military takeover of the Cuban government and culture in 1959, the Communist Party of Cuba targeted clergy of all faith backgrounds for harassment and persecution, viewing them as threats to the Revolution. Recognizing that they faced a dangerous future in Cuba under Castro, Pereira, his wife and two small children applied for a U.S. Freedom Flight from Cuba to Miami in 1965, immediately after Castro announced that any Cuban could leave the country. Prior to then, no Cuban could lawfully leave the island without an exit visa, and none were being granted. That same year, Pereira, a teacher of junior high industrial arts (his duties as a pastor paid him only a token salary), was asked by Party leaders to sign a loyalty statement that would have required him to reject his Christian faith. When he refused, Pereira was fired from his teaching post and confined to forced labor camps for nearly four years, from 1965-1969, where disease and starvation left him a sick and scrawny 100 pounds.
On Nov. 6, 1969, while in his last prison camp, Pereira received word that he and his family would be allowed seats on a Freedom Flight leaving Nov. 10 to Miami, where he and his family were immediately granted political asylum by the U.S. government. After a six-month stay in New York with sponsoring relatives, Pereira arrived in the Rio Grande Valley on May 3, 1970, to accept a calling to revive the Second Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of San Benito, Texas, which had closed in 1966.
Starting with 10 members, Second Christian Church grew under his leadership to 425 members by 1984—at the time the largest Hispanic congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A new, larger church facility, re-named Emmanuel Christian Church, was built in 1979.
In his first five years in San Benito, Pereira became enthusiastically involved in many south Texas civic and church-related activities. He was an officer or director in five different church boards. In 1972, he was elected president of the Spanish Convention of Texas Churches of his denomination, and he also served as president of the San Benito Ministerial Alliance.
From 1971 to 2004, Pereira hosted La Hora Cristiana, a weekly broadcast carried on a 100.000-watt AM radio station in Harlingen, Texas, and on large Christian networks throughout Latin America. At its peak, La Hora Cristiana, reached 15 million listeners in the U.S., Canada, Caribbean and Latin America. More than 50,000 listeners a year participated in Bible Study lessons, which were sent free of charge to listeners. Pereira’s radio ministry never solicited funds from listeners as costs were underwritten by donations from two benefactors.
In 1979, following an influx of Central American refugees to the Texas Valley at the U.S. border with Mexico—the largest such migration of its kind at the southern border of the United States—Pereira immediately began an ad hoc ministry to refugees fleeing persecution from military violence, persecution and oppression—the same circumstances that brought him to the United States.
He resigned his pastorate in San Benito, and in 1985, with the help of volunteers and national church officials of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Pereira established the Good Samaritan Project in Los Fresnos, Texas, to assist refugees and became its first executive director. Simultaneously, he established a new congregation in Los Fresnos, Ebenezer Christian Church, where he remains the senior minister today. Feliberto is a member of the Board of Trustees of Brite Divinity School, a seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), whose General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, was asked by President Barack Obama to deliver the sermon at the traditional Inauguration National Prayer Service.
In June, 2008, the story of Feliberto’s life and accomplishments was released as a first-person autobiography, I Was A Stranger: Hope For A Hidden World (Brown Books, 2008). Married to Micaela Pereira, Feliberto has three children. Feliberto’s mother, his brother, and many other relatives, still reside in Cuba.