A Safe Place to Grow

By Analiz G. Schremmer
and Ryan Brown


She asked for a set of windows and got a new house, instead.

“Gloria Fuentes came to me asking for windows for her family’s one-bedroom trailer,” said Hector Galindo, Buckner missions coordinator for Laredo and Eagle Pass. “But the trailer was falling apart—the floor was ripping off, the ceiling was falling in.

[caption id="attachment_1263" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Gloria and Alonzo Fuentes pause for a family picture next to the area where their new home is being built by KidsHeart volunteers. The family is upgrading from an old one-bedroom mobil home to a new three-bedroom house."][/caption]

“So I encouraged them to sell it and a put the money towards foundation for a house and I said that Buckner and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches would finish the job.”

KidsHeart, which is a CBF/Buckner collaboration that started seven years ago, led its first group of missionaries to Eagle Pass on July 25-31. Eagle Pass, is located in one of the 20 poorest rural counties in the United States and is still struggling to recover from a tornado that killed seven and left several injured in 2007

“These citizens live often in some difficult and adverse circumstances,” said Rick McClatchy, coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) Texas. “So when these volunteers come in for a week and provide the manpower to rebuild these homes, it gives these citizens a boost of hope and belief that their community, churches and personal lives will be stronger.”

Gloria and Alonzo Fuentes’s family were one of three that were chosen to receive new homes because their house is in such bad shape.

In the winter, frigid air cuts through their walls and when it rains, the house holds water in like a bath tub, Alonzo said.

“If it hadn’t been for Buckner, we would have had to stay in that trailer that is falling apart,” said Alonzo. “It would have taken me forever to find the money for doing repairs to it myself.”

Right now, the Fuentes couple is sleeping in their living room while their three children—ages 9, 10 and 3, share their only small bedroom.

[caption id="attachment_1265" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Eagle Pass children participate in Vacation Bible School which was led by KidsHeart volunteers in July. This was the first KidsHeart group to work in the Eagle Pass area."][/caption]

“Once the construction is finished, our daughter will have her own room, we will have ours and the boys will share another,” Gloria said. “It is still hard to believe that people would help us like this.

“When we were in the trailer, we prayed for 10 years for something stationary; a home that wasn’t mobile. This will let our kids say, ‘Wow, this is ours.’ They are gonna grow up in a safe place without worrying about where they will spend the night. I knew that God would grant me a house one day and I finally got my miracle.”

First Baptist Church in Hondo is working with St. Francis Catholic Church to complete this construction project.

Ross Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hondo said he and the 54 people serving from his church have learned a lot during their KidsHeart trip to Eagle Pass.

“I am learning about the hardships of these people and the practical tools of building homes. I’ve realized that it is important to stay focused on what the ministry is. The ministry is not building the house. The ministry is Gloria and Alonzo.”

A House in Exchange for Nothing

[caption id="attachment_1279" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Ramon and Margarita Costilla pause for a picture in front of their home in Eagle Pass. Both of them have been injured because the house was in dire conditions."][/caption]

Another couple that benefited from KidsHeart was Ramon and Margarita Costilla.

It’s been a few months since the day 69-year-old Margarita Costilla’s foot fell through one of the holes in her home, but the pain still hasn’t gone away. And her husband hasn’t recovered from the two times he was electrocuted while repairing the house.

“We are just so thankful,” she said, sitting directly in front of a fan in her living room. She points above her head at a small board holding up the ceiling. “I’m afraid it won’t hold much longer.

The Costillas live in a two-bedroom mobile home where pictures of their 26-year-old daughter hang on every wall.

“She helps us with whatever she can,” she said. “But she is just starting out and doesn’t make very much. But she is a good daughter and she is so grateful for the work that the missionaries are doing.

Chris Stiegler, from First Baptist Church of Hondo said he was glad to serve.

“It’s hot out here, it’s very time consuming, but it’s not about me, and that’s what me and my family are learning out here,” he said.

Costilla said she gives God glory for bringing the missionaries to her.

“For a while I thought I had cancer, I had five miscarriages and survived a car accident. My husband has a lot of heart trouble, sometimes he can’t breathe after he cuts the grass. We have survived it all and I am very thankful for what God has given us.

“You tell me. Who else would give us something like this? Who else would help us this way, giving us a house in exchange for nothing. Nobody but you guys. When everyone else is trying to take advantage of the poor you come and do the opposite.

The churches that worked on the Costilla home were St. Francis Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church of the Cross from Omaha Nebraska, First Baptist Church Castroville and Baptist Temple from Uvalde, Texas.

There’s No Place like Home

[caption id="attachment_1264" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Children learn the words and hand movements to Christian songs during Vacation Bible School."][/caption]

Espinoza was out-of town when her house was sucked in by the 2007 tornado that created a horror version of the Wizard of Oz.

Espinoza is a migrant worker, which means she travels around the country to pick crops. So when the tornado struck Eagle Pass in 2007, she was working in Michigan. But some friends were staying at her house.

“The sky suddenly got dark and the wind was blowing hard,” said Patty Hernandez, who stayed in Espinoza’s house the day of the incident. “I was with my mom and brother and when it got scary we ran to the door and tried to open it, but the pressure kept it shut.

“The house started shaking so we hid in a back room and held the door shut. Everything in the house flew off except for the room we were in. I could see everything flying over us and I started to fly off, too. But my brother held me down. It lasted for seven minutes but it felt a lot longer than that. When the wind quieted, we opened the door of the room and we realized that were outside. The house was gone.”

That same day, Espinoza’s brother called to let her know that her house was gone.

“She got sick from the stress and got depressed with the news,” said Alicia Velez, Espinoza’s sister in law. “But now she’s so glad that KidsHeart volunteers are rebuilding her home. She doesn’t even know how to start thanking them.”

Galindo, coordinator of Buckner missions in Laredo and Eagle Pass, said that by the time Espinoza returned to Eagle Pass, FEMA had run out of money to help people with tornado repairs, so he knew that KidsHeart had to step in.

Now Velez sends phone pictures to Espinoza to show her the progress on her home.

“She can’t wait to come home,” Velez said.

“I think what we’re doing is great because we are doing what we can to pay forward to others less fortunate,” said Craig Tompson, one of the missionary volunteers from St. John Methodist Church. “Not only are we learning new skills from each other but us grown men are setting the proper example to these teenagers out here.”

The churches that worked in the Espinoza house were South Main Baptist Church in Houston, which provided a $10,000 grant for materials; Trinity Baptist Church from San Antonio; First Baptist Church Hondo and Baptist Temple from Uvalde, Texas.

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