Missouri church builds home for single mom in the Rio Grande Valley

By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Photography by Russ Dilday
Buckner International

It’s oppressively hot. Even so, the mission team from Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo. works tirelessly, toiling well past sunset trying to complete the little barn-red house taking shape on Santa Tamayo’s dusty lot. Working after dark actually makes things a little easier; it gives the team a reprieve from the heat.

People living in the Valley must have adapted to the triple-digit temperatures somehow. No matter how hot it gets, 6-year-old Ángel never stops running, jumping and smiling. It probably helps that he’s excited about having a room and a bed all to himself for the first time in his life.

Ángel and his mother had been living on their own in an old, rusty little camper behind the new house. It really is just the two of them; Tamayo’s family lives in Mexico, so they don’t have anyone else to lean on.

Tamayo works long hours at a clothing warehouse – it’s hard to find anything better when she only has a 7th grade education – and although home ownership has always been her dream, she can barely pay the bills on her small income, much less save up for a home.

She came to the Buckner Family Hope Center in Peñitas, Texas, looking for ways to get low-cost building materials for her home and an installment plan to pay a little at a time. She explained that her son got scared living in the camper. During storms “it feels unsafe,” she said. “Ángel can’t sleep when there’s bad weather because the sound of the rain on the roof and the wind shaking the camper scares him.”

Buckner staff saw that the Tamayos could benefit from case management and told Tamayo she and Ángel could do things at the Hope Center to earn points toward a new home. Though she worked long hours and often got home late, Tamayo volunteered and met goals in order to earn points.

“She follows through very quickly,” said Becci Ruiz, case manager at the Family Hope Center. “She’s really responsive when we ask her to come do things like volunteer at the center.”

The church mission team began construction on June 20 with a team of 26 volunteers, including six students who had served in the Rio Grande Valley for the entire month of June with Project Go!. They would start construction in the early morning hours to make the most of the coolest part of the day and finish after 9 p.m. some nights.

“Memorial Baptist Church did an amazing job building a house for the Tamayo Family,” said Diego Silva, Buckner mission group coordinator. “They worked 10 hours or more every day under the hot south Texas sun with a huge smile on their faces. It's amazing what people who are in love with Jesus are able to do. Without a doubt, Memorial answered God's call to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”

On the eighth day of construction, Juan Fernando Meneses spent his entire day off working for free. He’s a local, professional tape and floater who donated his time and skill working for hours in the stuffy, non-air-conditioned house finishing off the drywall installation. Though he doesn’t even know Tamayo and her son, he’s seen the change in his community because of the Hope Center and wanted to be a part of it.

“It’s something from within,” Meneses explained. “A passion inside grows, telling me to volunteer to help someone I don’t know. When I have an opportunity to do volunteer work, I do it. It’s important to help each other out. I do it with all my heart, so that maybe in the future, someone else will do the same for me.”

Meneses’ family received help from the Hope Center with some repairs on his house a week before building began on Tamayo’s new home.

“During that week, Mr. Meneses asked if he could help in a house project, so we plugged him with Memorial and he donated his time to give back to his own community,” Silva said. “When people have the hope of Jesus Christ, they are empowered to change their own lives and their world.”

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