By Analiz González
Buckner and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are celebrating their seven-year anniversary of sending mission groups to the United States/Mexico border.
The summer and spring break program, called KidsHeart, sends short-term mission groups from churches that serve the border through construction, medical services and Vacation Bible School among other things.
Jorge Zapata, director of the Buckner International colonia program said the number of individuals served is overwhelming.
“In 2003, we were serving between 9,000 and 10,000 people,” Zapata said. “In 2008, we are already at 73,000 and we expect to have served 100,000 by the end of the year.
“The thing is, though, that I don’t like to just count numbers because each number is a story. They always tell me in Buckner to share the stories but I tell them that there is no way to keep up with them.”
Zapata went on to describe his experience serving a severely obese man who was displaced by a hurricane and returned to find his home ravaged and vandalized. FEMA gave him money for a down payment for a new home, and Buckner was able to serve by converting a garage into his bedroom and putting up a double door so that he could be removed in case of an emergency.
Then Zapata described the story of a 4-person family living in a home consisting of boards placed over the ground and nailed together. Hurricane Dolly flipped over their house and left them huddled in mud and water until the storm passed. With the help from CBF churches participating in KidsHeart from South Carolina, Georgia, South Dakota and Texas, Buckner was able to build them a brand-new three-bedroom house.
“There are so many stories,” he repeated, after sharing a long list. “I’d better stop talking. I’d go on forever.”
Rick McClatchy, coordinator of CBF Texas said that KidsHeart is part of the CBF Together for Hope Rural Poverty Initiative.
“Together for Hope started with CBF looking at the 20 poorest rural counties in the United States and seeing what we can do to serve these people groups,” McClatchy said. “That was how we realized that seven of those counties were along the border.”
“Part of our approach is to work with community partners like schools, businesses and community centers. So we took note of Buckner International’s colonia program and formed KidsHeart together. Buckner and CBF are now working to expand the ministry so that hopefully by 2010, KidsHeart missionaries will have a variety of places in which they can serve in several Border States.”
McClatchy said that one of the advantages of doing border ministry is that it is economical and close to home, which makes it easier to bring along children and the elderly.
“A church in San Antonio can drive down in a couple of hours and be in Eagle Pass and make it a weekend trip,” McClatchy said. “They could do a lot of really good things in just a one-day thing. The proximity is a big advantage.
“It can also be a cross-cultural experience for Anglo churches that might not have a lot of interaction with Hispanic populations.”
He added that a lot of the KidsHeart work involves collaborating with local churches that are doing their best to meet the overwhelming need of such a large, struggling population.
Dexton Shores, director of Buckner ministry development on the border and in Mexico emphasized the transformational effect that KidsHope missionaries have along the border.
“It is intense because there are so many participants,” Shores said. “It is a very transformational week for the families because they are served through house repair, landscaping, the building of new homes and medical services. They are also very open to learning about the Gospel and we see large numbers of conversions every year.”
Zapata said that 2009 will be the first year that KidsHeart groups will work along the whole border from Brownsville to El Paso.
“This will be our first KidsHeart in Eagle Pass,” Zapata said. “We will also kick off our first KidsHeart in Arizona in 2009 and it will be the first time we work in Webb and Zapata counties, which are in the Laredo area.
“And, the counties we work in which are on the list of the 20 poorest in the nation are the following: Willacy, Hidlago, Star, Maverick, Savala, Presidio and Demmit.”
KidsHeart teams can come any time during the year, but that there are special blitz weeks during the year in which teams from various churches work together. Those blitz weeks are: Valley March 14-20, El Paso June 20-26, Valley July 11-17, and Eagle Pass pending.
For more information on Buckner border missions, visit www.itsyourmission.com or call 1-877-7ORPHAN.
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