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Volunteers Bring Hope to the Valley through KidsHeart

By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Buckner International

It was a hot, dirty, sweaty and paint-splattered spring break for churches and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley.

This marks the ninth year for KidsHeart, a partnership between Buckner International, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas and Literacy Conexus. The annual missions effort brought teams from across the state to build houses, install bathrooms, do landscaping, scrape peeling paint and apply fresh coats, give haircuts, teach Bible stories, feed people, lead worship, distribute clothing and much more.

The trip is always “eye-opening” for first-timers, said Rick McClatchy, field coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Texas. Most people aren’t used to the levels of poverty they see in the colonias of the Rio Grande Valley. But the feedback from volunteers is always overwhelmingly positive.

“Everyone who comes absolutely wants to return,” said Charlie Brown, pastor of The Crossing Baptist Church Mesquite, Texas. “This is our seventh year at Kids Heart and our fourth year in the Donna colonia. Our group builds every single year. The ones who were not able to come this year were very sad, but we have a number of new people who came.”

The Crossing Baptist Church held events for area children every day, including praise and worship time, Bible stories, games and other activities. They also hosted a women’s program, where women learned to make blankets and pillows, received clothes and heard the gospel.

A few streets away, a construction team from The Crossing Baptist Church installed sheetrock in the new home they were building for the Rivera family. Jason Gillespie, a member of the church and a general manager for a Dallas construction company, oversaw the project.

“Last year, I’ll be honest, I was apprehensive about coming down,” Gillespie said. “I learned very quickly that the tools that God has given me are not just for me and my family to make a living; they’re for furthering His kingdom. That’s what drives me to come down here and do this.”

Volunteers from Concord Baptist Church in Bangs, Texas, spent their week working on Iglesia Vino Nuevo, installing floors, a bathroom, a front porch and stairs. A previous Buckner mission team had started building the church. Before that, the 85-member congregation had been meeting outside the home of Victor Ramirez, the church’s pastor.

In the neighborhood around the Buckner Community Transformation Center in Peñitas, two construction teams from South Main Baptist Church in Pasadena helped finish homes, while other volunteers did vision screenings and medical screenings. Volunteers also provided technology training to local pastors.

A couple of volunteers from Sabine Creek Fellowship Church in Royse City, Texas, put their unique gifts to work by providing free haircuts to anyone who wanted one. Tracie Hobbs, a stylist who attends Sabine Creek, said the most expensive haircut in the colonias doesn’t seem like much at $8, but that’s enough money to buy several loaves of bread.

The stylists also taught Oralia Cedillo how to cut hair for herself. Cedillo said she’s always dreamed of being a cosmetologist, but with three children to take care of she hasn’t had the resources to go to cosmetology school. The team taught her popular men’s and women’s styles and gave her all the tools she needed to continue cutting hair. When they stopped by her home before leaving on Friday, she was already outside cutting a neighbor’s hair.

Over the week, about 2,000 people attended the block parties that mission teams hosted and more than 90 professions of faith were made. Teams repaired 25 homes and built 6 new houses. About 500 children attended eight Vacation Bible School programs, and 200 people benefited from the medical and vision screenings.

McClatchy said he often hears volunteers say they expected to change others’ lives, but came away feeling changed personally.

“Real spiritual formation comes as people do ministry, Kingdom of God work here upon this earth,” McClatchy said. “That is a much deeper, more profound type of theological spiritual formation, and you can’t do that in a classroom.”

Pastor Brown called Kids Heart “the best hands-on missions training that any church will ever find.”

“It’s a great ministry,” he said. “And I can tell y’all as a pastor it is probably the number one thing that has increased our missions giving, our missions participation, our missions education… So while we come to give away as much as we possibly can, we always reap the dividends and benefits through our missions giving because people want to give more and more to missions.

“I would encourage any church, every CBF church, every BGCT church, every church in Texas to come get involved in Kids Heart and become a real missional church.”

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