By Analiz González
(Rio Grande Valley, TEXAS) — Twenty-five-year-old Matthew Ryan Yow died in a car accident in May.
But two months later, Matthew’s mom, Susan, and his 15-year-old sister, Lauren, joined the brigade of more than 300 Baptists heading south to serve in the Rio Grande Valley’s colonias July 13-18 through KidsHeart, a collaborative mission effort between the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Buckner Children and Family Services/Buckner Border Ministries.
For the second consecutive year, the KidsHeart initiative included teams working in El Paso June 29-July 3. And for the first time, KidsHeart volunteers served in New Mexico.
Altogether, the intensive mission effort included 422 volunteers from 29 different churches and groups. Buckner and CBF officials report that 33 individuals made professions of faith in Christ during the two weeks of KidsHeart.
In addition, the teams were involved in 17 construction projects, painted homes, churches, and a park facility, distributed backpacks, shoes, clothing, hygiene kits and other needed supplies to families, and led Vacation Bible Schools involving more than 900 children and adults.
While on their mission trip, Susan and Matthew Yow hammered and spray painted. Susan shopped for school supplies for colonia children. And they smiled, too.
Lauren took a break from shoveling to talk about her brother. She stood in a half-finished park in front of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Sullivan City while her friends from First Baptist Church of Lorena continued working.
The flower bed they dug and the benches they spray-painted will commemorate Matthew. The money came from funeral donations.
“Just because you lose someone doesn’t mean you have to lose what they’re about,” Lauren said. “The benches mean a lot because they show how everyone mourns for me and my family.”
Lauren, who participated with her church at KidsHeart last year, said she came back this year because she wanted to serve.
“I feel like I’ve made a difference in these kid’s lives by being here,” she said, adding her brother’s death spurred her mom to action too.
Susan said she was drawn to the Valley by the “incessant need to do for others. We had such an outpouring of cards, phone calls and people showing up at our house that we felt like we wanted to pay it forward. My son was a loving, giving person and in a way, I feel like this carries on his life.
“We can take two paths,” she added. “We can be bitter, or we can be better and the difference is ‘I.’ I feel truly blessed.”
While Susan pounded her hammer outside the house of Roberto Rodriguez, Rodriguez took a break to speak to Buckner staff Jorge Zapata and Omar Chavarria. Rodriguez and his wife recently moved back to Valley from Nebraska. They have been living with their son in a one-room house. The former garage was being transformed into a separate house by volunteers from First Baptist Church, Lorena, Texas.
“God doesn’t bless us because we are good,” Zapata told Rodriguez. “He blesses us because He is good.”
Rodriguez nodded in agreement and said he wants to return to God. The three bowed and prayed together.
At another site in Puebla de Palmas, 17-year-old Kelly Rogers from First Baptist Church, Graham, Texas, said she enjoyed serving the community through painting, fixing gardens and doing Vacation Bible School.
“If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be working as a waitress or … nothing.” She paused. “This is way better than what I’d be doing.”
First Baptist Graham youth pastor Jason Hilliard, 29, said the trip has brought a lot of growth to his youth group.
“It’s good for them to see that God is spanning all languages and cultures,” Hilliard said. “One of our guys is learning to play guitar and he was strumming ‘Shout to the Lord.’ The kids jumped in and started singing in Spanish. It’s really neat, God being praised in different languages.”
Rick McClatchy, CBF Texas coordinator, said the volunteers help those who need it and, as a side bonus, they grow in their own spiritual formation.
He explained the Buckner/CBF collaboration that brings about KidsHeart.
“Having Jorge (Zapata) and Cheyenne (Solis) and other Buckner people on the field helps us know where to send teams to. The CBF angle is bringing labor and workers while Buckner finds local churches and communities that we can work with when we show up.”
Another group of volunteers who worked at KidsHeart were the children from the Rio Grande Children’s Home, a Buckner residential program in Mission.
By the end of the work day, they were spotted from head to toe with blotches of paint and sweat. Paul Calmes from First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City sat them down outside the house to pray over them and thank them for their good behavior and teamwork.
“We could not have done this without your help,” he told them. “I think that’s what life is all about. You set an example and I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for you being here with us. I’m gonna be praying for you and not just for a little while because you’re in our hearts now.”
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