Mission team builds homes, hope in Rio Grande Valley

Tenth annual KidsHeart trip an ‘astounding’ success


By Chelsea Quackenbush
Photography by Mike McLean and Chelsea Quackenbush


PENITAS, Texas – Members of First Baptist Church of Lufkin took homebuilding to a new level during spring break in the Rio Grande Valley through a collaboration between Buckner and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Starting in February, church members helped build the house in small “modules,” which were loaded and transported on a 48-foot flatbed.

The idea came from semi-retired engineer and church member Art Nelson; he thought it would be a good way to get church members who would be unable to travel to the Valley involved.

“We looked at different options using the Buckner floorplan,” he said. “We weren’t sure how many people would be here and everything needed to be made to handle by hand.”

Nelson said about 30 church members built the modules over the course of four weeks on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the church parking lot. The church also held a house-warming shower in Lufkin to collect new items for the family – everything from towels, sheets, pillows and furniture.

The newly-finished house now belongs to the Torres family. Jose Torres suffered from polio when he was young and as a result needs to wear leg braces and walk with a cane. FBC Lufkin modified the front porch and other parts of the house to make it easier for him to move around.

Jose, and his wife, Ana, have four children – Yarid, 11; Ruby, 6; Valeria, 4; and Jose, 2. After the family posed for a group photo with FBC Lufkin in front of their almost-finished home, they presented the church members with a certificate of thanks in a large frame. Although Ana and Jose didn’t speak English, and the church members didn’t speak Spanish, their shared tears said it all: thank you.

“I have a lot of compassion for people who are trying to better themselves but face obstacles – that drew me to this family,” Nelson said. “They’re trying really hard. The thing that really touched me about this family, particularly, was the oldest daughter. She has done well in UIL competitions and with an opportunity, I know she can become someone important. She just needs a chance.”

In all, 13 churches – for a total of 540 people – partnered with Buckner on various mission projects in the Valley. They built seven homes for families; they taught financial literacy classes, Vacation Bible Schools, sewing classes, sports camps, leadership classes, computer classes and other activities.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of KidsHeart, a missions agreement signed in 2003 by Buckner International and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The two organizations support each other to serve children and families in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I am convinced spring break is not only the most exciting week of the year, but it is also the week when we serve the most people and we bring together a large number of Texas churches,” said Javier Perez, Buckner manager of missions and humanitarian aid. “This is the greatest week of the year. We were able to serve thousands; it was an astounding success.”

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