Bishop and TAC Leaders "Head to the Border"
When the Conference Mission team arrived in the border colonia of "Los Naranjos" where Rio Grande Conference Pastor Javier Leva leads a mission outreach, they stepped into a community torn by multiple challenges. The mission work they began with their hands soon unfolded into the hearts of all involved. Led by the Bishop, all Cabinet leaders and provisional elders had stories to celebrate by the end of the weekend.
Cliff Ritters, Woodlands UMC Pastor of Caring noticed the residents of the first of the team’s work projects were initially distant and aloof. “They spoke sparingly and watched with what seemed to be skeptical suspicion,” he says. “They slowly warmed to our efforts as they noticed the care and detail which characterized our work and that we treated their home as if it were our home.” When the homeowner’s wife was empowered to choose her own paint colors, notes Cliff, “the walls of separation and distance tumbled to the ground. As the brilliant green colors were splashed on the walls of the new siding, the gospel came to life and the strangers they reluctantly endured became friends.”
Work teams tackled three houses in desperate need of repair - putting on a roof, installing a floor, building steps, installing siding and then painting. Notes TAC Missional Excellence Center Director Diane McGehee, “We also engaged in dog biscuit evangelism - helping to care for the multitude of hungry and neglected community dogs … and bearing witness to God's love for all people and creatures.”
As the work on his project neared completion, Cliff noticed the family patriarch’s response upon surveying the progress. “His son, the only Christian in the family, began to show him all the corners that had been carefully framed and trimmed, then painted according to their suggestions. He had the look of a satisfied homeowner. His expression was as bright as the paint on the walls,” says Cliff.
He adds, “When they asked if we might work on the interior of the home, it was the ultimate compliment, but time was our worst enemy and we had other priorities.” However, the relational breakthrough allowed the team to invite the family to the Saturday night church service just down the street.
“One by one, residents started to come out of the darkened neighborhood,” says Cliff. “They sat among us, and they listened to the message of love for neighbor and hope in Christ. Eventually the family from our work project did come. Then they stayed for the meal after the service and shared how their son had been arrested that afternoon. The pastor and members of the church came to meet them, and they prayed for God's intervention.”
During their short stay, the team also visited with missionary Willie Berman who works on the Mexico side of the border with the poor to learn about global issues of poverty and immigration. Adds Diane, “We also visited the border wall which was shocking for all of us, and learned about the desperate plight of immigrants crossing the border in search of work and hope.” Team members heard from Carole Lafte, the coordinator for the Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) clinic in Pharr. Explains Diane, “JFON is our Conference Advance Special for this year and JFON clinics educate the immigrant population as well as our churches about immigration issues. They also assist those who under current U.S. law have legal rights to documentation, but can't afford a lawyer or the filing fees to obtain those documents. JFON clinics are operated out of local churches and provide a powerful witness of compassion and hope to some of the least of God's children living in our midst.”
This was the fourth such trip for B.T. Williamson, TAC Assistant to the Bishop. “It was a highlight to worship with the community in one of the yards of the "Los Naranjos" trailers where the 2011 Conference Mission team built a porch and installed lighting for the weekly worship services,” he says, “as was the highlight of Bishop Huie leading the community in communion and thanksgiving.” According to B.T., “Serving alongside our provisional elders always brings a special dimension to this annual mission trip experience, as well as the rewards of returning to this same site to see the continuing stories of hope for a better future.”