Building Relationships and a House, Cabinet Ordinand Mission Trip
By Lindsay Peyton
Bishop Scott J. Jones looks forward each year to a mission trip he takes with District Superintendents and ordinands. It’s a time to get to know one another – and to join together to work on a worthy cause. The team recently returned from their annual trip, which took them to South Texas, where they helped construct a house from the ground up.
The project was on the list for Stephanie Villarreal-Gonzalez, disaster recovery case manager for the Rio Texas Conference of the UMC.
She has been helping homeowners affected by the Great June Flood of 2018 in the Rio Grande Valley. “We get clients and help them with their recovery needs,” she said. “We want to help them get back to where they were before the flood.”
If damages were too extensive in the home, Villareal-Gonzalez and her team recommend reconstruction.
“We want to mitigate damage to the homes, so they don’t have to go through this again,” Villarreal-Martinez said.
That was the case for Florentino and Rosa Martinez. Their home was so wrecked by the 2018 flood that new construction was the only option.
“Their home now is not sanitary,” Villarreal-Gonzalez said. “There’s so much mold, and it’s not safe. The floor is weak and soft.”
To make matters worse, the couple is elderly and both have health problems. Since Villarreal-Gonzalez has been working with them, Florentino had two eye surgeries and was left blind by the operations.
When another storm rolled in this past June, the Martinez home flooded again.
“The water stayed for a long time,” Villarreal-Gonzalez said. “We tried to get inside their neighborhood, and we couldn’t. We had to wait two to three days because of the high water.”
When the cabinet and ordinand volunteers from Texas Annual Conference showed up, construction was ready to begin.
“The house was just not livable,” Rev. Scott Moore said.
Moore serves as director for the Texas Annual Conference’s Center for Missional Excellence and also coordinated the trip to South Texas. He explained that this effort has been ongoing for a decade now.
The Bishop and District Superintendents worked alongside the ordinands to set piers and beams up for a higher foundation, Moore said. They worked together for three days.
“We went from bare dirt to four walls and half of the ceiling trusses,” Moore said.
Villarreal-Gonzalez said the effort made a world of difference. “The family is very appreciative of all of the work,” she added.
Now the house is up higher than the water rises, she explained. The same template was used for a home down the street, and it did not flood this summer when the rains came.
Once the structure is completed, crews of electricians and plumbers can get to work.
Seeing the progress is meaningful. “It gives us hope,” Villarreal-Gonzalez said. “Not only will they get a house, but their health could improve in the long-run.”
When everything has finished, Villarreal-Gonzalez will invite the Texas Annual Conference volunteers back for an event to bless the home and the family.
While on the trip, the Bishop, District Superintendents and ordinands also went to work at Catholic Charities in McAllen. Moore explained that the group has been helping immigrant families after they are held in detention centers, providing them with a change of clothes and a hot meal.
“We sent groups there for two days to help them sort clothes,” he said.
They also joined together to organize hundreds of shoes at Catholic Charity and spent time getting to know each other.
Bishop Jones said that the experience was educational – and that the ordinands were able to see the Rio Grande Valley and what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border firsthand.
At the same time, he enjoyed watching everyone get to know each other on his team of volunteers. “It’s a way of breaking down barriers,” he said. “If you’re using a hammer next to your boss, that changes the relationship a little bit.”
Moore agreed. “This trip is designed for fellowship and to build connections,” he said.
A different church hosts the Texas Annual Conference each night, allowing the two conferences to also build relationships. Moore works alongside Susan Hellums, director of missions for the Rio Texas Annual Conference, to make it all happen.
“It helps us reframe in our minds what a mission is,” Moore said. “It’s as much about relationships as it is about the work.”
He hopes ordinands will continue projects with members of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. At the same time, they are able to see their local connections in action in new ways.
“It gives them the confidence to function within the conference,” Moore said. “They understand now how everyone is connected – from the Bishop down to the local churches.”
One of the ordinands, Wendy Heinemann, Chaplain at St. Francis Episcopal School, said she especially enjoyed getting to know the trip attendees.
“It was a refreshing reminder that people are people everywhere,” she said. “Your fellow ordinands are managing parenthood, the cabinet is managing the order of the conference and the people we are serving are just managing life. It is easy to put people in boxes, this was a good time be reminded of our humanity — to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted and to be loved.”
Heinemann builds wheelchair ramps at her local church – and knew how to use power tools on the job site for the Martinez family.
“That meant a lot to me the first day, to be able to use the gifts that I have,” she said.
Heinemann’s favorite part of the trip was attending a two-hour Las Naranjas service.
“It was beautiful, multicultural, lovely and life-giving to remember that Jesus’ grace and love transcends all boundaries,” she said. “We sang and prayed in Spanish and English. It reminded me of being in the Holy Land and how we are just one little piece of this world.”