Bubbles, Seeds and Heroes

Date Posted: 7/13/2017

Thanks to Westbury UMC, there is a unique neighborhood in southwest Houston that is fostering trust building and friendships that cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, economics, and residential housing for the purpose of personal wholeness and systemic change. Under the tender loving care and passion of Rev. Hannah Terry, associate pastor of Westbury UMC and executive director of FAM, Fondren Apartment Ministry -- with 2,000+ low-income residents -- has grown from an experimental outreach to more of an intentional community and family. After five years of relationship building amidst languages including English, French, Kinyarwanda. Kiswahili, Nepali, and Spanish, it is reaching 501c3 status this year and expanding through new partnerships with other UMCs and an assortment of volunteers.
“All you have to do is drop over during one of our Community Nights and you will see firsthand that FAM teaches Houstonians a new way of living — relationally, communally, and consciously,” shares Hannah. Westminster UMC sponsored the June event by providing pizza, bubble pools, and a lesson from Plant it Forward Farms on planting watermelon seeds on the apartment grounds.
 Invited to photograph the most recent event, Sydnie Mares, Social Media/Visual Arts Manager for the Texas Annual Conference was a bit surprised by FAM’s unique family atmosphere initially. “When I arrived to volunteer, the children immediately greeted me in a way that was different than working in children’s ministries at my home church,” notes Sydnie. “This group truly felt like family -- even for a newcomer. One young girl was so comfortable that she even asked me if she could take a picture with my camera, so I showed her how. Other girls were blowing bubbles on their friends on the count of three to help me get the perfect shot.”
The children welcome new relationships. Ten-year-old Suzanne says, "The best part about community night is the fact that we have fun with each other, and we share, and we love each other like family!"
Sydnie encourages individuals and groups to get involved with FAM, saying, “So often when we talk about refugees, immigrants, and lower income families, we forget that the conversation isn’t hypothetical. The people affected are real. The children are beautiful, they like playing with bubbles and eating pizza, and they deserve all of the love that we can give them.”
St. Luke’s UMC and Memorial Drive UMC (MDUMC) are also among the list of loyal partners with FAM. Associate Pastor Ginny Tincher, MDUMC, is planning a one-night VBS type event with a Super Hero theme for August 2. “We are grateful to FAM for this opportunity to connect,” shares Ginny. “It’s easy for churches to become siloes and think we need to reinvent the wheel for all types of ministry, especially when it comes to outreach and the wider community. What MDUMC hopes to do in this season is open up our eyes to the beautiful ministry already happening throughout Houston, and to see how organizations and churches can better serve the kingdom by working in partnership rather than alone. I’m grateful for Hannah and the chance for our communities to build friendships and learn from one another.”
According to Outreach Director Alice King, the St. Luke’s members and friends from other faiths were blessed as Community Night volunteers. “None of our group had ever been to a place similar to Los Arcos,” shares Alice. “They were amazed at how much the children loved the activity of teaching their names to our group members. We learned that it is universal to want to know and be known. “
Hannah has observed the Los Arcos environment enriching individuals’ spiritual vitality by putting them in a place to discern their calling to a similar ministry. “As FAM works for justice by building empowered community through hospitality, mutuality, storytelling and inclusivity,” adds Hannah, “it is exciting to see visitors join us and realize they can virtually go on a mission trip right in their own city by watching what God is doing at the Los Arcos Apartments. What a joy to see our partners often experience Jesus Christ in a place they were not expecting to.”
Next Steps
Board members from St. Mark’s UMC and St. Paul’s UMC have worked over a year to secure the nonprofit status knowing that will boost FAM’s sustainability almost immediately. “We have had partners say they would love to donate to FAM and have their companies match those funds,” explains Hannah, “but their hands were tied in that respect when the ministry was through a church. This nonprofit, although it is a fresh expression of a traditional church, can now tap into new avenues of fundraising and grant writing particularly for the economic empowerment initiatives we offer through IEDA Relief & Literacy Advance of Houston.
“From the moment I walked into the property at Los Arcos Apartment Community, I was taken back to experiences of great love found through relationships I built in Guatemala and Kenya,” says Kristy Elmore, Director of Holy Friendships for FAM. “Our friends at Los Arcos have deep faith and a soulful peace that draws me in and makes me feel closer to God just being in their presence.”
“During FAM community nights we learn from each other and connect with each other by showing up and sharing love. Sometimes I start to over think plans for the evening, and I remind myself that it is God's night.  We try to stay open to the surprises and plans that unfold. To slow down and be present to God's work is a great gift and we welcome others to join us.”
To volunteer or partner with this unique ministry, contact kristy@westburyumc.org. Be sure to follow the FAM Facebook page to get involved with this awesome community.