Parkway mission team heads to Mission colonias
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Oct. 21, 2010 at 5:21 a.m.
Updated Oct. 22, 2010 at 5:22 a.m.
COLONIAS FACTS Colonias can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Texas has the largest number of colonias and the largest colonias population.
Approximately 400,000 Texans live in colonias, and the population is predominately Hispanic.
64.4 percent of all colonia residents and 85 percent of those residents under 18 were born in the United States.
There are more than 2,294 Texas colonias, located primarily along the state's 1,248-mile border with Mexico.
The unemployment rate in some colonias is more than eight times the state rate.
SOURCE: Texas Secretary of State website
For years, the United States has been known as "The Land of Opportunity." But it seems that opportunity has not yet reached the colonias in Mission.
The colonias are known as the slums of Mission, a place where extreme poverty, and run-down homes - in some cases the homes are without basic water and sewer infrastructure and electricity hookups - exist inside the U.S. border.
"People come up from the interior of Mexico and settle along the border of Texas," Parkway Church Mission Director Julie Sterne, said. "They find a place to settle and build their homes from scrap lumber and other materials. So they're sort of piecemealed together."
Last weekend, partnering with Buckner International's Colonias Program and the Mission-based Centro Cristiano Familias Assembly of God Church, Sterne led a team of 16 Parkway members to the border to help rehab Buckner's donation warehouse and teach a vacation Bible school for neighborhood children. Since Friday was a travel day, the team hosted a hot dog cookout and block party when they arrived. The event attracted more than 300 residents, Sterne said. Saturday was reserved for labor-intensive efforts, including rehabbing the Buckner warehouse and assisting with construction projects on nearby homes that appeared to be in the greatest need.
"Many of the homes were no larger than one room with another room built on the back," Sterne said. "One family had 21 people living inside the same small residence."
While the men focused on construction efforts, the women led vacation Bible school for dozens of area children.
"There was a language barrier, which made it challenging to talk to the kids," Sandy Crawford, one the mission team members, said laughing. "I learned it's important to know what baño means."
Many of the colonias' kids had very few English-speaking abilities, Crawford said, and even though they were born in the United States, they were learning English as a second language in school.
"I asked the kids about their hopes and dreams and spoke with them about what they want to be when they get older. Many of them hadn't traveled outside their area or had any concept of how far away other cities were in Texas," Sterne said. "But I told them they could do anything with their life, and said they would be easily employable with a knowledge of Spanish and English."
After the day's events concluded, team members collected a "love offering" of about $100 and selected one colonia's family to spend the money on.
"We picked up a few items for this one woman who was in real need," Sterne said. "We bought warm blankets, detergent and other household items for her."
On Sunday, the team held another cookout and gave the remaining food out to the community before leaving for Victoria.
Crawford, a first-time mission trip participant, said the trip to Mission left a lasting impression on her.
"I came home and looked around and thought about how much I take for granted," she said.
And Sterne, a seasoned missions leader, said the experience in Mission was certainly not lost on her.
"It makes me think that God has me here in Victoria for a reason, to realize the needs, figure out how to meet them and love the people," Sterne said. "I don't have to go all the way to the border to do that, but sometimes we have to go the border realize why it's important."