Church mission trip intends to build relationships in Colonias
Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 8, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 8, 2011 at 11:09 p.m.
Colonias are communities that lack basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, drainage, and safe and sanitary housing.
Colonias residents are mostly minorities and low-income wage earners.
Colonias residents are among the most disadvantage population in the state of Texas.
Texas is home to more colonias residents than any other state.
Approximately 500,000 Texans live in 2,300 colonias communities along the 1,248-mile stretch from Cameron County on the Gulf of Mexico to El Paso County in the west.
Source: South Texas Colonias Initiative and SECO
It wasn't the first time Northside Baptist Church senior pastor, the Rev. Tim Williams, led a team of missionaries to the Colonias near Donna. But it was the first time he led them with a different kind of mission.
In recent years, when Williams' church visited the economically struggling communities along the Texas-Mexico border, there were plans in place for quick-hitting church and residential construction remodels, vacation Bible schools and other goodwill projects. And even though the church's recent spring break mission trip to Donna this past March did indeed include those projects, Williams and more than 100 church members from Northside and Austin Street Baptist Church in Yoakum made this year's mission about building lifelong relationships with their Texas neighbors to the south.
"The point of this trip wasn't necessarily to get a lot accomplished, but to build relationships with the people there," Northside's Music and Worship Pastor and mission team leader John Woods said. "We could have gone in there with a plan, and been home a lot sooner. The difference is it took a lot longer, but we ended up creating a true relationship with Fe y Poder Church."
Fe y Poder (Faith and Power) Church rests within the struggling Colonias communities near Donna - which was described as laden with impoverished agricultural farm workers and their families, many of whom live in small, piecemealed homes without indoor plumbing - and uses the few resources it has to assist the local community.
"It's still Texas, it's still the United States, but it's a whole different culture," said Alvesa Benavides, Mission trip prayer committee chairwoman and translator. "Everyone has gates to close their houses; you could tell it was a little bit dangerous. Not everyone spoke English, and when you looked around you might see a trailer sitting next to a huge home sitting next to a shack."
And since the town neighbors a landfill, the odor of trash continuously wafted through the air, she said.
By partnering with Northside, Austin Street Baptist and Buckner Border Ministries, Fe y Poder was afforded the rare opportunity to provide more outreach projects for the locals and meet specific needs of the people, both spiritual and physical.
"We started talking about a sense of direction before the trip and we decided that we needed to try and have a vision down there that was relationship-based. Not so much on doing for them, but partnering with them, so the people there could take ownership in it," Kurt Jentsch, mission trip committee chair, said.
"It was the first time we worked with Fe y Poder. Our hope was that when we left, they'd continue the projects we started," Woods added. "It's pretty humbling for them that we didn't just do everything for them, but instead they had a voice in everything."
Some of the collaborative projects completed during the weeklong church-wide mission trip included building and attaching two bathrooms on the homes of two struggling families, completing various interior and exterior construction projects in the area, erecting a wheelchair ramp for a disabled man, and teaching some of the local women to sew with sewing machines.
"All the people who did construction bonded with the families there," Jentsch said. "By the end, we were all pretty close."
But Woods also had the chance of partnering with Fe y Poder's music minister, collaborating on worship music and performing with the local church musicians.
"I'm the band leader here, and he was the band leader there, and it was neat to watch him with his group and see the common ground we share," Wood said. "It was amazing to see how God brought us together that way."
Some of the church members also participated in a vacation Bible school, playing games and face-painting, and dressing up like clowns for the children.
As the days passed, mission participants said they were thrilled to see more than 100 strangers unite amid cultural, language and spiritual differences.
"The point is that it was all Kingdom work, it blows your mind to see that. It shows you that God is present there in the Colonias as much as He's present in Victoria," Jentsch said.
Since returning to Victoria, church members agreed the relationships formed during the trip will help build future projects and collaboration efforts with the people of the Colonias.
"My next step is to host them here, rather than waiting another two years before we go back," Woods said. "This thing is ongoing now."
And Williams agreed while the trip was beneficial to the people he had a chance to serve with in Southern Texas, the lessons he learned there will also help strengthen his own church body and better guide him in realizing the needs of the Victoria community.
"It opened our eyes to the needs that are here; and we want to equip our people to be an expression of God wherever we are," Williams said.