BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Jacob had only a stone for a pillow much less a roof over his head. Did Elijah have three square meals a day? What about an advance team? Forget it. But those called today to the unforgiving climate of the Rio Grande Valley to tell of the love of Christ can have all of that?at a price that would put most hotels out of business.
The vision of Bob Clements, former pastor of First Baptist Church Brownsville, has become the mainstay of mission work for the congregation. The Mission Outreach Center (MOC) provides dorm-like housing and meals for mission groups who come to the valley to spread the gospel. Groups sleep in bunks and eat food prepared by volunteers from the church’s youth department and kitchen coordinator Connie Hendrick.
Groups are charged only $99 a person for a seven-day stay at the Center. That’s just enough to cover food and electricity costs, said FBC Minister of Missions and Education Ricardo Rivera.
“Our vision is we’re in kingdom work,” said Rivera. “We’re not in this for our church.”
FBC Senior Pastor Steve Dorman described the MOC as a staging area for mission activities in the valley and across the border. In addition to providing meals and lodging, FBC helps churches find locations in which to work, and transportation. Rivera and long-time valley missionary Dwight Hendrick act as an advance team, completing prep work so groups can get right to work as soon as they arrive.
“I do all the leg work,” Rivera said. To secure locations for Vacation Bible School programs, Rivera contacts area parks departments, property owners and churches for permission to use their land and facilities. Hendrick maps out areas within Mexico’s colonias for door-to-door evangelical outreach. The colonias are regions on either side of the Texas-Mexico border inhabited by squatters living on the fringes of civilization ? most colonias have no running water or electricity and some people live in homes made of nothing more than cardboard.
It is these people and the families of the Rio Grande valley who draw mission groups from across Texas, the southern United States, and from as far north as Michigan to the Brownsville MOC, the only facility of its kind in the valley.
This “kingdom work” has changed scores of lives throughout the years. Rivera and Dorman said hundreds of decisions are made for Christ each summer through the colonia outreach and the Vacation Bible Schools held throughout Brownsville and the surrounding area.
Most of the mission groups bunking at the MOC are youth groups. A new group arrives at the MOC every Saturday evening throughout the summer from the time school is out until the first week of August.
Work begins right away, Rivera said. Teams who arrive early enough are taken to the sites where they will be hosting VBS. If a church is not available to co-sponsor the program, private property and parklands are used, and a big white tent is erected as center stage.
Building relationships with families in specific neighborhoods keeps some mission groups returning to the same site year after year. Some mission workers have seen families grow up. Adults ? who as children, attended the VBS under the white tent – are now bringing their own children.
Before the groups head out on Sunday to recruit VBS participants, they receive Spanish evangelistic training from Hendrick for their work in the colonias. Most of the youth staying at the MOC do not speak Spanish so they are given Spanish/English gospel tracts and given some very basic instructions on how to present the information in Spanish.
On Monday morning, Rivera said, “We pack up the vans and go to Mexico.” The youth are transported to a predetermined site within the Mexican colonias. Most of the participants are very excited about the outreach. They will go into the streets and door-to-door presenting the gospel all morning. But last year was different for one young missionary.
“We had a little girl?and she was scared to death,” Rivera said. He recalled how she couldn’t even speak she was so afraid of going into a different place. As the teams dispersed into the streets of the colonia, a little boy approached her and read the Bible tract she held in her hand. On the spot he accepted Jesus as his Savior and led the girl all morning through the streets translating the gospel message for her.
On average 35-40 children will attend each VBS, said Dorman. With hundreds of decisions made each summer, the biggest challenge for his congregation is not housing and feeding hundreds of hungry and tired teenagers but following up on all of the decisions, ensuring that each person who accepted Christ is then channeled into a church or some form of discipleship. Rivera said, “We get so many that it’s very hard to keep up with.”
But other valley churches are recruited to help. Rivera said if the VBS was done in conjunction with another church, that church would do the follow-ups. If there is no co-sponsor, a church in the area is contacted and given the list of prospects from their neighborhood.
What happens south of the border is just as exciting