Walking the streets of Laredo

LAREDO?The rapidly growing border city of Laredo has a population of nearly 300,000. Despite the growing numbers of people, the number and effectiveness of evangelical churches pale in comparison. Chuy Avila, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s first full-time missionary/church planter in Laredo, endeavors to change that with help from mission-minded Baptists.

This summer, Avila will host mission “vision trips” for churches interested in partnering in his goal to plant 50 churches in the city by 2015.

Vision trips introduce potential mission partners to the city through tours and prayer-walks. Participants will receive statistics and information about the city. They will walk the streets of Laredo to see God’s heart for its neighborhoods firsthand.

Last year, such a vision trip forged a successful partnership between a Texas church and a neighborhood Avila designated high priority.

“We have already picked a place where we are going to start a Spanish-speaking church,” Avila said. “We already discovered a person of peace?a non-Christian family who is very open to hearing the gospel. We found them through prayer-walking around an area.”

During the prayer-walk, a woman from the neighborhood approached the team and asked them to pray for a family member in the hospital. Avila took the opportunity not only to pray for the sick family member but also to visit him in the hospital. Through these visits, he has built a valuable relationship as the partner church reaches out to this area.

SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy said vision trips benefit people in three vital ways.

“First, it connects people with Chuy Avila, our point person in Laredo. Vision trips allow people to meet him, hear his passion, and hear from him his strategies and priorities,” Coy said. “Second, they need to see Laredo from a missionary’s eyes. He can take people into the nooks and crannies of the city. He knows where there is effective work and where there are gaps. Third, it gives people an opportunity for the Lord to speak to them directly and tell them ‘this is the community to adopt.'”

A vision trip differs from a mission trip. For a day and a half, one can see the potential for future mission trips to the area. It allows a person to determine where and how God would have them minister in Laredo, for example, or any other mission area.

“You go and you see,” Coy said. “You see Chuy’s vision, capture the Lord’s vision, and develop your own vision. Doing comes later.”

Thus summer, Avila plans to introduce vision trip participants to neighborhoods ripe for church planting, especially the areas surrounding the university, where hundreds of college students live without a single church ministering to them. Other priority areas range from affluent and middle-class to low-income neighborhoods that have little if any evangelical influence, and city parks where Avila envisions block parties and sports evangelism.

“One of the best ways to discern God’s will is to actually walk upon the soil of an area,” Avila explained. “He may use a person you see or meet to

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