MARSHALL—Students from East Texas Baptist University crossed cultural and language barriers—not to mention the Texas/Mexico border daily—while serving in recent missions projects along the Rio Grande.
Eighteen ETBU students worked from Primera Iglesia Bautista in Eagle Pass, crossing the border each day to lead Vacation Bible School at Bethesda Iglesia Bautista in Piedras Negras and to minister in two children’s homes.
“Our plans were to work only with the special-needs children’s home that the pastor of Bethesda, Paulino Esquivel, runs,” said ETBU Baptist Student Ministry Director Mark Yates, who accompanied the students with Debra Wainscott, assistant director of international education. “Casa Hogar Bethesda is the only special-needs home in Northern Mexico ministering to residents who have nowhere else to go.”
But God arranged a divine appointment that allowed the students to expand their ministry to a second children’s home, he explained. The student group discovered Casa Hogar Piedras Negras while they were trying to locate Bethesda.
“We were lost and saw their sign, so we stopped for directions. In the process we discovered they did not have anyone working with them for the week, so we did,” Yates explained. “This was a blessing on both ends, since we really had too many to take to Bethesda every afternoon.”
The time spent in Mexico presented challenges to overcome, said Beth Briner, a music education major from Spring.
“The pastor mentioned that many people come and help them build buildings and do outside work,” Briner said. “Very few groups come to interact with the special needs children.
“I had the opportunity for two days to play with a little girl who was in a wheelchair and could not communicate very well. I fed her lunch and picked her up and put her on a swing. She and I sat outside for hours. The smile on her face meant everything to me.”
Sam Buzzard, a religion major from Lake Charles, La., found ministry at the special-needs home particularly challenging.
“It was real sad seeing those children impaired like they were, but it was very encouraging to see the joy they had by just having us visit and interact with them,” Buzzard said. “I personally learned from this experience the importance of just showing people that you care about them. We tried to show the children of the special-needs home that people do love them.”
Working around the language barrier presented significant challenges, sophomore Amanda Bean of Nederland noted.
“Not knowing how to speak Spanish and trying to communicate with the kids was difficult,” Bean said. “We did have someone with us who knew a little Spanish, and they were a big help to my sister and me.”
Actions spoke louder than words, Briner observed.
“Before VBS would start, we would be outside playing football or jump rope,” said Briner. “I would turn the jump rope and count in Spanish while the kids jumped, and they would laugh and have a great time. We conveyed a bigger message by just hugging and loving on them and smiling. I was conveying a message to them and likewise them to me, which was more powerful than words.”
Doing activities that did not require words helped the group form relationships that had everlasting impact, the students noted. Despite the obstacles the mission group experienced, the students agreed—they saw God at work.
Sophomore psychology major Sara Jeter of Troup was moved by her experience working with the special needs children.
“The children at the special needs home probably won’t remember us, and some of them probably did not recognize us from day to day,” said Jeter. “God used the time I had with those special children to teach me that his love is always going to be present. I really saw God on the faces of the children and adults at the special-needs home. God is always going to love us, even if we forget about him from day to day.”
“I know that God worked in the lives of the children we ministered to, because at the end of VBS, the ladies of the church told us there were six professions of faith made,” said Bean.
“I have never been on a trip with a group that meshed as well as we did,” Buzzard added. “God showed us that he can overcome any barrier. Even though we could not speak the language, people still responded.”