Missions volunteers along Rio Grande ‘pay it forward’

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RIO GRANDE VALLEY—Twenty-five-year-old Matthew Ryan Yow died in a car accident in May.

But this summer, Matthew’s mother, Susan Yow, and his 15-year-old sister, Lauren, joined the brigade of more than 300 Baptists heading south to serve in the Rio Grande Valley’s colonias through KidsHeart, a collaborative mission effort between the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Buckner Children & Family Services and Buckner Border Ministries.

Lauren Yow, 15, and her mother Susan Yow, worked with a team from First Baptist Church in Lorena to build a playground and plant a garden outside Primera Iglesia Bautista in Sullivan City, located in the Rio Grande Valley. The benches and garden will commemorate their brother and son, Matthew Yow, 25, who died in a car accident in May.

In addition to the lower Valley, the KidsHeart initiative included teams working in El Paso and New Mexico.

Altogether, the intensive mission effort included 422 volunteers from 29 churches and groups. Buckner and CBF officials reported 33 individuals made professions of faith in Christ during the two-week KidsHeart project.

In addition, the teams worked on 17 construction projects; painted homes, churches and a park facility; distributed backpacks, shoes, clothing, hygiene kits and other supplies to families; and led Vacation Bible Schools involving more than 900 children and adults.

While on the mission trip, Susan and Lauren Yow hammered and spray painted. Mrs. Yow shopped for school supplies for colonia children.

Lauren took a break from shoveling to talk about her brother. She stood in a half-finished park in front of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Sullivan City while her friends from First Baptist Church of Lorena continued working.

The flowerbed they dug and the benches they spray-painted will commemorate Matthew. The money came from funeral donations.

“Just because you lose someone doesn’t mean you have to lose what they’re about,” Lauren said. “The benches mean a lot, because they show how everyone mourns for me and my family.”

Lauren, who participated with her church at KidsHeart last year, said she came back this year because she wanted to serve.

“I feel like I’ve made a difference in these kid’s lives by being here,” she said, adding her brother’s death spurred her mom to action, too.

Mrs. Yow said she was drawn to the Valley by the “incessant need to do for others.”

“We had such an outpouring of cards, phone calls and people showing up at our house that we felt like we wanted to pay it forward,” she said.

“My son was a loving, giving person. And in a way, I feel like this carries on his life.

“We can take two paths. We can be bitter, or we can be better. And the difference is ‘I.’ I feel truly blessed.”

Roberto Rodriguez seeks prayer from Buckner colonia coordinators Jorge Zapata and Omar Chavarria during KidsHeart in the Rio Grande Valley, a joint missions effort between Buckner Children and Family Services and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

While Susan hammered nails outside the house of Roberto Rodriguez, Rodriguez took a break to speak to Buckner staff Jorge Zapata and Omar Chavarria. Rodriguez and his wife recently moved back to the Valley from Nebraska. They have been living with their son in a one-room house. Volunteers from First Baptist Church in Lorena refurbished a former garage into a house for the couple.

“God doesn’t bless us because we are good,” Zapata told Rodriguez. “He blesses us because he is good.”

Rodriguez nodded in agreement and said he wants to return to God. The three bowed their heads and prayed together.

At another site in Puebla de Palmas, 17-year-old Kelly Rogers from First Baptist Church in Graham said she enjoyed serving the community through painting, fixing gardens and leading Vacation Bible School.

“If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be working as a waitress or … nothing.” She paused. “This is way better than what I’d be doing.”

First Baptist Graham Youth Minister Jason Hilliard, 29, said the trip has brought a lot of growth to his youth group.

“It’s good for them to see that God is spanning all languages and cultures,” Hilliard said. “One of our guys is learning to play guitar, and he was strumming ‘Shout to the Lord.’ The kids jumped in and started singing in Spanish. It’s really neat, God being praised in different languages.”

Rick McClatchy, CBF Texas coordinator, said the volunteers help those who need it and, as a side bonus, they grow in their own spiritual formation.

“Having Jorge (Zapata) and Cheyenne (Solis) and other Buckner people on the field helps us know where to send teams to. The CBF angle is bringing labor and workers, while Buckner finds local churches and communities that we can work with when we show up,” McClatchy explained.

Children from the Rio Grande Children’s Home, a Buckner residential program in Mission, also worked on KidsHeart projects.

By the end of the work day, they were spotted from head to toe with blotches of paint and sweat. Paul Calmes from First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City sat them down outside the house to pray for them and thank them for their good behavior and teamwork.

“We could not have done this without your help,” he told them. “I think that’s what life is all about. You set an example, and I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for you being here with us. I’m going to be praying for you and not just for a little while, because you’re in our hearts now.”

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