Dallas-based church group provide housing, empowerment to local colonias

Park Cities Baptist Church missionaries pray for attendees at the Community Health Fair on Saturday at the Edinburg Endowment Center. (Courtesy of Park Cities Baptist Church)

EDINBURG — Last week, over 40 members of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas made its third mission trip here this year, leaving behind three painted houses, four renovated homes and 40 hand-crafted beds for low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley.

Their mission, however, was multifaceted as missionaries offered empowerment opportunities in addition to home repairs and general gift-giving.

A group of women from the church hosted a three-day women’s conference that began Wednesday, and later split into two groups in the afternoons. Those groups volunteered at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and the Mujeres Unidas women’s shelter in McAllen. The men focused on starting food pantries in local churches and improving the living conditions of families in colonias.

Together, the church groups joined in mentoring the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Baptist Student Ministry during a luncheon Thursday and took part in organizing a Community Health Fair Saturday morning, right before catching their flight back home that afternoon.

The church began its missionary work in South Texas 17 years ago, aiming to assist families in poverty-stricken areas. Through faith-based volunteering, PCBC has since sent nearly 250 members here on missions and continues to visit at least eight times a year.

John Parker, a life-long member of PCBC, who led the men’s group last week, said that ultimately their goal is to “be the hands and feet of Jesus, and show His love for people and communities through actions so that people here can see Jesus and the love He has for them.”

Laying the foundation

Parker was mainly in charge of overseeing the construction volunteer work that the 29 members of the men’s group conducted, most of it focusing on Edinburg colonias.

In Texas, half a million people live in colonias, according to a U.S News & World Report, with around 900 of the state’s 2,300 colonias found in Hidalgo County. These communities of small homes and makeshift shacks are located on the outskirts of cities, bordered by roads that are often unpaved. More often than not, these impoverished communities lack efficient drainage and water systems.

Last week, the men’s group worked on homes with a variety of needs, one being a family of six living in a trailer home. So far this year, PCBC has assisted in housing eight families.

A major part of their construction work in Edinburg last week was the PCBC’s bed ministry, which specifically focuses on building beds.

“We learned over the years that here in the Valley, unfortunately, many kids do not have their own bed,” Parker said of the families in need he’s met during their missionary trips to colonias. “They either sleep on the floor or sleep with their parents, neither situation is good.”

Volunteers assemble the beds, which takes about an hour, and deliver them to the families. These donations include the bedding.

“The kids will have their own bed to sleep in for the first time,” Parker said. “It is just great smiles on their faces. They are excited; I get to see the joy.”

Parker said that missionary work is his purpose as a Christian, and will dedicate the rest of his life toward supporting others who share that calling.

“God has put two things in my heart,” Parker said. “One: To lead people in our church on mission. And two: Coming down here to see the needs of families and churches that are trying to spread the gospel.”

He added that the missionary department of PCBC is grounded on the motto, “transformed lives transform communities.” Though their missionary work is not limited to Christians, he said their help assists their spiritual growth.

“To come here and see the needs of families in a different culture from where we are from, it has definitely helped me as a believer to see life so much differently.” Parker, a retired Dallas native who used to work in promotional advertising, said. “After we help them with their home, or give them a bed, they are more likely to become more active in their local church, and that is what we want.

“Most of our trips are just three to four days. You don’t think you would be able to establish that kind of relationship in that time, but it is again all part of God’s plan to touch the hearts of people.”

A hand in faith

While the men’s group performed construction work around the city, PCBC women missionaries hosted the church’s first women’s conference in the Edinburg Endowment Center.

On Wednesday morning, rows of small wooden boxes were scattered on tables. The activity of the day was to decorate the box with gold glitter and plastic gems, which would then become a safeplace for attendees to note their worries.

Speakers were also accommodated in the room for the three-day conference. That day, Rosa Martinez of the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office discussed personal and internet safety, trafficking and domestic violence with the women, and gave them information of available services and who to contact if facing such dangers.

Sobbing, women testified during a Spanish sermon about past cases when they were not respected in the workplace.

Emily Martin was one of the 14 women of the PCBC group last week, and said that she cannot count the number of mission trips she has been part of, but knows that most of them have been to the Valley.

She explained that last year, they organized an event similar to the women’s conference at Iglesia Vino Nuevo in Edinburg, which inspired their initiative to start an official conference. There, women made hand scrubs, hand-tracing drawings and painted their nails — all following a theme that emphasized the power of hands.

“Hands for prayer, hands for praise, hands for abrazo — those were our themes,” Martin, a library director, said. “The idea is that crafting is a gateway to relating to the women. Everyone gets to make something. It’s pretty, it’s fun, it’s a way of breaking down barriers.”

Later in the day, attendees and volunteers gathered for worship and praise. Snacks and child care were available for attendees.

“Sharing your faith is a personal thing,” Martin said. “You can preach the gospel, you can sing and be a part of all of it, but the key part of it is one-on-one sharing, one-on-one loving.

“We came here to love these women. You know, only a few of us speak Spanish, but we all know how to hug, we all know how to smile.”

Four more trips are planned for the year, with the next one scheduled for June. In the missionary work that PCBC does in South Texas, it is important for them to invite local pastors to connect the people they are helping with churches in their area.

‘A Godsend’

In organizing the mission trip, Hearts4Kids, a faith-based nonprofit organization that serves impoverished families in this region, played a seminal role in connecting PCBC missionaries to those in need.

The nonprofit, which was founded by Jorge Zapata five years ago, works to coordinate with churches across the state who want to take on mission projects that support low-income families in the Valley. Partnering with over 25 churches now, projects vary from organizing back-to-school supply drives, to repairing homes in colonias, which is what PCBC members did last week.

Zapata is also a pastor at New Wine Church in La Feria, and said that his drive for leading Hearts4Kids stems from a family he met over a decade ago who wanted a lime-green home.

He said that the situation of the family was alarming; the mother was diabetic and pregnant, the father had gone three days without eating so he could feed their 8-year-old son. After buying groceries for them, he saw their living conditions and immediately gathered a group of volunteers to renovate their house.

In one week, they installed insulation and new windows in the home and painted the exterior lime-green with white trim — a request by the mother. Zapata was especially moved to conduct this kind of work after witnessing the boy’s reaction to seeing his newly renovated home.

“When the little boy got off the bus, he screamed ‘I have a new house’ with so much excitement,” Zapata said. “He was just so excited and ran around, I will never forget it.”

He explained that for those living in extreme poverty, their arrival is viewed as a Godsend.

“When a mission group arrives in the colonias, people in colonias say this: ‘When the mission group arrives, it seems like God arrived with them, and when they leave, God was left with them,” Zapata said.