From operating a hunger care ministry to adopting a local school the amount of opportunities, and the ways our Texas Baptist churches reach and serve their communities are endless. Because each community is different, each church responds to needs differently.
Recently, I had the privilege of visiting with Dr. Steven Parker, pastor of First Baptist Church, Weslaco, and Joe Aguilar, youth and discipleship pastor, about two unique ways their church is assisting their community. "We really want the things we are doing to be an overgrowth of our fellowship," Dr. Parker said. "We are people following Jesus and we want everything we do to be another way to walk with Him. We asked ourselves, 'What is God already doing here, and how can we be a part of it?'"
Not only is this congregation finding new ways to reach young believers and their families, but when approached by the city of Weslaco to create a winter shelter, the church responded. Below you will find our Q&A, and details and encouragement on how your church can implement similar programs.
Rachel Hendricks: How are you discipling new believers in your youth program?
Joe Aguilar: We realized that in Sunday School, we mostly have the opportunity to speak to our members, but on Wednesday night services we speak not only to our members, but our members' friends who may not know Jesus. When one of these young people become believers, we reach out to their parents.
JA: We give both the student and parents copies of the book Multiply by Francis Chan and invite them to read through it together. Now, this family who may not know Jesus is now having conversations about Jesus in the home with their children; now we can start walking this new journey with both a student and their families.
JA: We see this as another way to emphasize discipleship as a lifestyle. This book came out three years ago, and we know eventually we will need to find another way to reach these families. What works for one child and family may not work for another. Right now, this is way we are called to reach them, but we know this ministry is evolving and we let God lead the way we lead it.
RH: What has been the most effective part of the book initiative?
JA: We love seeing people, and parents respond positively to this method. We have had some families start as just sitting in our Sunday services, but have now been baptized in our church, are serving in various ministries and walking with other believers in the messiness of their own troubles.
RH: How did the idea to start a warming station come about?
Steven Parker: In November, our church was approached by the city of Weslaco to provide a shelter for people in the community who had no place to go during cold weather - both for the homeless and those who have inadequate housing. We are in the mid-Valley, and other shelters or warming station locations are in Harlingen and McAllen. The facility would be open when the National Weather Service forecasts the temperature to drop below 42 degrees for three or more consecutive hours.
SP: In December, we received Red Cross Training, and by then, we thought the cold weather may be over, but we had several cold snaps early in the year.
SP: We were open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and provided a hot meal, cots, board games, shower facilities and we sent the families home with non-perishable foods the next day. The city has also provided law enforcement officers so both our volunteers and visitors felt safe.
RH: How many times has the warming station opened? Can you tell us anything about those who arrived at the station?
SP: We have had the opportunity to open three times. Each time, we had one visiting family.
JA: A pregnant woman and her four boys came. We had students at the church that night, so the boys had someone to play with, and the mother was able to visit with our women volunteers in our conference room. It felt like this family was a part of our church, and not a poorer family in the community. We now have a continued relationship with this family.
JA: Another woman came, but was very apprehensive at first. By the end of the night, not only was she more comfortable, but when she sat on her cot to go to sleep, she prayed in Spanish and thanked God for us. She said she felt like royalty. She is now visiting our church and attending Sunday School.
RH: What will you be doing to prepare for the upcoming winter?
JA: This has been such an amazing opportunity for both our church and the city to respond to a need, and it remains to be seen how it will evolve.
SP: We are thankful the weather is warmer, but we loved opening our church's doors to the community. We can now spend the coming months discovering what we can do better, and train more volunteers.
SP: We intend to mobilize again this fall.
RH: What advice can you give a church interested in starting similar programs?
SP: Just keep an open mind! Be sensitive to what God is doing in your community and go with it. If we tried to open a program like this on our own a few years ago, it would have failed. A warming station may not work in every city, but what is going on in your community right now?
JA: We encourage you to be open about the struggles you are having with a program getting off the ground because someone may be able to help you in that exact situation. There are people in your church and community who may be experts, and who would love to help you.
To learn more about what other Texas Baptist churches are doing to serve their communities, please visit our profiles page.