Sovereignty Of God

HE WAS BORN September 9, 1997, to a single mom, Francia, in the Dominican Republic. Alexis Enmanuel Buret Marte could have been just one of those countless children, lost within the generational poverty surrounding his birth. Except for God. Although not a believer herself, at the grandmother’s urging, Francia took her infant to church and dedicated him to God. Much later, Francia began to attend the Iglesia Bautista Quisqueyana (IBQ) church where she accepted Christ when Alexis was five years old. Alexis and Francia continued faithfully attending church. Although Alexis believed the truths taught, he was as a young teen before he made his personal decision to accept Christ and follow Him.

Every day throughout the world many thousands of children are born to single moms, usually destined for poverty and hopelessness. What makes the difference between their fate and a child who conquers impossible odds to become a college graduate, employed, and a fine example of a Christian young man? Undoubtedly there are many factors. Nevertheless, there are two significant determinants—the sovereignty of God and personal choice.  Together they compose a mystery that our human mind can never completely understand. Yet at times we can see both of these factors juxtaposed in the life of a specific person.

Long before Alexis’ decision to follow Christ, God orchestrated events that would greatly impact Alexis’ life. In 2007, STCH Ministries was led to begin international ministry. God brought them to the Dominican Republic. As they began to focus on the needs of children and families, they were made aware of the limited opportunities for children born into poverty. Tuition in a public school was free, but every child had to have a uniform which included black shoes and white socks. In addition, they had to provide their own transportation, schools supplies and books. For many families whose most desperate need was food, education was not a priority. Sadly, without an education, there could be no hope.

These factors combined with the mission of STCH Ministries to honor God, help hurting children and families led to the creation of the Samuel’s Fund Sponsorship program. The goal was to provide resources for children from the age of 4 through high school to receive an education and to develop spiritually, mentally and socially. Sponsors contribute a monthly donation of $35.00, which goes directly to the child’s benefit, primarily education but also medical care. STCH Ministries does not deduct any percentage for administrative or operational costs of Dominican or American staff.

Robin Greene had come on several mission trips. In 2012, God moved her heart to sponsor a child through the Samuel’s Fund sponsorship ministry.

“We were matched with Alexis…didn’t choose him, but boy were we blessed!” she wrote recently. “I had met him before and was really impressed by his sincerity, hard work attitude, and willingness to do whatever was asked of him, and his joy in life.”

Sponsored by the Greenes, Alexis began to receive funding for his high school education. He grew a desire to learn English and work with the “Americanos” that he saw occasionally in the IBQ church. Gathering his courage, he approached Russell Jerez, Construction Projects Director in the Dominican Republic and asked, “Could I help you with the construction?”

“Do you know how to use tools? Have you ever held a drill?”, Russell responded.

“No, but I am willing to learn,” Alexis assured him. He began helping, and Russell saw that he was a quick learner, got along well with others, and never complained about hard work and days which stretched long.

Since Alexis came from a single parent home, he assumed the role of man of the house, while still growing up himself. He found a father figure in Russell. Russell shared his own faith while he also demanded hard work, staying busy, communicating appropriately in English with the mission team members. Under his influence, Alexis continued to develop a heart for God and learned great work habits. Russell reported, “Gradually our relationship changed from father-figure to a genuine friendship.”

Robin had several opportunities to spend time with Alexis and his mother on subsequent mission trips, “In conversations with Francia, we had multiple discussions on her hopes and dreams as well as her concerns for Alexis’ future. Her thoughts helped me to keep Alexis and his needs directing my prayer life without inserting my own thoughts and cultural biases.” God continued to order Alexis’ steps.

Samuel’s Fund sponsorship ends with high school graduation. Francia recalls Alexis sharing that he wanted to pursue a university education. She was willing to help him, but told him sadly, “We don’t have the resources for you to go. But we can pray and ask God for that.” It was just then that God led STCH Ministries to develop the Christian Leadership Educational Program (CLEP), to help young people continue their education. The life of the Old Testament prophet, Samuel, originally inspired our sponsorship ministry to children. Samuel was dedicated first to God, then trained and educated, and he eventually became a leader for God. Samuel’s life would continue to be the model for the new CLEP program.

The staff began to identify young people who had matured in their faith, applied themselves in their studies, and shown commitment and leadership in their church, or other Christian ministries. Recently graduated from high school, Alexis became one of the first students to qualify for this sponsorship. Robin and Eddie Greene continued their investment in Alexis’ life through the CLEP program. This was a considerable commitment, as university costs are significantly higher than a Samuels Fund sponsorship, involving tuition, books, transportation and more.

Although the Dominican Republic offers more affordable education through the state-run university, obstacles like overcrowding and limited choice of classes, plus the necessity of working to pay expenses, can require up to ten years to graduate. Because of his sponsorship, Alexis was able to attend one of the excellent private universities in the Dominican Republic. With hard work, he could graduate in four years. Alexis chose a business major with an emphasis in tourism and hotel management. He diligently applied himself to his studies while continuing his involvement with mission teams in the summer. Alexis excelled in school and in three and a half years finished his course work. He then began a semester of internship at a hotel in Punta Cana.

Alexis was given a low-level responsibility—inputting data into a computer, and occasionally answering the phone when the front desk was too busy. It wasn’t long before his co-workers looked at him in amazement. “Where did you learn English? What are you doing in this position with that skill?” In a few weeks Alexis was promoted, and before the internship was completed, he was offered a permanent job as Director of Environmental and Social Services.

The tourism environment is one fraught with temptations for a young man. Alexis has maintained a close relationship with Pastor Rudy, pastor of IBQ, who frequently counsels him with thoughts from Proverbs 3. “Do not forget my teaching…So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, and God will direct your steps.” Russell along with the Greenes continued to encourage Alexis also. Alexis has maintained his Christian walk and testimony, and God has been faithful to bless him. During days off he always found his way back to the IBQ church. His responsibility to care for his mother, as well as the joy he feels to be able to help with her support, remain strong motivators.

Alexis is quick to acknowledge the benefits that STCH Ministries International has provided for his life. The university sponsorship provided by the Greenes through the CLEP program opened the door of possibilities for his future. He reports that many special relationships contributed to his life: the mission teams with whom he frequently served, his church, his mother, Francia, the Greenes, Pastor Rudy and Russell Jerez, and the DR staff all helped him along the way. Through them, he received encouragement to grow in his faith and his Christian walk, along with learning to be an example to others in spite of his youth. His opportunity to learn and practice English became a critical component of his success at his job. Other qualities that propelled his success at work, which he learned from Russell, were excellent work habits, like taking initiative when a job needed to be done, working hard and staying busy, as well as getting along with others.

In a country where many are born into generational poverty and little opportunity, the immediate is so urgent that many never learn to think beyond today. Alexis readily shares that he has a 10-year plan. He wants to marry and have children and raise a Christian family as he has seen Russell and others at IBQ model. Although he recognizes he has much to learn about the hotel management and tourism business, his long term-goal is to own and manage his own business supplying resources to hotels and resorts. For the next few years, however, he will focus on learning every aspect of managing a resort.

God’s sovereignty and the free will of man, seems to be a mystery, even an oxymoron. In Alexis life it is not difficult to see God’s hand. It is also obvious to recognize the part that Alexis’ choices contributed to the success he has experienced. A child dedicated to God by a mother who didn’t yet know Him herself, and the young man who made his own decision to accept and follow Christ. The mission teams God brought to the Dominican Republic and Alexis’ personal desire and courage to seek that opportunity. Samuel’s Fund and the CLEP program established through God’s leading, and at just the right time the Greenes chose to sponsor Alexis. Alexis’ faithfulness in his studies and God’s leading to the right major, the right job, in the right place for him.

On January 25, 2019 Alexis Enmanuel Marte Buret graduated with his university degree. Francia is understandably proud of her son. Robin and Eddie Greene also flew from Houston to celebrate this occasion with Alexis and Francia.

There and Back Again

On a blazing hot afternoon in early June, four adults and six young people gathered in front of the chapel on Boothe Campus for a word of prayer, and then piled into a passenger van to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. It was not a vacation nor a senior trip that lit up their eyes with excitement. In fact, they had a great deal of work ahead of them in weather even hotter than the Texas sun. Instead, their enthusiasm came from their purpose: this group was on a mission to share the love of Christ with children in the Dominican Republic.

At STCH Ministries, there is a special kind of synergy that results when two of our ministries join forces. In this case, Homes for Children put together a team to go on a week-long mission trip with our International ministry.  The group consisted of three staff members and six young people from Boothe Campus, accompanied by Amanda Longoria, Associate Director of International. The trip would place the younger members in a unique reversal of roles: traveling from the children’s home where they live to a children’s home in a foreign land where they would be the ones ministering. Many other illuminating experiences lay in store as well, but the first step (and perhaps an adventure all its own) was to get to the Dominican Republic.

“Most of our students had never flown on a plane before, so it was very interesting to share that experience with them. They learned about airport security and how to board a plane,” said Joel Bowden, Director of Student Ministries. He also reported that they “learned where the ‘barf bags’ are located” on the plane, although further details were not provided.

The team stayed at Iglesia Bautista Quisqueyana (IBQ), the primary church partner of STCH Ministries in the Dominican Republic. Once on the ground, the “new” factor continued through both cultural and ministry activities.

“It was a new experience for all of them,” said Patty Kinnamon, Commissary Supervisor at Boothe Campus. “Some had never hung drywall and used a screw gun, or measured, cut, and installed insulation. They had never seen beautiful water at the beach—only gulf water.”

Amanda recalled the feelings of trepidation that some of the students expressed during a morning devotion. “They didn’t know the language. They were nervous, inexperienced, and doubtful. The leaders had to remind them that just being here in the DR was already a step in the right direction, a step of faith.”

Inexperience did not inhibit the team’s work ethic, however, and they quickly dove into construction projects. Using funds they had raised back in Texas, they rebuilt the walls and roof of a home where a Samuel’s Fund child lives. The team also demolished another home that was slated to be rebuilt by a subsequent mission team. The solid, tangible results of the construction projects gave the team a sense of accomplishment.

“The construction was my favorite, because we all worked as a team and played our part,” said Carrie, one of the teens on the trip.

“We were all astonished at how such a little group could accomplish so much!” said Amanda.

Once the sawdust settled, the team transitioned into other ministry activities that gave them a chance to build relationships with the people around them.

“We had the joy of shopping with Texas Baptist Hunger Offering funds and delivering basic items to two families of Samuel’s Fund children who were struggling with health and financial issues,” said Sheila Backen, a housemom from Boothe Campus. “The joy in their eyes needed no translation. It was so beneficial for our students to see how many more resources they have to use in their lives than the families in these homes.  It was a stark contrast that I hope built a permanent sense of gratitude in their lives.”

The group also enjoyed having dinner with the families of local church members. Breaking bread together in the cool of the evening, the teens from Texas experienced fellowship in its most basic form.

“This was a precious time that helped us all to understand that Christians truly are united in one body, regardless of nationality or language,” said Sheila.

The next leg of the team’s adventure began with a short road trip across the Dominican countryside. IBQ, the church where the team had their home base, is located on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. This bustling capital city has a population equal to Austin, Texas, in one eighth of the geographic area. The team’s destination was Monte Plata, a rural community about the size of Victoria, Texas. Nestled in deep green hills, this sleepy town is the location of the Casa Monte Plata Children’s Home, a long-time STCH Ministries partner.

Casa Monte Plata operates very much like STCH Ministries Homes for Children, with a campus made up of individual cottages. Each cottage has houseparents who take care of the children in a family setting. The buildings are painted in brighter colors than their Texas counterparts, and the garden is filled with tropical foliage instead of towering oak trees, but the Dominican children’s home radiates the same sense of love and security that many generations of children have found at STCH Ministries.

The young people on the team found it easy to connect with the residents, perhaps aided by a sense of shared experience that crossed cultural boundaries.

“It was a real joy to see the love they extended to the children,” said Sheila. “DeRay even taught some Dominican children to dance! The language barrier presented no problem for our teens, as the love of God they shared with each person they met was easily understood in any language.”

There in the Dominican countryside, where the residents from one children’s home became the helpers and encouragers to the children in another, the circle of ministry was complete. The served became the servants, and the love of Christ overflowed from one life to another. As is often the case, the ones doing the ministry found themselves affected just as much as the ones to whom they ministered.

“It humbled me a lot to be able to go on this trip,” said Mary, who graduated from high school shortly before the trip. “I had plans to go three years ago, but it didn’t work out. I see now that this was God’s timing. It was very humbling for me to see how Dominicans live, and their love and zeal for God. Also, it refreshed me spiritually and mentally.”

Returning to IBQ, the team concluded their trip with a mixture of physical weariness and spiritual vitality.

“I always feel refreshed and encouraged after spending a week at IBQ,” said Joel. “Not because it is a restful week—I am physically exhausted at the end of it—but refreshed because of the community of believers, a community that has fully bought into the idea of discipleship.”

As Director of Student Ministries, Joel was keenly aware of the positive influence this environment had on the teens from Boothe Campus.

“I am also refreshed by the amount of young people that serve in the church and serve the people in their community simply because that’s what God calls them to do,” he said, “and I love the example it sets for our students.”

At the end of the week-long mission trip, the group of travelers returned to Boothe Campus brimming with memories, new experiences, and a fresh perspective on the place they call home.

Sheila summarized the trials and triumphs of their adventure in one brief statement: “There was joy and flexibility throughout the trip. Plans changed. Numbers changed. Strength varied from day to day. But everyone rose to the challenges, and, when all the pieces fell into place, God made the trip picture-perfect.”

If you would like to join STCH Ministries on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica in 2019, visit www.STCHM.org/International.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Relentlessly Pursued by God

The Bible makes it clear that God is active and present in each individual’s life whether they recognize Him or not. Jeremiah 29:11 shows us that God has a plan for our good and He is dedicated to working out that plan even if it means disrupting what we have planned for ourselves. This was certainly the case for Maria Hart, one of the moms currently living with her two teenage daughters, Valerie and Brook, at STCH Ministries Homes for Families. As she looks back on where God has brought her from, Maria realizes, “He took my kids away. He took my life away, twice…all for me to learn that I had to do something to stop doing the drugs.”

Drug abuse had been a factor in Maria’s life from an early age. Her first child, Frank, born of a teenage pregnancy, was raised by her parents as though he were a younger brother. While a young adult, Maria met and fell in love with her husband. Even though they attended church purely out of a sense of duty to his family traditions, she remembers hearing God whisper truth to her through those experiences. Unfortunately, one of the factors that drew the couple together was a shared dependence on narcotics.

In the midst of bad decisions and harmful habits, Maria could see God’s activity around her; she saw God’s fingerprints when her son Frank decided to turn his life around through trusting Jesus as his Savior. Even so, she was not ready to make any major changes in her own life. The situation of Maria’s young family was continuing to deteriorate. When problems arose at school, Maria decided to pull both of her girls out. Neighbors in their trailer park had also reported concerns for her two young daughters.

“The girls were always outside asking people for food,” Maria recounts.

A lifetime of living in the moment and seeking the release of chemically induced highs came to a dramatic climax when Child Protective Services (CPS) stepped in. They required Maria to take a drug test—a test she knew she would fail. Driven by the fear of losing their daughters, Maria and her husband tried to avoid the authorities, but soon Valerie and Brook were placed in an emergency shelter by CPS.

Meanwhile, God was faithfully working His plan to bring this family into relationship with Himself. In February 2017, the girls moved to STCH Ministries Homes for Children. Valerie and Brook were apprehensive about a new place and leery of all the new rules, but very happy to be together. After spending time with their cottage family and settling in to a healthy routine, they both flourished in their new environment.

Maria, on the other hand, was heartbroken to have lost custody of her girls. She spiraled into a dark depression and heavier drug use, switching from merely snorting methamphetamine to shooting it directly into her body. One fateful day Maria remembers taking the meth and feeling unwell. Her husband found her unconscious and called an ambulance. Maria’s heart was wildly out of rhythm. The EMTs were forced to take extreme measures to get it under control. Her heartbeat and breathing had to be stopped and resuscitated twice before she stabilized.

Her survival shows, once again, God stepped into her life to work for her good and His ultimate glory. When she returned to consciousness and recognized she was hospitalized, Maria finally came to the conclusion that something had to change.

As she recovered from her heart attack, Maria resolved to do whatever it took to make a new start. She immediately quit using drugs. However, the caseworkers made it clear: her only chance at reuniting with her daughters meant getting a job and finding a better place to live. She started applying for any job she could think of, but she was turned down without exception because of her history of drug use. Encountering obstacles at every turn, desperately trying to make things right, she was sucker-punched again when her husband decided to leave, merely stating that after sixteen years of marriage he was done.

With no job and no husband, Maria also had no place to live. Her cousin opened her home and in July the girls were released to the cousin’s custody. The two women continued to seek alternatives, and a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) representative suggested they look into Homes for Families outside of Goliad, Texas.

Homes for Families is a program for mothers and their children who are living in situations that threaten the stability and safety of the family. Families stay together while the moms receive one-on-one training and counseling to help them succeed with their children and with life. Topics covered during this program cover both spiritual growth and practical life skills.

At first, Maria found the structure of the program to be daunting; she was not used to having boundaries. Yet, she knew this was her best chance at making a real difference in her life and for her girls.

“It was something that had to be done,” she declares. “It was the only way to better myself and the girls.”

It didn’t take long to realize the structure and continuity the program provided gave Maria a sense of security. For the first time, immersed in an atmosphere steeped in Scripture and surrounded by people deeply committed to her success, Maria has blossomed. Resident Coordinator Patricia Urech has steadfastly walked alongside Maria from the first day she moved on campus.

Maria has now surrendered her heart to Jesus, and her trust in Him is increasing every day. She’s learning how to manage her anger and let go of the strife she battled for so long. Her dedication to change has impressed CPS as well: they have now restored full custody of the girls to Maria!

On a visit with extended family, the topic of the future was discussed. Maria’s family believed that she had achieved her goal—to get the girls back. They assumed she would walk away. But Maria realized that quitting now would be turning her back on her best opportunity to create a better future. She recognized God’s goodness in bringing her through all of the past and she committed herself whole-heartedly to finishing the program.

Valerie and Brook have benefitted the most from the changes in Maria. Where they once knew a mother full of fear who was constantly anxious, the mom they live with now is slow to anger and quick to pray. Those changes are taking root in the girls’ hearts, too. The family has celebrated great milestones together, such as when Maria and Brook were baptized in March at First Baptist Church, Goliad.

God’s faithfulness is evidenced in a restored relationship with Maria’s son Frank as well. Maria felt led by the Lord to reach out to him and share the transformation God is working in her life. This year’s Mother’s Day celebration was a joyous one; the entire family spent the weekend together at Frank’s home.

At Homes for Families, Maria is moving through the phases of the program and is preparing for a career in childcare. She is researching options and requirements for obtaining a teaching certificate. Her days are filled with Bible study, parenting classes, and other courses to prepare her for independent living.

Maria’s experience shows that God relentlessly pursues those who are lost. For Maria, it took reaching the absolute end of her own strength before she surrendered to His infinite love for her. Maria explains that she feels a peace deep in her spirit that she has never experienced before. Her ultimate goal remains true to her new faith, “to keep walking with God and take care of the girls.”

Maria is thankful to have found in STCH Ministries a place where hope is a reality. She marvels that God Himself is active every day in her life. When asked how STCH supporters could specifically pray for God to work in her life, she radiates contentment as she responds, “He’s already done it. He’s changed us all.” Just a moment of further reflection causes her to add, “Ask them to pray for other mothers to find Homes for Families.”

God continues His work of reconciling individuals to Himself. At STCH Ministries, we invite you to join us in praying for those families He is pursuing even now.

Changing Their Story

We all have a life story – the facts, the events, the circumstances, the tragedies and the triumphs that we can put on a timeline, type out on a résumé, or tell in a testimony. We can tell how God intervened in our lives to change us at crucial and needed moments. There is something even deeper, though, that is more important. It is the story that we live by. The story we live by shapes how we see ourselves, how we see the world, and how we see God. Often the story that we live by is shaped by pain, by problems, or by our past clinging to us and causing us to live with a sin-marred view of ourselves, others, and God.

One of the times I treasured in twenty-seven years of being a senior pastor was the opportunity to be the shepherd to children, houseparents, and staff of STCH Ministries Homes for Children in my years at First Baptist Church of Kenedy, Texas. I look back on it now as a unique ministry unlike I had ever experienced before or since. I was able to see lives changed then, and now that I serve on staff at STCH Ministries, I am able to see how the stories of some of those lives continue to change as I am around former residents and many of those same houseparents.

One incident clearly stands out in my mind of a little girl who was about ten years old, and who was only at Homes for Children and my church for a short time. I was leading a group of kids through a Bible lesson and I had asked the children what verses of the Bible they could quote from memory. Hands shot up all around the room and one by one the kids began to say John 3:16 from memory.

I finally said, “OK, who knows a verse other than John 3:16?”

This little girl looked at me with her big brown “My life verse is eyes and raised the only hand in the room at that point. I nodded to her and she said, “My life verse is Psalm 27:10.”

There was a pause, as if I was supposed to know that one by heart, and then I asked her to share it with us. Very calmly, as if this verse brought her great peace, she quoted, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

Now there really was a pause in the room. I felt all the eyes of the adult workers turn from her to me as the possibilities began to go through their minds of why a ten-year-old girl would know that scripture by heart and call it her life verse. But there was something about the peace with which she said it that brought a peace to me. I knew God had done a work that only He could do of changing someone’s life at a very crucial point. There was a lesson far beyond what I was going to teach that day that she had already learned. God had showed her that life-changing reality, and the story of her life was being changed. More correctly, perhaps, the story that she lived by was being changed.

I affirmed what she said and what God was doing in her life and moved on into the lesson, but the memory of that moment would stay with me. Though I never knew much of the life story of the little brown-eyed girl, she gave me a glimpse of the story that she had lived: “Though my father and mother forsake me…” Meanwhile, God was giving her a glimpse of the story she could live by: “…the Lord will receive me.”

Loving houseparents, skilled case workers, and dedicated staff, along with generous donors, were part of a process in which her circumstances—the story of her life—had changed. God was using all of that to intervene so that the story that she lived by could change.

To me, that is the great joy of seeing what God does through STCH Ministries. He makes sin-marred stories become the story of the gospel. It is the story God offers us through faith in Jesus Christ, despite what others have done to hurt us and despite what we have done to hurt others. It is not just changed circumstances, but a changed life.

Thank you for what you did to help that little ten-year-old girl, who had endured such pain in her life that she knew the first phrase of Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me,” to come to know the reality of the last phrase, “the Lord will receive me.”

So what is the story that you live by? Are you ready to let God change it?


Read more stories of life change in the Messenger online! Our digital edition has all the stories from the printed magazine plus videos, blog posts, and the latest news. Visit www.STCHM.org/Messenger today!

Staying Connected

The neglect and abandonment of children is a nationwide problem.
STCH Ministries is part of a nationwide solution.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half a million children are in foster care and children’s homes throughout the nation, and more are added every day. The sheer magnitude of the need is beyond the capacity of any single institution or agency. At STCH Ministries we believe that collaboration with other like-minded, Christian organizations is essential if we want to address the big-picture issues of family brokenness in our world. In the last issue of the Messenger, we highlighted the many ways we join forces with Texas Baptists to reach people in need. STCH Ministries also has a long history of collaboration on the national level, bringing together ideas and relationships that result in a solution greater than the sum of its parts.

In September 2018, STCH Ministries participated in the Connections Conference, an annual meeting that brings together children’s homes from across the country to collaborate on development and communications topics. The conference included the twenty-one organizations from nineteen states that are members of the Baptist Coalition for Children and Families (BCCF), and the theme of the event was “Staying Connected.”

When it comes to meeting the needs of children and families, the areas of development and communications are typically behind the scenes, supporting the more direct ministry roles of houseparents, counselors, and caseworkers. However, the conference sessions emphasized the need for advocacy at both the state and national levels, giving a voice to the most vulnerable members of society. To a room full of professional communicators, the objective resonated deeply.

And yet, as a discussion panel of Baptist news editors pointed out, a single organization does not have the kind of reach necessary to affect the broader cultural conversation. To do that, multiple voices must be united in a chorus. Whether it is a children’s home working with churches and their state’s Baptist convention, or a collection of children’s homes like BCCF, the element of teamwork gives greater societal relevance to the cause.

Rod Marshall, BCCF President, underlined that cooperative commitment in his address to the group, saying, “We work closely with the North American Mission Board, the Women’s Missionary Union, and Baptist Press to address the needs of families in the United States. Baptist childcare providers have been the best in childcare for over 150 years.”

In addition to guest speakers, the Connections Conference featured many presentations by the staff of participating organizations, including STCH Ministries. In the spirit of “Staying Connected,” attendees shared both their successes and challenges, gleaning ideas and solutions from each other’s experiences.

STCH Ministries staff member Jeny Cortez commented, “There’s no sense of competition. We all want everyone to be successful. We know it is all for the glory of God and the healing of broken lives.”

Historically, STCH Ministries has seen the fruit of collaboration and the power of a united front. Mark Childs, STCH Ministries Vice President of Homes for Children, recalls the work of childcare pioneers in Texas, including Jess Lunsford, the founder of the South Texas Children’s Home.

“He made numerous trips to Austin, along with other faith-based organizational leaders, to advocate for the safety of children in Texas. Their efforts led to the creation of a licensing department within the Department of Family and Protective Services to ensure the safe treatment of children placed into the foster care system.”

More than sixty years later, Childs says that this unity and cooperation are just as essential as they were in the past. In addition to BCCF, STCH Ministries is a member of several associations that bring together children’s homes from around the country, such as the Coalition of Residential Excellence (CORE) and the Association of Christian Childcare Administrators (ACCA). These groups promote best practices in childcare, and they also provide a national platform to influence public thinking about the needs of children.

“The only way that can be achieved is through a network of providers coming together to share strengths, expertise, and resources,” says Childs. “STCH Ministries will continue to strive to be an integral part of this network of hope.”

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How To Be A Partner In Hope

Hope – a word often used in times of turmoil or crisis, but which sometimes describes a joyful anticipation of what is yet to come.  Everyone, at some point or another, experiences either the loss of hope or the desire for something positive to happen. Either way, hope is a powerful word.  It means “to cherish a desire with anticipation,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In the Bible, hope is used 129 times and appears in 121 verses.  One particular verse is Hebrews 11:1 (ESV):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

As believers, we know that Jesus is the source of all hope, even when hope seems lost.  We should closely rely on our Savior and Lord for all things unseen, even during the times of struggle and chaos. But how do we extend that hope to the lost and hurting?

This year, STCH Ministries adopted the slogan Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope.  We unashamedly share the love of Christ with every person served in our ministries, and we are grateful that in 2017, 323 children and adults accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Individuals moved from neglect, abuse, and abandonment to a new life of restoration, forgiveness, and safety. It is no secret that hearts were healed and hope was shared.

Here are a few examples of how STCH Ministries is Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope:

• Children are given a place to call home when their family is in crisis.

• Marriages are restored through Christian counseling.

• Single moms and their children are provided a safe home to escape abusive relationships.

• Men and women come to understand their value and identity in the workplace.

These acts of Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope would not be possible without the support of churches, individuals, and businesses who share our mission.  As you know, it requires resources for STCH Ministries to care for children and families in our ministries.

Would you consider joining us to become a Partner in Hope?

STCH Ministries is committed to providing excellent care and service to children and families.  By becoming a Partner in Hope, you are helping to provide hope when it is needed most.

With your help, every child and family served at STCH Ministries will have the opportunity to put their faith in the assurance of Eternal Hope. Visit www.STCHM.org/Hope to learn more.

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Together Again

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The story of a family, like that of an individual, can take many twists and turns along the road of life, and few know this better than the Parker siblings. Over the past fifteen years, seven Parker children have called Boothe Campus home; the oldest five are now grown, and thirteen-year-old Laura, the youngest, is still a resident at Love Cottage. Eighteen-year-old Josh, a brand new high school graduate, stands in the middle with one foot across the line of adulthood while he savors his last summer before starting college. To look at them now, one can see great potential and a promising future, but this family has seen their share of unexpected events, separations, and hardships. Looking back, Josh now clearly recognizes the hand of God at work.

“It gave us a lot of endurance and a lot of courage to do the things we do now,” he says. “I feel like God has done that, and then He’s given us this place to kind of show us His way of doing things.”

However, the future was anything but clear when a four-year-old Josh and his older siblings arrived at the South Texas Children’s Home in August of 2003.

THE ARRIVAL

Josh has little recollection of life before the children’s home, but his oldest sister Lilly remembers their arrival vividly.

“I was terrified,” she recalls. “A new place, so many new people, new parents, a new ‘family’ as I called it. I imagined a huge house with 100 kids, twenty kids to a room.”

Lilly put on a brave exterior for the sake of her younger siblings. “I HAD to be the strong one and not let my fear show through,” she says. But underneath the calm façade, she felt just the opposite.

“My father dropped us off and never looked back, so as any thirteen-year-old would feel, I was scared and felt so alone.”

Soon Lilly realized that the quiet neighborhood of cottages on Boothe Campus was nothing to fear, but like most children, the Parker kids needed time to settle in.

“It took a lot of adjusting,” Lilly says. “Probably over a year, to be exact, to work through the pain of abandonment and feeling unloved and ‘thrown away’.”

One year after the arrival of the six Parker children on campus, the family grew by one. Laura Parker was born and soon came to Boothe Campus as an infant.

For the next several years, the seven siblings continued to live at the children’s home together. Time and love began to heal the emotional trauma while the children built positive new memories.

“I remember all the different activities and going to camp,” says Samantha, who was in elementary school at the time. “I also remember all of the friends I had made while being there, and then also friends I had made at school.”

Lilly recalls the sense of peace that she began to discover as she settled into her new home.

“By the end of my sophomore year, I finally felt like I had a family, that I had ‘real’ parents that loved me for me.”

Soon Lilly graduated from high school at Pettus ISD, and Matthew, Lindsay, Andrew, Samantha, Josh, and Laura occupied a stair-step assortment of grade levels down to pre-school. They experienced the normal ups and downs of school and family life that make up childhood, but Lindsay (the third oldest) remembers this as a time of restoration.

“STCH helped us all heal and learn what it means to really love and be loved,” she says.

Life finally seemed stable. But the summer of 2007 would bring major changes for the Parker siblings.

THE SEPARATION

Shortly after Lilly’s graduation, the Parkers’ father removed the three youngest children, Samantha, Josh, and Laura, along with their seventeen-year-old brother Matthew, from the children’s home. Lilly continued on to college with the support of STCH Ministries and Lindsay and Andrew stayed at Boothe Campus to complete high school.

“I chose to stay because I knew the home would be able to support my dream of going to college and making a better life for myself,” says Lindsay.

At the same time, she felt a great sense of concern for her younger siblings.

“Honestly, I didn’t think they should have left,” she says. “I knew my dad couldn’t and wouldn’t take care of them like they should have been.”

The younger siblings moved to Port Aransas with their father. The move was bittersweet. When asked if he felt that returning to his dad was a good thing, Josh says, “In a way yes, but also no…He wasn’t exactly employed.”

The next eight years were marked by instability for the youngest three siblings, Samantha, Josh, and Laura.

“We moved from place to place,” says Josh about life with their father. “A lot of times he couldn’t afford to stay there for a long period of time.”

School and athletics became an important anchor in their lives. Josh distinguished himself as a strong competitor in track and field and cross country, accumulating an impressive collection of awards. But these successes could not completely eclipse the difficulty of their living situation.

Josh recalls one period of time when their father was in a relationship with a hoarder. They lived amongst the jumble of debris and clutter until the landlord sold the property, and then they were on the move again.

Meanwhile, Lilly tried to find a way to get her younger siblings back to the children’s home.

“I knew how much of a blessing it was to me,” she says, “and by all means my father had not changed his ways one bit. I would come over to filth and clothes three sizes too small. They lived in a garage apartment with no wall separation, just one room, no food in the fridge. Most days they would go to school wearing the same dirty clothes from last week—random people in and out of their house at all hours of the night.”

Without legal guardianship, Lilly had no power to change the situation, but she continued to watch, wait, and pray. Meanwhile, she completed college to become a registered nurse and married her husband Adam Flores.

REUNITED

In December of 2014, the Parker family story came to another sudden turn as unexpectedly as all the ones that came before.

“Our dad went missing,” explains Josh.

Lilly and Adam were at the airport returning from a vacation when they received a phone call. It was Samantha.

“Our dad had dropped them off with someone random,” says Lilly. “The conditions were terrible and they were scared.”

Lilly and Adam immediately rearranged their small home in Aransas Pass to accommodate two high schoolers and a preteen. When their father finally resurfaced, he was persuaded to relinquish legal guardianship to Lilly.

“It’s kind of like, if you love something, set it free,” Josh says. “He couldn’t provide a better living situation at the point he was in.”

Samantha, Josh, and Laura completed the school year while living with Lilly and Adam. The couple, then in their mid-twenties, was willing to provide a permanent home for the three younger siblings, but they also knew they couldn’t provide everything.

“My husband and I couldn’t send three children to college; we were barely getting by just for the seven months they lived in our home,” Lilly says.

The siblings sat down for a family meeting to discuss the pros and cons of returning to STCH Ministries Homes for Children.

“STCH could give them so much more than my husband and I could offer at the time,” says Lilly, “but I let them know that it was their choice.”

The choice was perhaps most difficult for Samantha, who was about to enter her senior year of high school.

“I was a little wary of returning,” Samantha says, “because I had made so many friends back in Port Aransas and it was a little hard to leave them. I had also grown really close to my older sister, Lilly, because I had lived with her for a bit.”

Despite these apprehensions, the three youngest Parkers agreed to return to STCH Ministries in the summer of 2015, at least to try it out.

THE RETURN

Even though she knew STCH Ministries would be a good home for her siblings, Lilly says that the parting was painful.

“I felt like I lost my kids, that I had abandoned them. I felt like a piece of my heart was missing,” she recalls.

But unlike the day twelve years earlier when she found herself at the doorstep of a Boothe Campus cottage for the first time, the return of the younger siblings was a choice. Samantha, Josh, and Laura also had adult siblings who knew what they were going through and could support them as they adjusted to their new life. STCH Ministries encourages these family bonds while children are in care, and in the case of broken relationships with parents, seeks to bring reconciliation whenever possible.

Within months, the three younger Parkers flourished.

“One thing I love about STCH,” says Samantha, “is that the people there really genuinely care about you and that’s really amazing, and when I came back everyone was very welcoming. It’s also pretty easy to make friends because most of the children there are going (or have gone) through similar things.”

Samantha graduated from Pettus High School in 2016 and now studies computer science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with a scholarship from Texas Baptists and support from STCH Ministries. Her two seasons living at Boothe Campus, separated by so much time away, give her a unique perspective on the impact that the children’s home had on her life.

“I think as a kid I didn’t really understand why I was at STCH or what was going on,” Samantha says. “But now I’m really grateful and glad that STCH and the people there have been a part of my life. Because I like who I have become and I also wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

Josh can recall the sensation of returning to a place that still lived in his early childhood memories. “It was cool coming back here the second time around and seeing the pictures of us when we were little.”

In his final three years of high school, Josh continued his distinguished athletic career, bringing home a slew of victories in track and field and cross country for the Pettus Eagles. On

June 1, 2018, he graduated as an honor roll student and intends to pursue a degree in kinesiology.

“Athletics is my passion,” he says. “I like the hustle. I like the competition. I like getting me and others better at what they enjoy doing.”

As Josh spends his post-high-school summer on Boothe Campus, he reflects on both the hardships and the opportunities that have influenced his life.

“I feel like this is something God had a set plan for us to do—come back here and just be a light to others, kind of share our story.”

For Laura, who left the children’s home as a three-year-old, returning as a preteen was uncharted territory.

“I thought it was really weird,” she admits.

Three years later, she is one of the kids that knows her way around and can make new children feel welcome on campus.

Laura says she especially enjoys summer time at Boothe Campus, often swimming in the pool and playing in the gym. She also enjoys volunteering for VBS at her church and taking part in the vocational training program at Homes for Children, in which the students get to spend time shadowing staff members on the job.

Older sister Lindsay says of Laura, “She is a very kind, funny, and loving young lady who I know will do great things.”

Lilly, the oldest sibling, lives in Aransas Pass with her husband Adam and their one-year-old daughter.

“My life was completely changed the day I was dropped off at STCH,” she says. “Without STCH, I would not be where I am today. I don’t think college would have ever been in the plans, and here I am a registered nurse like I’ve always prayed about.”

The rest of the siblings know that the door is always open at Lilly’s house. For holidays and special occasions, that is still the place they call “home”.

“It makes my heart extremely happy that this is where home is to them and that I can provide that for them,” says Lilly.

Lindsay, the second oldest sister, is also a registered nurse, now working in Waco, Texas. Although she doesn’t get to see her siblings as much as she would like because of the distance, she says they still have a special bond.

“As siblings we are the only people who really understand each other,” Lindsay explains, “and I believe we are all pretty close because of the situation we had to go through.”

Lilly adds, “To say my siblings and I struggled is an understatement. We have been through so much and I feel like we have come out so much stronger on the other side. There are those in our lives that know some of our story, some that know a lot of our story, and some that do not know anything at all. And I think to be around my siblings and I, you would never know the struggle, the pain, or the heartache that we have endured in our lifetime.”

Their resilience, Lilly says, is rooted in faith and family.

“At the end of the day we are the Parker kids. God has sent us through rough waters; we may fall, but we will always get up again.”

From left to right: Oldest sister Lilly and her husband Adam, Laura holding her one-year-old niece Harper, Josh, and Samantha. The Parker siblings enjoy spending time together and often congregate at Lilly and Adam’s home for holidays and special occasions.

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An Agency of Texas Baptists

STCH Ministries is a Texas Baptists affiliated agency, one of twenty-eight Christian education and human care institutions across the state that are part of the extended family of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). Each member of this family operates independently, but we are intrinsically linked by our faith and our mission to advance kingdom work. Consisting of more than 5,300 Baptist churches, the BGCT serves a vital role in supporting the ministry of its member organizations.

STCH Ministries President and CEO Eron Green (left) shakes hands with BGCT Executive Director David Hardage at the 2016 Annual Meeting.

“We are institutions that are cut from a very similar cloth,” STCH Ministries President and CEO Eron Green said about the relationship between STCH Ministries and the BGCT.

So how does this connection play out in the day-to-day work of STCH Ministries? One significant benefit is the support that Texas Baptists provide through the Cooperative Program. The program brings together financial contributions from participating churches to fund missions, evangelism, education, and ministry efforts.

Over the past ten years alone, the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program has given $5.85 million to STCH Ministries to help provide homes, counseling, and life-skills training to hurting families.

“The convention believes in the mission, the results, and the work of STCH,” said Steve Vernon, Texas Baptists Associate Executive Director. “We value the partnership and rejoice in the amazing work that is ongoing at this vital ministry.”

Tim Williams, STCH Ministries Director of Church Relations, is one of the staff members who travel across the state sharing with churches about the work of STCH Ministries. He often speaks to church members who do not realize that their regular church giving already helps support our ministries.

“There are a lot of different ways that the program makes an impact that people are not even aware of,” Williams said. “STCH Ministries is their ministry to children and hurting families because they support us and have supported us through the BGCT Cooperative Program. They help us do it.”

The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides groceries for families served by STCH Ministries International.

While the Cooperative Program supports the overall mission of STCH Ministries, there are additional resources for specific areas of need. The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides a monthly grant to STCH Ministries International, which buys food in the Dominican Republic for needy children. Our local ministry team members already have relationships with families who are benefitting from our medical, dental, and construction mission projects. The additional resource of Hunger Offering groceries brings another element of stability into the lives of children who are on the verge of breaking free from generational poverty.

Closer to home, the relationship between STCH Ministries and Texas Baptists helps open doors to the future for children who grow up at Boothe Campus. STCH Ministries Homes for Children has always maintained a commitment to provide an opportunity for higher education to the children who graduate while in care.

“Our kids placed in care have the opportunity to attend college or universities in the state of Texas through our STCH Ministries Higher Education Scholarship program,” says Greg Huskey, Boothe Campus Administrator.

Thanks to Texas Baptists, that scholarship program frequently gets an extra boost. Upon high school graduation, many students attend Baptist universities, which provide significant scholarships to students coming from a Baptist children’s home. Young adults who may once have had no prospects of college whatsoever are able to receive a private, Christian education without the burden of student loans. Frequently, these students are the first in their families to achieve a college degree.

While at college, many of these students find fellowship and spiritual support at their local Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) chapter, of which there are more than one hundred across Texas college campuses. BSMs are a ministry of Texas Baptists that serve college students, while at the same time empowering those students to serve others.

Students from the Corpus Christi BSM, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Del Mar College, have donated weekends to serving at Boothe Campus. During this time, students interact with the children, cook meals for the cottage families, and do minor maintenance work around the grounds.

STCH Ministries participates in the Texas Baptists Annual Meeting, enjoying fellowship and collaboration with dozens of other Baptist organizations and thousands of Baptist churches.

Texas Baptist churches and institutions have invested in many different facets of STCH Ministries. One of the ways that we give back is through a collaboration of our Family Counseling and Pastor Care ministries with Texas Baptists Counseling Services. When a crisis arises in the family of a pastor or church staff member, STCH Ministries is equipped to provide confidential counseling.

“We feel that if we can help to strengthen those called to ministry, they will in turn help to strengthen those they minister to,” said Darin Griffiths, Vice President of Family Counseling at STCH Ministries.

“STCH and BGCT have partnered together offering ‘intensives’ to ministry couples who are experiencing difficulties which could hinder their ministry opportunities,” explained Griffiths. “The normal counseling experience provides a one-hour session every other week for about 10 to 12 sessions. An intensive is different in that a couple can receive about 10 hours (equivalent of 10 sessions) worth of counseling in one-and-a-half days.”

As with the other areas of partnership, Griffiths believes that this collaboration is a natural fit, saying, “Our values are very much alike. From my perspective, the BGCT exists to assist those who are on the front lines of ministry, sharing the gospel to a hurting world.”

STCH Ministries is grateful to be a member of the Texas Baptists family and we look forward to many more years of fruitful ministry together in Texas and beyond.

If you are a member of a Texas Baptist congregation, we hope you will visit our booth at the Texas Baptist Family Gathering this summer. The annual meeting will be held in Arlington, Texas, on July 29-31, 2018. Learn more at www.TexasBaptists.org/FamilyGathering.

The Powerful Work of Play

The first time I came to the play therapy playroom, it was kind of hard to believe. The shelves were stuffed with every kind of toy I could imagine! Cars and trucks, games and crafts, tons of animal and people figures, play guns and swords, dolls, dollhouses, and things to build with. And there were other fun things…like dress-up clothes, an art easel, puppets, a BIG bop bag, and even a small sandbox! The lady my mom told me would help me said I could play with anything in the room in any way I wanted!

But…I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what to say. So I just sat at the little table in the middle of the room and looked around. It was quiet for a long time. I liked the quiet, and the lady seemed okay with it too. She just smiled, and she didn’t even ask me a bunch of questions or tell me what to do! Finally, I built a sandcastle in the sandbox and put a few special things by my castle. And when it was time to leave, I didn’t want to go.           – A young child’s reflections

For young children dealing with trauma, the play therapy room quickly becomes a safe spot. Yet much more than “child’s play” takes place as the children interact with trained therapists who understand the importance of play.

According to the Association for Play Therapy, the natural process of play helps children regulate emotions and improve communication and problem-solving skills. Play also lifts a child’s spirit and self-esteem.

“Play is a child’s language, and toys are their words,” said Lorena Mendez, Regional Director-Corpus Christi for STCH Ministries Family Counseling, quoting a common axiom among play therapists. “There’s no better way to establish a connection with a child than to say, ‘Hey, let’s play.’ Play therapy gives a child the freedom to express their experiences, needs, wants, wishes, and feelings in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them.”

Mendez, a licensed professional counselor-supervisor (LPC-S) and registered play therapist-supervisor (RPT-S), divides her time between counseling, sharing her expertise through conferences, and overseeing the work of other STCH Ministries therapists, including those working toward their registered play therapist (RPT) certification.

Parents typically bring their children to STCH Ministries for counseling because of behavioral issues at home or school. Changes in behavior can arise in situations of bullying, divorce or abandonment, past physical or sexual abuse, and grief over the loss of a parent. Depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorders also create difficulties for children and their families.

“Trauma is very disruptive and makes everyone feel out of control,” shared STCH Ministries therapist Carolyn Cocklin, who is currently working toward her RPT. “Emotionally speaking, children have some of the same feelings and thinking as adults who experience post-traumatic stress – anger, confusion, fear, guilt, or shame. However, children lack the reasoning abilities to understand the why behind a trauma, or the cognitive ability to express in words what they are experiencing. So, they typically blame themselves. It is important to give children a place where they can feel validated and in control. The play therapy playroom becomes the child’s little world where they can mentally process things and begin to stabilize their behavior.”

STCH Ministries therapists are trained in various play therapy methods to meet the unique challenges of each child. Often, they choose the non-directive client-centered approach to best build rapport, trust, and consistency, Mendez said.

During a client-centered session, the play therapist patiently listens and observes the child at play without judgment. The therapist does not ask questions about what the child is doing or question them about their past. To give the child greater creative freedom, the therapist also avoids labeling any object or behavior. If a child asks the therapist for help with decisions or actions, the therapist will return responsibility to the child with gentle, empowering phrases such as: “You choose”; “That can be anything you want it to be”; or an encouraging “You can do it.”

Therapists see parents privately every three or four weeks during the play therapy counseling process. Therapists work hard to give parents positive feedback on their child to help them see the child as a whole person and not just the problem. As adults in a child’s world become healthier emotionally, and family dynamics improve, children get better too.

“What I love about play therapy is how unique it is,” Mendez said. “It is unlike anything the child will experience in life because it is so non-directive. Kids get plenty of teaching, instructions, discipline, and criticism in the big world. The small play therapy room gives children the opportunity to get what they need without anyone telling them what that is. It’s a chance to learn who they are and how they would do it if given the time and space.”

Children will be kept safe, of course, and are not allowed to hurt themselves, the therapist, or any property. But limits are not set until there is a need for a boundary based on a child’s behavior. When children do test the boundaries with their behavior, the therapist will show empathy first, then verbalize a limit and gently redirect the child.

Important work takes place in the playroom when children use toys as symbols to represent something in their life. Therapists call this a play metaphor.

“Many times children are unaware they are using metaphor in their play,” Mendez explained. “They will use the metaphor to express feelings, to show what they want to happen, or to work through a painful memory, fear, or experience. A vital part of our connection with kids in the playroom is to stay in the metaphor with them.”

Cocklin also finds this to be true. “A child’s metaphorical play provides a picture of how the child perceives themselves and their life,” Cocklin said.

“As they live out events of their past in the playroom, the metaphor is ‘live’ and it can be controlled. The child can even rewrite the ending for what is happening in their life. This is how they get a big win!”

It is important to realize that play therapy is not a quick fix for children. It helps stabilize the child at the developmental stage they are at, as well as provide the child with a greater ability to perceive, respond to, and manage their lives and behaviors in a healthier way. It helps them regain some control over their lives. But the effects of trauma may need to be addressed again in the future as the child reaches a new level of development.

Over the course of the treatment, parents gradually begin noticing their child seems “better,” has fewer tantrums, or doesn’t get in trouble as much. Children move from being sad, angry, or fearful in the playroom to being more spontaneous, content, and confident. Therapists also see improvements in the areas of problem-solving, communication, self-care, and self-control.

“The world is God’s playroom,” Mendez concluded. “He allows us time, space, and energy to get what we need or what we think we need. Just like the therapist in the play therapy room, He sits WITH us as we learn from the boundaries He has set, and His unconditional, loving presence. It takes a while, but He is patient—watching, waiting, validating, hoping, and believing the best for our lives. This is the love we take into the playroom each time we enter a child’s world.”

To find out if play therapy is right for your child, contact STCH Ministries Family Counseling at 1.833.83.STCHM.

Real People, Real Kids, Real Needs

It all started more than fifteen years ago when Randy and Carole Black ventured to Vietnam to pick up their adopted daughter Emma, who was sixteen months old at the time, giving her the precious gift of a forever home. Little did they know that Emma’s adoption would only be the start of a lifelong commitment to helping children and families in need.

Randy is the Operations Manager for ConocoPhillips over the Gulf Coast Business Unit and currently lives in Cypress, Texas, with his family and attends Harvest Bible Church. Before moving to Cypress, the Blacks lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and Laredo, Texas, and Randy has worked for ConocoPhillips for thirty-five years. Inspired by the matching gift program and the philanthropic culture at ConocoPhillips, he became involved at a local children’s home in Laredo, and when he and his family moved to the Houston area for his new role as Operations Manager, he was quickly introduced to STCH Ministries.

Randy says he was looking for something ConocoPhillips could rally around and give back to the community where his team worked, and beginning in 2011 he felt led to have the company help in tangible ways by bringing groups to Boothe Campus. They tackled projects like updating the outdoor basketball courts, helping to improve network infrastructure, and throwing parties for Christmas and Easter. The employees were able to have a hands-on experience as they helped the children with items they needed.

For the last four years, ConocoPhillips has hosted a sporting clays tournament, which has benefited STCH Ministries through the proceeds of the event, as well as by sharing our mission with many individuals and businesses.

Randy met Gene and Cassandra McElveen, houseparents at Boothe Campus, and several other staff, and it was not long before Randy and Carole realized they wanted to be personally involved as cottage sponsors. The cottage sponsorship program at STCH Ministries Homes for Children helps to provide the kinds of activities that any family would enjoy. Thanks to generous sponsors, the children get to spend an evening out at the movies or have a meal at a restaurant, or participate in extracurricular activities such as the marching band or a summer camp.

The McElveens state they are blessed by the friendship of Randy and what he does for the children.

“It’s not about the stuff; it’s about sponsors getting to know the children and having a relationship,” says Cassandra.

Gene and Cassandra enjoy the one-on-one relationship with Randy and how he takes the time to personally invest in each child in the cottage.

Randy says that the personal connection is exactly what he values most about being a cottage sponsor.

“It honestly drew me in because you could personally get involved with the houseparents and directly involved with the kids, with birthdays, Christmas gifts, and shopping,” Randy said. “I was dealing with real people, real kids, and real needs. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Christmas is a favorite time of year for the Blacks, when the annual ConocoPhillips Christmas party brings holiday cheer to Boothe Campus, but they say it is a special treat to actually shop for the cottages they personally sponsor. Over the years the Blacks have sponsored various cottages, and because of the matching gift program at ConocoPhillips, they are able to sponsor two cottages.

The Blacks have sponsored Foster Cottage since their initial involvement in 2011. Terry and Sheila Backen, houseparents at Foster Cottage, have a deep appreciation for their faithful sponsors. Sheila says, “The Blacks’ sponsorship is extremely meaningful, not just because of their financial support, but also because of a strong emotional commitment to the home as a whole and to the individual children in our cottage.”

The Backens enjoy the experiences made possible by the sponsorship program, such as a child’s first birthday party, a trip to the zoo, or even a quick trip for milkshakes with their cottage full of boys.

Randy says that one of the most rewarding parts of sponsorship is the opportunity to see the children grow as individuals.

“It has been marvelous to get to know the kids and be able to not only see their physical maturity but their spiritual maturity,” he says. “It’s hard not to want to be a part of an organization like STCH Ministries. For us, it’s an incredible blessing.”

Greg Huskey, Boothe Campus Administrator says, “The Randy Black family is a model of servanthood for me and for the residents on Boothe Campus. The Blacks embody Aristotle’s words, ‘What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.’ We are profoundly grateful to the Black family for their servanthood and generosity to our students and staff.”

Children placed at Boothe Campus all have one thing in common: the desire to be loved. Cottage sponsorship is a unique and fun way for individuals, Sunday School classes, or businesses to establish a relationship with a specific cottage and share God’s love through a simple act of generosity. Sponsorship can be a monthly, quarterly, or annual gift of any amount, and the process to get started is simple.

To learn more about how you can invest in the lives of children, please visit www.STCHM.org/Cottage-Sponsorship or call 361.375.2417.