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]

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.

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!

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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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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