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20110312-16_PresbyterianDisasterRelief_0079Last week, a group of youth from the San Antonio Covenant Presbyterian Church (SACPC) spent their spring break helping hurricane victims in the Rio Grande Valley.

The group arrived here through the Faith Community Disaster Relief (FCDR) that is affiliated with the First United Methodist Church in McAllen. FCDR assists families and organizations in need. This year, over 40 people were here to repair hurricane damage from Dolly and Alex, help non-profit organizations and assist other families.

“Faith without works is dead,” Jim Ritchie, leader of the SACPC group said. “It’s a way of putting our faith into action by coming to help folks. It’s not only the doing, it’s also building community. I think for the young people it’s a realization that the church is more than just my church; the church is everywhere.”

Ritchie explained they try to make the trips intergenerational, involving children and adults, to help build community in their own church. He said the young people are sheltered and the trips help bring a bigger perspective to what the world is really like. Previously, the group took trips to Mexico at least once a year, but with ongoing violence there, he looks forward to doing service trips to this side of the border.

“Coming here is going to gives us a flavor. It will give these young people a sense of what the Mexican culture is a little bit like,” Ritchie said.

20110312-16_PresbyterianDisasterRelief_0184David Diercksen, interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Mission, has coordinated four such groups this year. Previous groups helped with hurricane and flood damage to homes in Peñitas and other areas. One group came down from Pittsburg.

Diercksen said too often church youth groups have become sort of an entertainment time. He refers to the three-legged stool.

“Worship and learning, social and fellowship part, and then there’s the mission service part. You try to balance those activities so they compliment each other,” he said. “But so often, the churches right now are trying to appeal to the youth, its just all fun and games. I think that we really underestimate what youth want, because if you ask them, they want a little bit more meat.”

Martha Hernandez, a chaperone, said their youth group has become active and are representatives of their church.

“They still question, they still wonder, they still watch and are critical, but I think they also know they are finding their own faith within all of that and how to live that,” Hernandez said.

Diercksen, also a FCDR board member, said 9,000 homes were damaged in Hidalgo and Cameron counties when Hurricane Alex hit last year.

“What I find is that long after the government and everybody gives up, the faith communities are still there. We’re in it for the long haul,” he said. “We have an understanding if they’re hurting we’re hurting. This is where we put a face to our faith.”

While most of the groups’ time was spent doing some type of service, they were able to celebrate with other groups on Thursday and have a recreation day on Friday.

The group from SACPC ranged in ages from seven to 18. Ritchie had three of his grandchildren with him – Tim, Garrett and Amber Clark. Hernandez was joined by her two children, Rebekah and Philip. Amy Manibusan and brothers, Daniel and Jose Alvarez were also part of the group.

Jose, 18, likes the experience of performing service trips and helping out others. He said his service shows that he is a hard-working person and that he cares for people. His father grew up on the streets and has achieved a lot through hard work.

“By people helping him, he was able to get where he is, and I would like to do the same,” he said of his father.

Rebekah, 14, said it’s good to help others.

“It makes me realize there are people struggling, and that there is a way we can all help,” she said. “It generally helps the community by helping other people realize that you can help other people and that the people who are getting help aren’t alone.”

During this trip, the younger kids helped at Su Casa de Esperanza for two days and then joined the older kids at a house in an Edinburg colonia where they redid the ceilings in three rooms and put new wood on the outside of a house that had rain damage. The group also received a tour by U.S. Border Patrol and a briefing about P.E.T. Cart Assembly where they look forward to helping with in the future.

On their second day the group had the opportunity to go with home visitor to deliver bundles of baby supplies to expectant mothers in the Las Milpas-Pharr area.

Dalia Cerda with Su Casa de Esperanza was thrilled to have the group visit the center and looks forward to seeing them again and other groups that Dierckson sends.

“We are so blessed with the help,” she said. “We have more than enough to give.”

The center is non-profit and is solely run by private funds, donations and grants. The center is located in a colonia in south Pharr and services impoverished families in the area.

Cerda believes the center has been truly blessed by the outpouring of help they receive from local communities, churches, businesses and Winter Texans.

“It always comes in right on time – God’s time,” she said. “God will keep us going.”

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