Kids—and Adults—Discover Community, Diversity at Midsouth Camp

LA VILLA, TX (June 21, 2013) – Although Angel Hernandez makes little money at his job in this rural Texas border town, in August he will forgo a week of pay to volunteer as a camp counselor at the Midsouth Conference’s camp for children. The camp will be held August 4-10 at Frontier Camp in Grapeland, Texas, and is available to children who are entering second through ninth grades.

This is the fourth year Angel, a member of La Villa Covenant Church, will serve at the camp. He has been awed by the impact the camping experience has had on the children—and on himself.

One of the most significant aspects of the camp has been the opportunity for many La Villa attendees to interact with another ethnic group for the first time.

Angel’s wife, Nora, has been equally excited. “We have a young girl from church named Melissa who was super shy and quiet at church, and she pretty much only talked to her own family,” Nora says. “She wouldn’t even look in your face when you talked to her.”

“Then I saw her at camp. She met two new girls, one white and one black, and I saw her talking to them and having a great time,” Nora continues. “I think they hung out the entire week together, and Melissa hasn’t been the same since. I couldn’t believe that camp could have that much effect on someone.”

It has been an eye-opening experience for Angel as well. “Being a counselor at the Midsouth camp was my first experience ever to be with people from other ethnic groups, especially African American,” he says. “I’d seen diversity in the movies, but that was it. Now I see what I missed out on growing up.”

Until recently the church hadn’t sent children to the camp. “They come from a hundred percent Hispanic community that is very low-income,” says Angel. “Most have never been anywhere in their lives. This was a big risk for them to go, and for their parents to let them.”

Angel and Nora have been members of La Villa Covenant for nearly all their lives.

La Villa essentially means “alongside the train tracks,” says Lusk, and the church is located near a train station. The church was formed in 1950, and in its early days people from Reynosa, Mexico, and other areas of that country traveled to La Villa to purchase supplies for their donkeys and horses at a hardware store that specialized in those items.

The church became the springboard to launch multiple ministries in Mexico, including churches in Reynosa, Monterrey, and Oaxaca.

At one point 300 people were attending, but over the years that number declined to 25. The congregation struggled to stay together. Then they suffered a series of tragedies.

In 2007, their pastor drowned. The next year, Hurricane Dolly stalled over the region. It destroyed much of the church, the church van, and damaged numerous homes, including the one where the Hernandez family lived.

Then something unexpected happened. Revival broke out. Led by Pastor Alan Serrano, who arrived shortly before Dolly, the church has grown to more than 200. “Adults have been trained to disciple, evangelize, and plant new Hispanic churches in the Covenant,” says Dale Lusk, director of Covenant Merge Ministries, which helps congregations arrange mission trips. “The change has been amazing.”

They also have made connections with Covenant congregations across the country that have helped rebuild homes, reconstruct the church, and assist with other ministries. Many of the connections La Villa children have made with others at camp have continued long after the week-long experience.

“The children from La Villa started communicating with children from other Covenant churches in Texas because of camp and have begun to minister to each other via Facebook,” says Nora. “I know certain youth from our church have asked Christian life questions and opinions from other children and youth from the Midsouth camp who don’t live in La Villa. This is something the kids from La Villa never had until they were able to go to camp.”

As the church has grown, it has encountered new challenges. Members give sacrificially in ways that Lusk says are humbling, but the church still struggles to make ends meet. No professionals or families with means attend the church, Lusk adds. Serrano sometimes goes without a salary.

Getting students to camp also has become more of a challenge due to the church’s growth. This year, a record 22 children from the church are registered.

Fundraising efforts will cover the cost of renting a van to make the eight-hour drive to camp. They continue to try to raise additional funds. Total cost per camper is $385, including the $50 deposit.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the registrations may send funds to the Midsouth Covenant Camp Registrar, 302 S. 20th St. Suite A, Rogers, AR 72758. For more information call (479) 631-1212 or email Kim Kelley.

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