For the past seven or eight years, The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights has sent a team of adults to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In partnership with The First Presbyterian Church of Mission and Solomon’s Porch, we have worked to understand issues surrounding migration and poverty as we join hands and hearts in rebuilding houses, worshiping the Lord, and seeking to find where God is on the move. In 2016, we were sent out with six members from Crafton Heights as well as two friends from other Pittsburgh area churches.
The first day is really all about travel. We boarded a flight in Pittsburgh at 5:40 a.m. on Saturday, and after a brief stop in Baltimore, found ourselves in Houston about lunch time. A six-hour drive later and we were reunited with our hosts in Mission, who had prepared an amazing meal of brisket, sausage, beans, cornbread, and more for us. More than that, they opened their hearts to welcome and encourage us. We laughed and talked for a long time, and then almost all of us were ready for bed. I say “almost all” because my luggage was having such a good time in Baltimore that it decided to hang around there for an extra day – so when the airline called to tell me I was on my own for the night, I went to an all-night drugstore to get a toothbrush, at any rate.
Sunday morning brought us the opportunity to worship in two places. We began at 8:30 at FPC Mission, a medium-size church with a population that is peppered with Winter Texans – retirees who spend 3 – 6 month each year in the Valley. We always enjoy the chance to be in this place and appreciate the beautiful music and warm hospitality of this church. At 11:30, we met with Solomon’s Porch, temporarily worshiping in Coco’s Restaurant as they await the completion of their new building. This is a much smaller congregation, but it has a huge vision. The service was multilingual, and my sermon was preached in English and translated into Spanish (and perhaps corrected, for all I know!) by my friend Pastor Danny. After worship, we were treated to a meal of homemade tamales, beans, rice, ground meat, and cherry pie. What a delight to visit these folks, who in addition to receiving us so kindly, have sent three teams to Pittsburgh in recent years.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, where a few of us stalked the birds and wildlife while the rest of us walked through the many hiking trails in search of the Rio Grande, a few laughs, and the chance to soak in the 89 degree sunshine! I was able to add a couple of birds to my life list and everyone was glad to be able to stretch after such a long travel day. We ended with a delicious spaghetti dinner and a fascinating conversation about God’s grace, guardian angels, and the call to daily obedience. There was a little personal celebration for me as I had the opportunity to embrace my long-lost luggage!
So now, after two days, we are really here. We’re acclimated, we’re fed, and we’re ready to dive in. More about that tomorrow. Thanks for the prayers, and the privilege to be here!