District Superintendent: Academia & Alianza de Pastores Equip Leaders for Hispanic Ministry


I am so excited and blessed by what is happening in the Rio Grande Valley. We are investing in our lay folks and doing so in Spanish. At the new El Valle District Ministry Center in McAllen, we are halfway through a two-month Academia, a series of Saturday sessions covering theology, preaching, outreach strategies, and more.

106 lay leaders enrolled in Academia with the help of 17 United Methodist Churches and missions. They filled the ministry center during each of these Saturday sessions which includes child care for small children, and a Spanish class for folks wanting to learn.

This is part of a larger district focus and commitment to doing bilingual ministry in a new way. As a conference, I think one of the most important things for us to intentionally do is to engage with new peoples in new places in our communities with new energy. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, that happens to be 85% Hispanic.

I want to thank the alianza de pastores here in the Valley and El Valle District staff for making these wonderful sessions happen. Rev. Maribel Vasquez along with other EVD clergy have provided meaningful leadership guidance in putting together Academia.

“My goal and hope is the birth of five fresh expressions, or Hispanic ministries that will emerge from this great project completely in Spanish for lay leaders of the El Valle District,” said Rev. Maribel Vasquez, who leads the alliance of clergy in the district.

This is important work because as a church we must authentically and intentionally engage our commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ in this growing and dynamic mission field. Furthermore, we are praying that the energy from Academia will serve as catalyst as we purposefully look for new opportunities to connect with new people in Spanish!

We have to connect not only in Spanish but to our entire community.

The future and the hope of fulfilling our mission as a church implies that we have to intentionally reach and develop authentic friendships with our Spanish-speaking community.

We continue to pray for new ministries in our conference.

“See that I command you to strive and be brave; Do not fear or be dismayed, for Jehovah your God will be with you wherever you go,”
-Joshua 1: 9.


Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez
District Superintendent, El Valle & Coastal Bend Districts

Church Supplies Water for Neighbors Strolling Through Neighborhood Park

 Leslie & Darlene 

Leslie & Darlene 

Kerrville, TX––Elm Creek Park, which runs adjacent to Methodist Encampment Road in Kerrville, attracts many neighborhood residents who walk the trails either with their dogs or for exercise alone. Residents use the passive workout equipment and many enjoy a respite on one of the park benches. 

When St. Paul’s UMC Pastor Rev. Randall Hilburn noticed a “regular” park participant having some difficulty bending to reach the water fountain, he mused, “There must be a better way.”

Shortly thereafter, a church committee, with City approval, placed two Styrofoam containers with ice and water bottles at opposite ends of the park. Church members have continued to restock about 20 bottles each day. To ensure cleanliness in the park, the members check for “throw-away” bottles and have found no discards.  

The response has been overwhelming, reported Hilburn.

Leslie & Darleen #2.JPG

“People have put thank you notes in the containers, we’ve received office calls thanking us and one day, a woman brought a case of water to the church office to express her appreciation for the project,” he said.  Workers reported receiving water bottles donated by a neighbor near the park while another said she had received “quite a few sweaty hugs,” as she refilled the ice chest.

Pastor Hilburn, citing John 7:37 (“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.”) said it has been easy enough to apply that scripture literally, and “we are gratified to know we’ve met a need in our neighborhood.”  The ministry, which has run from May until Labor Day, will resume Memorial Day 2019.  

St. Paul’s UMC is at 135 Methodist Encampment Rd., Kerrville.

Written by Dolores Schroeder

District Superintendent Shares Message About Border Experience

District Superintendent Shares Message About Border Experience

El Valle and Coastal Bend District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez, recently experienced a ride-along with border patrol agents. The patrol took a route along the border very near his home. What he experienced continues to shape his understanding of our common ministry at the border.

He shared the following message with some of his colleagues later the same day:

It was one of the most meaningful and impactful experiences I have had in ministry. I am still processing everything I saw, but I came away having a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complex and multi-layered aspects of what is happening here.

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Refugio Woman Receives New Home

80-year-old Adelia Resendez lost her 30-year-old Refugio home during Hurricane Harvey last year. After being denied by several other agencies, an ecumenical effort helped Ms. Resendez secure funding and volunteers to build her new home.

Rio Texas Disaster Response along with the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group presented the keys to her new home last week. Others included Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and the Christian Public Service.

This is the first home build of many for the Coastal Bend region.

WATCH Ms. Resendez's story on ABC South Texas Kiii-TV

To learn how you can help or volunteer for Hurricane Harvey victims, please visit riotexasresponse.org

Reflections on Tornillo July 29, 2018

Reflections on Tornillo July 29, 2018

by Rev. Laura Merrill

I was so grateful when Rev. Owen Ross invited me to be a part of the team allowed to enter the Tornillo detention facility to lead worship with the immigrant kids held there. So many people have wished there were something they could do in response to what we’ve seen happen with unaccompanied minors and especially immigrant children separated from their parents at the border, and I felt truly privileged to have the chance to stand in that place.

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Campus Minister by day, Knifemaker by night

J. Alex Ruiz’s life has drastically changed since he began blacksmithing as a hobby in 2014. He competed in three brutal rounds of knifemaking for the hit competition show “Forged in Fire.” He forged a horseman’s ax on the History Channel during a May 29 final round broadcast.

“A horseman’s ax, which is an all steel weapon, was on my to-do list. But not with a camera crew around me and money on the line.”

The judges gave the four-year hobbyist the nod for best weapon after testing it on an ice block.

Prior to the show, he was featured on the Knifemaker Showcase for Winter 2017 edition of BLADE Magazine.  

Now that his international notoriety is at a peak, he wants to make sure people know about the United Methodist organizations that helped shape his growth as a person and a blacksmith.

“I want to make sure I can give back with the skills I have accrued and the fortune given to use them,” said Ruiz. “I have stayed with Campus Ministry because it became less of a place to hang out as a student and more as a family.”

He joined the former San Antonio United Methodist Campus Ministry after attending several “Hot Potato” discussions. As program coordinator at Wesley San Antonio, he continues the Methodist mission by bringing college students to UM Army sites for Hurricane Harvey relief work.

“I didn’t think I would become a staff member after attending my first ‘Hot Potato’ discussion in 2012. But here I am.”

WATCH: Kens5 Story on Alex's Blacksmith Shop Volundr Forge

Rio Texas College Students and Young Adults Help with Harvey Recovery

Thirty college students, young adults, alumni, and supporters spent an entire week helping ongoing Hurricane Harvey recovery earlier this summer. Students from Texas State, San Antonio, Texas Wesley, and other young adults spent five days working on four homes in the Rockport area with UMARMY and the Costal Bend Disaster Recovery Team.  

Each work team was led by a college student. Teams rebuilt homes still damaged after Hurricane Harvey. One team replaced damaged siding, installed new flooring, repaired cabinets, installed a new dishwasher, and painted for an elderly couple in Bayside.

The homeowner offered her appreciation at a client dinner, “I want to thank God for sending this group to help me.”

Another team worked in Holiday Beach with survivors forced to sleep on the living room couch for the past year. The team installed drywall in the couple’s bedroom, repaired the bathrooms, and helped in the dining area.

Another team installed drywall on ceilings and walls for an Aransas City resident forced to live in a hotel for the past year.

Worship and prayer was a central focus of the week. The mornings started with a group devotion and evenings ended in worship. Students shared lunch with survivors at the work sites and reflected on how God was at work. 

“Every visit [by these student] is like a ray of hope,” said one Harvey survivor. “Everyone brings different gifts to the glory of God.”

The college and young adult team were supported by the leadership of camp director Rev. Suzette Thorpe Johnson of Texas State United Campus Ministry. Worship and event programming was provided by Texas Wesley and Texas State UCM. Meals were led by Servant Church, safety by First UMC San Marcos, site management by Bethany UMC, and the client dinner was provided by Rockport UMC. The camp was made possible by the planning and support of UMARMY and the gracious hosting by Asbury UMC and Rev. Tom Tarver.  

The week allowed student to live out their faithful witness as a connected United Methodist ministry.

"The joy and love that I got from participating in UMARMY this year, truly shows me the way God works in our lives to help those around us" said Texas Wesley alumni Robert Stockman. Students built relationships, helped those in need with dignity and grace, enjoyed time with each other, and grew personally in their faith of Jesus Christ. 

To see more photos for the week in mission visit  https://www.facebook.com/pg/ucmtxstate/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1968990396467574

To connect with college ministries visit https://riotexas.org/campus-ministry/

To learn more about UMARMY go to http://riotx.umarmy.org

Written by Rev. Todd Salmi











A Reflection on Annual Conference 2018 from Lay Leader Ralph Thompson

 Ralph Thompson is a member of Grape Creek UMC: San Angelo and Conference Lay Leader

Ralph Thompson is a member of Grape Creek UMC: San Angelo and Conference Lay Leader

Several people at Annual Conference 2018 reminded me of statements that they had heard me say, either in a speech or in a sermon, as far back as fifteen years ago! Those encounters reminded me of the power of “moments” and “events” in the shaping of our personal faith and the ways that it is manifested. It is those special moments that have the greatest impact on how we learn and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Among the most significant “moments” experienced along my Christian journey are two that I first heard two decades ago from Rev. Austin Frederick and Carol Loeb, former district superintendent and conference lay leader respectively. As I look toward all that the United Methodist Church will be challenged to consider in 2019 and beyond, I find what these two leaders shared to be quite pertinent and worthy of reintroduction.

In an exhortation before the Annual Conference, Rev. Frederick challenged us to “Keep the main thing the main thing!” As a local church and District Lay Leader, I took advantage of every opportunity to remind congregations to “keep the main thing the main thing,” as we/they dealt with issues that could potentially divide the local church.

The “main thing” for the Rio Texas Conference and the entire Body of Christ is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I would ask, “Are you (we) having this dispute SO THAT, through its outcome, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ?”

“So that”, a conjunctive phrase found throughout the scriptures, especially the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1 Peter 4:11 and John 11:4 to name a few) is often overlooked in the actions of the Church. Regardless of the dispute, the desired outcome should logically lead to building up the Kingdom of God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. To me, at least, all else is secondary, even minutia.

In what may have been her final Conference Lay Leader address to the Annual Conference, Carol Loeb repeatedly referred to the phrase, “It’s not about us [me]!”

I believe that Carol was urging us to look beyond ourselves as servant leaders of the Church. It takes prayer and a LOT of discipline to NOT make decisions that primarily please ME!

“What would Jesus do?” is another way of focusing outward in our decision-making. When I take time to reflect, pray, and read the scriptures, I am surprised at how many times my gut instincts are not aligned with God’s Word! And, what further astounds me is how often God’s Word is RIGHT…like…ALWAYS!

From the issues at our borders to the #MeToo Movement to the concerns to be petitioned before the General Conference; we who call ourselves United Methodists and Christians will make decisions that will affect our local congregations and mission fields, the United Methodist Connection, and millions of people around the world!

Regardless of the outcome of our conferencing and deliberations, “we will always have the poor with us” (Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7). The question is whether or not the United Methodist Church will be spiritually healthy enough to adequately respond to the issues of this world, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

So, for all things Methodist, I urge each of us to keep the main thing the main thing and remember that it’s not about us!

Ralph Thompson
Rio Texas Conference Lay Leader




Worship Service Marks 25th Anniversary of Cesar Chavez's Death

25th Anniversary Cesar Chavez at La Trinidad UMC 18.jpg

Twenty-five chrysanthemums were placed near a portrait of César E. Chávez at San Antonio: La Trinidad UMC during an evening worship service to commemorate the 25-year anniversary of his death.

Bishop Joel Martinez, Retired: United Methodist Church, led the ecumenical worship service with La Trindad Pastors Rev. John Feagins and Rev. Raquel Feagins. Father David Garcia, Archdiocese of San Antonio: Mission Concepción, provided an invocation and prayer to the faithful friends of César Chávez.

“We give you thanks because of the way in which César lived; which was a way that was humble, but at the same time dynamic,” said Father Garcia. “It was simple, but at the same time he lifted up so many people to a whole new life. After 25 years, we are at a new moment of history; a new era with new challenges.”

Former United Farm Workers Texas Director Rebecca Flores emphasized the hard work of migrant farmers with a table of vegetables, fruit, and campesino tools.

“We could not have a service without recognizing that César Chávez dedicated his life to the people who work on the farms to bring our food to our tables,” said Flores. “César and Dolores Huerta started a revolution to change a system that existed for centuries. They fought a billion-dollar system that treated workers like tools to be discarded, broken. A system that called people ‘hands,’ ‘braceros,’ never a human being.”

Bishop Martinez shared a joint letter from the César Chávez Foundation and the United Farm Workers of America; as well as from the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Then he blessed a candle that was subsequently sent to the Chávez family to recognize “the gift César was to all of us and to the people we will never know, some of whom are now in the heavenly choirs.”

Fifth Sundays Create Mission Opportunities for Small Churches

For the past year, on 5th Sundays something different happens at Point Comfort and Lolita United Methodist Churches. Rev. Danielle Knapp doesn’t preach a sermon–instead the congregation does the sermon as part of their Mission and a Meal Sundays.  These two churches made 25 fleece-tied blankets for children in crisis in Jan. 2017, which were delivered to local first responders.

In April 2017, they made 135 health kits and over 100 flood buckets (before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas shores).  Congregants stuffed 50 backpacks with all the needed school supplies for local students in July. Church members filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child to send overseas–boxes went to Honduras, Mexico, and Zambia in July 2017. These are huge accomplishments when average attendance is less than 40 at each church.  When God is involved size truly does not matter!

“I was looking for a way to connect what I was preaching, what my congregation was hearing week after week, to the needs in the world around us,” Rev. Knapp said. “Mission and a Meal Sundays were the easiest way to get the whole congregation involved in the work of God’s kingdom.”

On a typical Mission and a Meal Sunday the congregation gathers in the sanctuary for music and prayer and a Scripture lesson. Instead of listening to a sermon, the whole congregation moves to the fellowship hall. All the supplies have been set out ahead of time. There are a few minutes of instruction and then the congregation worships God by assembling that Sunday’s project.

The activities are designed to include children as young as 2-years old and adults into their 90’s, all working alongside each other.  Once the last knot is tied, the last lid sealed on the bucket, the last zipper closed on a backpack, or the last barcode taped to a shoebox, the members join to do what Methodists do best –  a potluck meal to celebrate the work.   

“It was important to me to help my congregations put their faith into action, by not just hearing, but doing something which seems small to us, but can change the life of someone we will never meet,” Rev. Knapp said. 

Mission and a Meal Sundays have become popular with the whole congregation and plans are being made for this year 5th Sundays in April, July, September, and December 2018. 

Midwinter Youth Fundraise Pennies for Harvey Relief

Midwinter 2018.jpg

The Coastal Bend and El Valle United Methodist Districts sponsored the 2018 “Stepp’n Up For Christ” Midwinter at Zephyr Encampment on January 26-28, 2018.
The weekend included Worship, Small Groups, Bible Study, Games, and Workshops and hearing about how they would reach out in the name of Christ.  
Charlotte Murray, the speaker on this weekend guided the youth on how they could “Step Up for Christ” in their schools, their youth group, church, and family.  
One game during the weekend showed how when we work together great things happen.  
With a total of 209 youth and adults who were in attendance throughout the weekend, and through a game called “penny wars,” where pennies count, the youth raised $381.50 for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.  

Theresa Booth: Drive Thru Ash Wednesday Reflections


Ash Wednesday is my favorite Christian day after Easter. I love the act of repentance and centering your whole being for a 40-day journey toward Jerusalem. For my spirit to thrive on this day, I have learned that I must be out in the community offering Ashes to all of God’s creation. This Wednesday was no different. 194 people drove up or walked up to receive ashes. Director of Visual Arts and Social Media Kat Cochrane and Director of Discipleship Karen Andrews both helped me, and I am sure they have reflections of their own they would love to share with you. I could go on and on about the people I met and the stories they shared but that would be a book instead of a page. So here are just of few of the encounters.

During the first hour as the sun was trying to break through the clouds, an Arlens employee came across the street. She wanted to start her day with the cross on her forehead. She then asked if I could come over to the store and give ashes to her coworkers. Later that morning I went and gave five employees their ashes. They were thankful for me coming to them. In the late afternoon a lady drove-up. After Karen gave her the ashes she started to cry. She had just left the doctor’s office and they had scheduled her for gallbladder surgery and a liver biopsy. She was scared. Karen and I both reassured her we would be praying for her.


A lady drove up alone. After she received her cross she asked how long I would be there. I told her until 7 p.m. and she said she would be back with her son who had stayed home from school due to illness. She came back with him on one trip; then three more times she came back with a car full of people to receive ashes. She said she was an Uber driver for God today. Another woman came back twice with her elderly tias who couldn’t walk without assistance. They have not received ashes in several years due to an inability to walk up the stairs of the church.

My adopted “mom” who lives in San Antonio saw my post on Facebook and drove up to receive ashes from me on her way to Austin for a meeting. It was a beautiful surprise.

Social media played a role in other encounters. A couple was on their way from Boerne to Austin for a meeting and she realized they wouldn’t be back in time to receive Ashes at their church. She Googled “day ashes nearby” and found us on the first hit on Google. They were grateful for the opportunity to wear their cross at their business meeting.

Our day school moms came to pick up kids and asked for ashes. Little brothers or sisters saw their siblings had a cross on their head or hand and wanted one. I had so many moments of talking to children about how much Jesus loves and will always love them no matter what. Later in the day I had a grandmother come to pick up her grandchild. I asked if she wanted ashes. She did not know what Lent was about, so I explained Lent and ashes to her and told her what I told her granddaughter earlier in the day when all day school kids received ashes. I told the grandmother how much Jesus loved her. She had tears in her eyes and hugged me. I do not know if she had ever been told about Jesus before. We hugged a little while longer and I prayed for her.

I had several nurses come by. One nurse parked and got out of her car; she waited for us to finish giving ashes to a van load of kids. She looked beat. As I gave her the ashes I wondered what she had seen and who she cared for this day. After the ashes were given, she said it was a hard shift. She then asked if I would pray for her. I said yes, “let’s do it now.” She said there were people in line. I told her it would be okay. They will wait. We prayed and hugged. She went on her way and I turned around and the other cars had waited, and more were in line. The world slowed down for us all for a moment.

A young couple came with a baby and grandmother. The mother did not know what the ashes were for, so I explained. After she received them she asked me to place ashes on her new baby.  The whole family received ashes and then asked me to take a picture of them in front of the church. I found out they just moved to New Braunfels and were out seeing what churches were around. They did not come for ashes; they came for a church home. I gave them information and invited them back.

My last car was a visitor to our church. He has been coming for a while. He sings with our band. He brought his wife and son. He said he had been driving up and down San Antonio Street all day and kept seeing me. After I gave him and his family Ashes, he kept hugging and thanking me. As I reflect on the day now, his hugs and thankfulness summed up a beautiful day filled with the Holy Spirit. Church happened outside of the walls.

Written by Rev. Theresa Booth, Associate Pastor, FUMC, New Braunfels

Spring Creek UMC Takes Christmas Beyond the Walls

Spring Creek UMC Takes Christmas Beyond the Walls

Spring Creek United Methodist Church spent Advent reaching outside the walls, designating an offering to build homes, and taking Christmas Eve worship to Haven for Hope.

Each year, Spring Creek collects a Christ Child offering. This year, the goal of the offering was to raise $57,000 to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. The idea to construct a home was related to work at their own facility.

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Austin Churches Open their Doors to Provide Shelter from the Cold

Austin Churches Open their Doors to Provide Shelter from the Cold

St Mark UMC; Servant UMC; and FUMC, Austin recently participated in the Cold Shelter Program in Austin. Front Steps and Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM) developed the Cold Weather Shelter Program several years ago. They coordinate local churches and community volunteers to provide shelter in church facilities on nights when the temperature drops to freezing.

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