Round Rock youth share
the love they've found
___By Mark Wingfield
___JUAREZ, Mexico--Throughout the year, many volunteers come to Benito Orfantoria to help the several dozen Mexican children who live in the church-run orphanage in a poor colonia of Juárez. None of the volunteers are more effective, though, than a group of Texas children who might be considered orphans themselves.
___In mid-July, seven residents of the Texas Baptist Children's Home at Round Rock traveled to Juárez to work with the Benito
children, lead a vacation Bible school and perform other ministry tasks for a week. This marked the 17th year for house parents Brenda and John Toner to bring a group from Round Rock to Juárez.
|ALEJANDRA, a member of the missions team from Texas Baptist Children's Home at Round Rock, plays with children attending a vacation Bible school in a one-room churchhouse nearby in Juarez.
___The children at the Juárez orphanage wait expectantly for the Round Rock group to arrive each summer, said Ada Loera, director of the Benito orphanage.
___"They're waiting every summer for Brenda's group to come," Loera said. "They like to be together."
___And while many other volunteer groups do lots of good at Benito, it is the volunteers from the Texas Baptist children's home who have an instant rapport with the Mexican children, she said, because the Round Rock children instinctively know how to care for their young Mexican friends.
___"You can kind of understand their needing so much attention. It makes it easier to reach out to them because you know where they're coming from," explained Kaley, a former resident of the Round Rock children's home who now attends college but came back to make the Juárez trip this year.
___Few of the children at Benito are truly orphans,
just as few of the Round Rock children are actually orphans. But both sets of children come from troubled backgrounds that made it necessary for them to be raised outside their own families.
|KEITH, a Round Rock children's home resident, helps a young girl with a VBS project. This was his first time on the mission trip, and it already has changed his life, he said. "I'm learning to be thankful for what I have."
___In Juárez, children are placed at the orphanage often because the parent or parents who otherwise would care for them must work 10-hour days in a factory and have no one else to care for their children. Some of the children come to the orphanage to escape abusive family situations.
___Though the orphanage is small and underfunded by American standards, the Mexican children find a home of love there. The facility, which during the school year may house nearly 40 children, is no larger than an average single-family home in Texas. Boys sleep in one large bedroom, girls in another; they are separated by a modest-sized dining room where children are fed at the type of wooden tables Americans associate with picnics.
___By Juarez standards, this block building with an exposed concrete floor is a palace.
|THE YOUTH from the Texas Baptist Children's Home in Round Rock made a lot of children happy with their ministry at Benito Orfantorio.
___That's an astounding reality for residents of the Round Rock children's home, who without exception said making the trip to Juárez gave them a new perspective on their own riches.
___For example, Billy is a rising senior in high school who has lived at the Round Rock children's home since 1991. This year was his third to make the missions trip to Juárez, an experience he said has changed his perspective and his life for the better.
___"It has opened my eyes to the needs and helped me realize there are more unfortunate people out there," he said. "I've learned that material things don't make you happy."
___That sentiment was echoed by all the Round Rock volunteers, who immediately drew comparisons between their own attitudes and the attitudes expressed by the Mexican kids.
___"I'm mad because my parents haven't bought me a car yet," confessed Keith, a high school student who has lived at the Round Rock home two years. "Yet these kids are happy with a cup of Kool-Aid.
___"This is definitely going to change me," he said. "I'm learning to be thankful for what I have."
___That is a lesson that has sustained Alejandra, who made her third trip to Juárez this summer.
___"It really makes me humble," she said. "They don't take things for granted like I do. We get a sandwich and we complain. They get a sandwich and say, 'Oh, my gosh, it's a sandwich!'"
___By making the trip to Juárez, Alejandra said, she too has learned to be more grateful for what she has.
|CHILDREN LIVING at the Benito Orfantorio in Juárez bow their heads to pray before eating lunch in the home's multipurpose dining room.
___And she has gained great joy by working and playing with the kids. "When I start feeling sad, I think about them and I get happy."
___Seeing this effect on the Texas youth is especially exciting to the Toners and Round Rock administrator Jeff Maners, who for several years has accompanied the Toners on the trip.
___"It's really neat to see the kids in a different light," Maners said. "You get to see their talents and their abilities."
___And all the kids "do a 180 in their attitudes," John Toner added. "This experience does a lot of positive things in the child-care role. Living in an institution, you're used to people doing things for you. This gets them in the giving mode."
___Through the years, the connection between the Round Rock children's home and the Benito orphanage has grown into more than a summer mission trip. The Round Rock home has adopted the Juárez orphanage for special attention throughout the year.
___Children and staff at Round Rock regularly pray for their Mexican counterparts, and they raise money throughout the year to give the Benito orphanage. This year they raised several thousand dollars through personal donations and special events, like a craft-a-thon.
|THIS OUTHOUSE, with a cross carved in the door, that sits on the grounds of the orphanage.
___Residents of the Round Rock children's home who have completed the ninth grade are eligible to go on the trip, but they must apply for consideration and meet certain demanding qualifications to be accepted.
___That makes the trip a special privilege, but it doesn't prevent the entire campus from feeling a part of the ongoing mission connection.
___"The entire campus collectively comes together" around this mission cause, Brenda Toner explained.
___Those who do make the trip, however, gain the benefit not only of helping others personally but of seeing new role models for how to live as followers of Christ.
___Cristina, a young adult who grew up at Round Rock and made her fifth trip with the group this year, said she has found a role model for her life in the director of the Benito orphanage.
___Ada Loera almost single-handedly runs the orphanage begun by her pastor father. She returned from a foreign missionary assignment to take on the task, which offers no income and no tangible benefits.
___She does the work, she said, because even though it is difficult and lonely, it is God's will. "If it were not God's will, I would not be here," she said.
___That has made a lasting impression on Cristina, who is just entering the workforce herself in America.
___"When I come every year, the person I most admire is Ada," Cristina said. "I wish I could be more like her."
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