For the first time, a 5-year-old
heard someone say, 'I love you!'
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___SAN ANTONIO--Visiting youth groups lead Bible school for children in what had been a bar. Worshipers gather to sing and study Scripture in what had been a pool hall.
___It's a typical week at Saddlebrook Community Church, a Texas Baptist apartment ministry in south San Antonio.
|Bill Howse, minister-in-residence at Saddlebrook Community, shares Jesus with children who live in the complex. (Photo by Ken Camp)
___Bill Howse is the minister-in-residence and director of ministries at Saddlebrook. Howse, who works with San Antonio Baptist Association as a coordinator for visiting mission teams, lives in the apartment complex with his wife, Ruth, and their 1-year-old son, Caleb.
___Thirty years ago, Saddlebrook was a trendy singles apartment. Today, nearly all its residents are living on incomes at or below the poverty level.
___Howse works mostly with children and youth, coordinating summer activities and after-school programs. Texas Baptists have provided financial assistance to the community ministries at Saddlebrook through gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
___A tenant's average stay at the 409-unit apartment complex is about six months. That means the church experiences a never-ending turnover.
___"You've got to give it all you've got, because you don't have them long," Howse said.
___"It's not the kind of ministry where you see a lot of results. You just have to give it over to God and let him handle it. We're just in the seed-sowing business."
___As Howse tells the children about God's love for them, it's a message most never have heard before from anyone.
___One day, Howse's wife was walking to her apartment when a 5-year-old approached her. He asked if she and Bill were married. When she said they were, the boy asked if she liked Bill. She responded affirmatively, adding that she not only liked him, she loved him.
___With a blank stare, he asked what that meant. Thinking he was just being difficult, she said, "You know, like your mother tells you she loves you."
___The boy replied that his mother never had said that to him.
___"We've had the Bloods, the Crips and the Mexican Mafia (gangs) here. There have been prostitution rings broken up and drug busts. I spent time in the hospital with a baby who died after his mama's boyfriend got mad and slammed his head through a plaster wall," Howse said.
___"I've seen a lot. But nothing got to me as much as a 5-year-old who had never heard the words, 'I love you.'"
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