My name is Brenda Segovia and I’d like to share a story with you. Before I jump right in, let me give you a bit of context. I am currently serving as a DCE for a non-profit organization, RioMAC. RioMAC is the Rio Grande Mission Action Council based in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.
RioMAC is a collaboration of 12 LCMS churches in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). We focus a great deal on unity within our circuit, within our individual congregations and within our communities. We also focus on outreach, specifically to those that do not know how incredibly loved they are by Jesus. Our outreach efforts have placed us in some very unlikely places and situations, which definitely makes for some interesting ministry stories.
One of the places that RioMAC has connected with is the AMI Kids Detention Center in Los Fresnos, TX. AMI Kids is not your typical detention center. If you were picturing tall barbed wire fences, hand cuffs and intimidating security then you’ve got the wrong picture. AMI Kids is intended for teenage boys from the ages of 14-18 with the mission of “Separating a troubled past from a bright future.” While at AMI, the boys have classes taught by in-house teachers, they have recreational time, and they are given the opportunity to learn practical vocational skills from local industry employers.
Many of these boys have been abused or have been involved in lifestyles that revolve around gangs, theft, drugs, and alcohol. Some even have children already. These are boys who struggle to believe that they are loved, or that they are even worthy of being loved. That is why this is exactly the kind of unlikely place that God has called us to.
For the last two years, RioMAC has had a presence at AMI Kids primarily through weekly Bible studies. They are by no means required to attend, or even stay for the entire hour and a half that we are there. In fact, they would be sacrificing precious TV and recreational time by coming to Bible study. But, they come anyway. They ask hard questions and they challenge most of what we say. We encourage them to do just that. We want them to understand and embrace their relationship with God in a way they haven’t done before. Even on days when they seem to disagree with everything we say, they surprise us by coming back the next week and inviting others to join them for “church.”
We have developed relationships with the boys at AMI, as well as the staff there. Those relationships have paved the way for more than just weekly Bible studies. Consistency, time and trust have allowed us to speak God’s Word into the lives of these young men in a way that they are willing to listen.
Now, here’s the story that I wanted to share with you. A few weeks back I was on the way to our weekly Bible study. About half a mile away from the facility I noticed that the road was closed due to construction. This is the only road that leads directly to AMI, so I decided that the “road closed” sign was not intended for me. I was determined to get there no matter what. I foolishly decided to drive around the sign and before too long I found myself stuck deep in the mud along the side of the dark road. In that moment I realized just how foolish my stubbornness had been.
I called my boss, Don Hoehne, who had somehow made it around the construction site to have him come to my rescue. As he made his way toward me, I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole situation and pray that God would send some more help. Little did I know, God had a plan for all of us. I’m sure now that He was probably laughing along with me that night.
At this point, Don and I were both running late for Bible study and the boys had noticed. The boys looked out the window of their cafeteria and saw the headlights of two cars just down the road. They immediately said to themselves, “I bet that’s Ms. Brenda’s car. I bet she didn’t listen to that sign.” They were absolutely right.
They then convinced a staff member to drive them over to us. God answered my prayer for help in a powerful way through a van full of boys ready to help! Here’s the cool part. Those boys were not afraid to get their hands and feet dirty in all that mud to attempt to push my car out. The best, and most surprising part for me, was that they still wanted to have our Bible study! So, we did. In the middle of the road. With muddy feet and dirty hands sitting in my car. That one small moment made up for all the difficult moments I had ever experienced at AMI. Moments where I had left Bible study feeling defeated when the conversations didn’t go as planned, or the boys were rowdier than usual, and I couldn’t seem to get through to them. It’s not always easy, but in that moment, it was worth it. I thank God for that!
I hope that as you read this you are encouraged not to give up on the relationships and opportunities that God has called you to, even when it gets hard. God works in and through all our failures and rebellious attitudes in such a way that He is glorified always. RioMAC is very thankful for the relationships that have been formed at AMI, and even more grateful that the Holy Spirit has guided those relationships. Given the transitional and ever-changing nature of detention centers, we do not expect these boys to ever fill the pews of our local LCMS churches, and that’s okay. Our hope is that when they leave they will carry at least a tiny portion of what they’ve learned during their time at AMI Kids and that they will carry an even bigger portion of God’s everlasting love for them.
By Brenda Segovia
Director of Christian Education, RioMAC