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River Ministry Collection Set to Inspire Hardin-Simmons University Students

By Janlyn Thaxton

 

 

A project that started over four decades ago, encompassing an area along 900 miles of the Rio Grande River, is the celebrated story of the Texas Baptist River Ministry. The project has often inspired college students and thousands of church members over the decades to participate in missional work along the border. Now the history of the ministry can be studied by a collection of photos, books, crafts, and artifacts which chronicle the many projects and accomplishments of the Rio Grande River Ministry. {{more}}In 1967 Elmin Howell became the first director of what’s known today as the Texas Baptists’ River Ministry, a comprehensive and acclaimed combination of ministry and evangelism along the Texas-Mexico border.Howell and his wife, Betty, were on hand at a dedication ceremony held at Hardin-Simmons University where the collection is now housed on permanent display in the Connally Missions Center.The most prominent feature of the collection is a large Texas map painted on a single wall lit with spotlights. Black-and-white photos of River Ministry projects are displayed on the opposite Elmin and Betty Howell.wall, while a continuous-loop video on a monitor tells the story of the ministry along the Texas-Mexico border between the years of 1968 and 1996.One of many driving forces behind the formation and consolidation of the permanent collection is Hardin-Simmons special assistant to the president, Wayne Roy. He describes the collection as an acute testimony to the long-time ministry. “The collection is meant to inspire and lead students into missions ministry,” he says. “This visual testimony delivers a great degree of reality to students on what the River Ministry is about,” says Roy.The Howells both graduated from Hardin-Simmons in the 1950s. Under their guidance the River Ministry was “committed to ensure that every person along the ‘frontera’ was introduced to the love of God through Jesus Christ,” according to a printed statement on the wall of the collection. There’s no doubt that the ministry has been an immense project, considering the area is home to over six-and-a-half million people.The collection chronicles the accomplishments made during the Howell’s service; 63 health care clinics, 600 churches, 100 water wells, 1,000 agricultural projects including healthy food, crop and livestock development, and income for the people on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.The collection also includes examples of quilts, purses, aprons, pillows, dolls, and ceramics. Four handcraft communities were also established by the River Ministry, which continue to provide incomes for the families of the women who make the crafts.During the dedication ceremonies, one of the quilts was presented to HSU President Dr. Lanny Hall and First Lady Carol Hall. Quilts were also given to other key people who helped to make the permanent collection possible. According to John Hunt, director of the Baptist Student Ministries at HSU, a group of inspired students are already planning to travel to South Texas during the next spring break. Hunt says the trip is a partnership through Buckner Children Services. HSU students, with the help of members from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, will visit the enclave communities around McAllen. The communities have grown up in unincorporated areas, primarily on floodplains, and do not generally include any city services or utilities.Hunt says the students will build a house for a family and plan to conduct vacation Bible school classes and several sports camps for children who live in the “colonias.”Hunt says the trip is an example of how the River Ministry Collection is already working on the hearts of HSU students, which is exactly what it is meant to do. A curriculum is currently being developed by faculty members at the HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology to incorporate the examples set by the River Ministry into future courses.The River Ministry Collection can be seen in the Connally Missions Center on the HSU campus.Video Tells River Ministry Story

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