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backpack mission DSC 0718 webBy Herb Moering

Three Christian ministries have partnered to bring holiday cheer to hundreds of children in Mexico through a backpack and shoebox project.

A truckload of a couple thousand backpacks and shoe boxes each containing school supplies, articles of clothing, a game, hygiene items and a booklet arrived in San Juan Dec. 4. Most of the supplies will be distributed Dec. 28 in various Christmas celebrations at churches and orphanages in many Mexican communities, according to Bruce Hepburn, whose Mexico Missions ministry in San Juan acts as the distribution hub in Reynosa, Mexico.

The programs include a gospel presentation for the children and families followed by the giving out of gifts that were rounded up by Handfull of Purpose ministry in Alabama and Step into the WatersKids reciving gifts 05 WEB ministry in Oklahoma.

The celebrations are intended to offer to the kids first, “the greatest gift of all--Jesus,” according to Hepburn, a converted Texan, “and then the fun gifts.” Some of the backpacks and shoeboxes reach children as far away as Chapais in southern Mexico, he noted.

As an example, a Christmas party was held Dec. 18 in the Puebla, Mexico region, an area supported by the Hepburns’ ministry. The presents were taken to churches in the nearby mountains, an area hit hard this year with the Covid virus and heavy rains that washed away many of the crops in the fields.

The collecting for shoeboxes began nine years ago at Handfull of Purpose in Ashford, AL, with the backpacks being added shortly after when a number were acquired inexpensively, according to Ricky Carroll, founder and director of the independent ministry that for the past 12 years has been building churches in Mexico. They have four churches currently under construction.

Carroll’s wife, Theresa, has a major role going through all the items in the backpacks and shoeboxes to make sure they are appropriate and usually adding more to the contents.

Kids reciving gifts 03 webThe project has just continued to grow, Carroll said. It is supported by churches and individuals in not only Alabama, but also in Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina, which joined last year.

Also partnering with them is the Oklahoma group from the Blanchard area, that sent backpacks and shoeboxes that was part of an earlier shipment late this fall. The items are already in a community center in the Reynosa area. About a dozen people associated with the Step in the Waters ministry will be coming down to San Juan on Dec. 27, joining a like number from Alabama, all of whom will go to Mexico the next day to participate in the holiday celebrations.

Bruce and his wife Paula will head up the trip across the border along with a number of local people who support their ministry, which had a 25-year effort in building 250 casita homes of 12 by 24 feet for needy colonia couples and families just across the border in the Reynosa area. But that has pretty much ended, Bruce said, as the pandemic eliminated groups coming down to the Valley to work on the homes and support “dried up” too, he said.

The Mexico Missions ministry continues to run mainly a rice and beans distribution effort in Mexico along with a focus on helping orphanages. One of those is Melody’s Orphanage in Reynosa, which has been helped for several years, and now houses 25 children.

Associates with the three partnering ministries have said they are so looking forward to the celebrations and enjoying the happiness found in the faces of the children.

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