When a pastor in Texas planned the church’s high school mission trip a year ago, he had no idea the group would end up in Conway working on two projects.
Tracy Odneal, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, said he scours the news to find mission trips for the teenagers to go on.
“I just pray for openings,” he said. “God has always provided an opening somewhere.”
He saw reports about the deadly April 27 tornado in Faulkner County, and that’s where he thought the group would help.
Odneal (pronounced ode-neal) said his church’s pastor has a cousin at Second Baptist Church in Conway, and she was contacted for ideas. However, she told Odneal there wasn’t a specific project to do in connection with tornado relief.
“I said, ‘Well, is there anything else?’” Odneal said. “We always say, ‘Give us the hardest job nobody else wants.’ I say it very humbly. We have gifted men, skilled men. Men on our team are very blessed with construction skills.”
A woman at The Ministry Center of Conway at Harkrider and Polk streets, which is in the former location of Second Baptist Church, gave him the number for Suzanne Gonzalez of Conway. Second Baptist has built another facility in Conway.
“It’s really funny how God works things out,” Odneal said. “It’s real exciting.”
A former drug addict and trafficker, Gonzalez turned her life around in 2011 after meeting the pastor of Mosaic Church in Conway. In 2013, she founded Stand Together And No Drugs. It’s a ministry and shelter for women, particularly those coming out of jail.
Gonzalez said the youth group’s help is desperately needed.
STAND has seven donated mobile homes in the Glen Echo mobile-home park, and they need major renovations.
Eight women now live in one trailer, and they have Bible studies and other classes in that trailer, too.
The youth group, 18 high school students and 11 adults, adopted a trailer to remodel, Gonzalez said.
“This youth group is on fire,” Gonzalez said. “They are just awesome.”
Odneal, 52, said the students were renovating a trailer to make it inhabitable for the women.
“We took all the old stuff out. We’re filling holes in walls and ceilings, repairing bathrooms and getting it functional,” he said.
Habitat for Humanity of Faulkner County purchased the supplies with donations given to the organization for the project, said Shenel Sandidge, Habitat’s executive director.
“We will be with them until the trailers are rehabbed,” Sandidge said.
Sara Waidelich, 18, of Texas, graduated from Bland High School this year and has been on mission trips for four years.
The teenager said she has been in Conway before, briefly, when her sister played a basketball game in the city.
Waidelich said working with STAND has been eye-opening.
“I think it’s a neat opportunity because we’ve been able to meet some of the women who are a part of STAND,” Waidelich said.
The last mission trip the group took was to work on a safe house in Texas for Traffick911, victims of sexual
trafficking, Waidelich said.
“We didn’t get to interact with any of the people, except for the house parents. We didn’t get to share any stories or be able to relate to them in person,” Waidelich said.
“This is a neat opportunity to meet some of the women, hear their stories and just open our eyes to things we don’t always realize are around us that we’ve become oblivious to.
“Hearing these ladies talk, … some of the ladies have multiple children, and they’re pretty young, and I’ve grown up in the church. I’ve been there since negative nine months,” she said, laughing. “I have a mom and a dad at my house. It’s a different world.”
Waidelich said it’s gratifying to see how appreciative the women who live in STAND’s shelter are.
“They were excited when we just swept the floors of the trailer,” she said. “To see their excitement is fun to see. It makes it really seem like it’s worth something.”
“These women are wonderful,” he said. “The women came and helped clean out the trailer. They come every day; they bring us ice water. Today they’re cooking lunch for us. That shows their heart; there’s been a change in their lives.”
Victoria Snyder, who lives in the STAND shelter and is responsible for the women’s medication, praised the group’s work.
“They’re awesome; they are doing such an awesome job, and I’m grateful, for one, that they’re here,” she said.
Snyder said it will be nice for the women to spread out into two trailers, although they make it work in one.
“For some strange reason, God goes ahead and allows it to work,” she said.
Some of the high school students helped Gonzalez get ready for a yard sale that was held Friday to benefit STAND.
Gonzalez said it was crucial to have the sale last week because bills are due this week.
“That’s what happens when you don’t get any funding,” she said.
STAND, which has applied for nonprofit status, relies on donations to operate, and Gonzalez doesn’t receive a salary.
When all the mobile homes are renovated, she said, there will be shelters for approximately 50 women.
One of the trailers is used as a chapel, and Gonzalez is living in another one temporarily, she said.
The second project the Texas youth group was working on is to put showers in the former Second Baptist Church parsonage on Factory Street, which is being used by The Ministry Center.
Odneal said members of the Texas group slept in Sunday School classrooms at The Ministry Center, where Mosaic Church is also now located. Gonzalez and the women of STAND attend Mosaic Church.
“All I ask is air conditioning and a floor to sleep on,” he said.
Odneal’s group arrived July 9 and left Sunday.
He said the group may be back in Conway sometime to work on another project.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.