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Student Ministry at its best: My visit to the Baptist Student Ministry at UTRGV

I visited the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Edinburgh, Texas, hosted by Rev. Robert Rueda, Director, affiliated with Texas Baptists. Robert and I share friendship and fellowship from our days at Baptist University of the Americas. Robert invited me to speak at the Visionary Conference, designed to engage college students for leadership opportunities on campus. Robert arranged for me to lecture at a Principles of Management Class with Dr. Azucena Herrera, Ph.D., at UTRGV. What a delight to share leadership principles with these students in the context of the work of Buckner International. I had opportunities to present conferences to groups of students, including D1 track athletes, freshmen students, and various groups of student leaders reaching about 300 students over two days. This is what I expected to happen during my visit.

What I did not expect was to experience Robert’s passion and vision for his ministry at UTRGV, his innovative approach, his focus on leadership development, and his creativity to resolve issues facing students at this campus of 33,000 students.

In his ministry among UTRGV students, Robert learned that about 48% of students are food-insecure, meaning they may not know if they will have three meals in a day. To address this issue, Robert created the BSM Global Café featuring very tasty food including sandwiches, soups, salads, and a coffee bar. The BSM Global Café is the first pay-what-you-can café on the UTRGV campus. The average amount paid for a meal is between $3 to $5. The café provides healthy food options and some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. Most of the café staff are student volunteers, baristas, using their gifts and abilities to serve other students. Generous donations cover the fixed costs and expenses of the café, plus a good dose of faith.

Robert leads a team of 12 staffers who raise their own support and has a vision to create a student leadership team who will help reach more than the 160 students currently engaged in the BSM UTRGV programs. Robert is a visionary leader in his own right. He is smart, creative, hard-working, and shepherds an incredible team of leaders on this dynamic campus. Robert invited me to speak on leadership, and I gladly accepted.

I was also there to plant seeds in the hearts of student servant leaders who will graduate and become leaders in their chosen field as well as potential volunteers, staff, and donors. I was so impressed with BSM UTRGV students, and of course, with their leader, Robert Rueda. BSM UTRGV students expressed an interest in volunteering at the Buckner Family Hope Center in Penitas. I was not surprised. These are the kinds of leaders Robert is encouraging. Servant leaders, ready to serve.

BSM is one of the best things Texas Baptist do with their Cooperative Program Funds, and I was so pleased to engage this program with Buckner staff in the Rio Grande Valley like Cris Cuevas, Jesus Franco, Jorge Rodriguez, Juanita Alonso, Erika Suarez, Cynthia Aguillon, and Gabe Flores. Buckner International was well represented, shining hope brightly in the RGV.

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