Harlingen missionaries join nationwide effort to aid poor

HARLINGEN - In the mountains of Haiti, the poor taught Leo Boozman the meaning of life. This morning, the missionary from Oklahoma will help others get closer to God as about 170 faithful from across the United States board buses to help Mexico's poor.

From the First Church of the Nazarene, the faithful will board six buses bound for Tampico, where they'll help the area's poor while building and repairing fellow churches and orphanages.

For 10 years, Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., has sent students and church members into Latin America to a better insight into the people's lives and cultures, said Howard Culbertson, a professor of mission at the university.

"It was the dream of our president that our students have cross-cultural experiences, that our students become global thinkers in a world increasingly interconnected," Culbertson said of university president Loren Gresham.

"Sometimes, we Americans tend to make quick judgments based on economics; here, I'll ask the students to look beyond economies and get to know the people and their culture," he said. In Tampico, the group will work with clinics to bring medical aid to the area's poor, said Mary Hibbert, the university's assistant professor of nursing. "As an act of love, we try to fill their physical needs to show God's love and the outreach of the church," Hibbert said. In a similar mission to the remote mountains of Haiti in 1991, Boozman found the meaning of life, he said.

A year later, he traded his insurance business for the life of a missionary, he said. "It seemed like when I was working, I would buy a house and a car, and the more I bought, the more I worked. And the more I worked, the more I wanted," Boozman, 48, said as he fought back tears. "Then I saw people who had nothing - no food, no running water - yet they had more than I had. They were closer to God."

Often, the one-week missions become life-changing experiences, Culbertson said.

"If people can get away from their toys and things for one moment, it can change their lives," he said.

"It's not unusual to see students make life-changing decisions, career changes."

Since the university's first mission 10 years ago, the faithful from across the United States have gathered at the First Church of the Nazarene in Harlingen.

"This is about taking people to specific locations and finding out there's more to life than making a buck," said the Rev. David Runion, the church's pastor.

"It's about being of service to the needs of real people. It's people communicating with people. It's knowing that together we can make a difference. It's people seeing God in their lives. If enough people do little things, we will make a difference."

Used by permission of the Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX)