PICO RIVERA — Led by Mark Goodman and Richard Valdivia, the members of First Bilingual Baptist Church in Pico Rivera have charged their community with service and love.
Valdivia would scout neighborhoods around the church to find residents they could help. “Love Thy Neighbor,” the ministry that resulted, allows them to once a month go out and clean the yard of “somebody who we don’t know who has an imperative need,” Valdivia said.
Luis Cardenas, lead pastor, said the church has “a desire to do outreach.” He noted he never had to push the congregation to start the ministry; rather, the members came to him asking if they could get support from the church for Love Thy Neighbor.
In the early 2000’s, Valdivia and a group of men from FBBC showed up to help in whatever way they could with California Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief during the Highland fires. The men were not trained before they arrived but because of the size of the Pico Rivera group, Disaster Relief put them to work and they ended up getting experience that years later would help the community.
In early 2015, Valdivia and Goodman were ready to reach out to their community.
Once a month FBBC goes out with a group of 20 people wearing yellow shirts that say “Servant,” to love their neighbors.
All ages are welcome to help in whatever way possible. Some go out and speak to neighbors while others do yard work. Cardenas has even taken his five-year-old son to serve.
Cardenas noted there are two primary goals for Love Thy Neighbor.
“First, it gives unity to the church and it allows the members to work together. Second, it allows us to become known in the community,” Cardenas said.
Valdivia explained that the area around the church has never experienced real love —
the love of Christ.
After the California drought many homes in the surrounding neighborhoods had dead trees. Valdivia said they have taken out more than 12 trees, roots and all.
He recounted an experience where he spoke to a woman whose front and back yards were overgrown. They arrived at her home the following Saturday and got to work. As they began cleaning, the son of the woman came out of the house upset at what they were doing. The son exclaimed that he wasn’t going to pay them for their work and that he didn’t want them there.
“Down the street from you there are a group of people who are crazy enough to demonstrate the love of Christ, not asking for anything in return,” Valdivia responded, “It’s Love Thy Neighbor, not work for thy neighbor.”
The son was shocked and allowed them to finish cleaning the yard.
On another occasion the group roamed the streets, to find a home where the weeds were five feet tall, with palm fronds all over the yard, and a rotting tree.
The owner was not home but they began to clear the front yard when one of the neighbors approached.
The owner of the home was paralyzed from the waist down, and was out of town taking care of his sick mother. Valdivia asked the neighbor if he thought it would be okay if they cleaned the yard. The neighbor said he is the one responsible for maintenance.
The neighbor told Valdivia, “Yesterday I started cleaning up, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t know how to do this, it’s too much.’”
Valdivia responded, “You didn’t pray ‘Dear God,’ but He heard you anyway. God decided to show love to you!”
Valdivia said the ministry has started expanding “to not only Love Thy Neighbor but also Love Thy Brother.” They now help the elderly members of their church.
They also hope to expand the needs they meet in the community, including painting and home repairs.
“The next step is more follow-up with these families,” Valdivia said.
He noted the ministry has helped “unite the Spanish congregation with the English congregation.”
“Everyone is a minister in my church.” Cardenas said, “I would encourage more pastors in really putting the congregation to ministry.”
(Ramirez is a summer intern for the CSB).