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‘I love you’ is big news in this apartment complex

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–In what had been a bar, visiting youth groups now lead Bible school for children. In what had been a pool hall, worshipers gather to sing and study Scripture.
It’s a typical week at Saddlebrook Community Church, a Baptist apartment ministry in south San Antonio, Texas.
Bill Howse is the minister-in-residence and director of ministries at Saddlebrook. Howse, who works with San Antonio Baptist Association as a coordinator for visiting mission teams, lives in the apartment complex with his wife, Ruth, and their 1-year-old son, Caleb.
Thirty years ago, Saddlebrook was a trendy singles apartment. Today, its residents are nearly all at or below the poverty level, and most receive some government assistance.
Howse works mostly with children and youth at the facility, coordinating summer activities and after-school programs. The owner of the complex told Howse that his expenses related to vandalism have gone down considerably in the two years since the ministries started.
Texas Baptists have provided financial assistance to the community ministries at Saddlebrook through gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for State Missions.
A tenant’s average stay at the 409-unit apartment complex is about six months. That means the church experiences a never-ending turnover.
“You’ve got to give it all you’ve got, because you don’t have them long,” Howse said. “It’s a constant process of getting used to the kids and them getting used to you.
“It’s not the kind of ministry where you see a lot of results. You just have to give it over to God and let him handle it. We’re just in the seed-sowing business.”
As Howse tells the children about God’s love for them, it’s a message most have never heard before from anyone.
One day, Howse’s wife was walking to her apartment when a 5-year-old approached her. He asked if she and Bill were married. When she said they were, the boy asked if she liked Bill. She responded affirmatively, adding she not only liked him, she loved him.
With a blank stare, he asked what that meant. Thinking he was just being difficult, she said, “You know, like your mother tells you she loves you.”
The boy replied that his mother had never said that to him.
“We’ve had the Bloods, the Crips and the Mexican Mafia [gangs] here,” Howse reflected. “There have been prostitution rings broken up and drug busts. I spent time in the hospital with a baby who died after his momma’s boyfriend got mad and slammed his head through a plaster wall.
“I’ve seen a lot,” Howse said. “But nothing got to me as much as a 5-year-old who had never heard the words, ‘I love you.’”

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  • Ken Camp