By Jonita Barram
Their key verse is Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Antonio (“Tony”) and Grace Sanchez are bicultural home missionaries with Northwest Baptist Home Mission. Even though Tony is the missionary pastor of Iglesia Del Pueblo in Grandview, Washington, he and Grace minister primarily to families and children. And their ministry is a family affair: their four children—Ryan, 22; Nikki, 21; Jonathan, 17; and Madeline, 16—have helped their parents serve Grandview’s young people since the family moved to town six years ago.
Good News Clubs in Public Schools
In 2010 the Sanchezes began holding Good News Clubs (Child Evangelism Fellowship) in Grandview’s schools, even the middle school and alternative high school. The goal is to share basic Bible truths. “We seek transformation of the lives of the children we encounter,” says Tony. Each club provides time for a Bible lesson and a challenge, plus songs, snacks, and games. The family hopes that the children will develop a positive attitude toward home, school, and other people. At the middle and high school levels, Tony shares his personal experiences, such as growing up in Los Angeles, getting into and then extricating himself from a gang, being Catholic, and receiving Jesus as his Savior. Now that his first group of clubbers has entered high school, he has started a Good News Club there too.
One of the elementary school principals in Grandview says, “Students have told me in the past that the way they are treated at school is not real. Teachers just have to be nice. Many of these students come from homes where there is not a lot of nurturing or they are by themselves a lot because a parent or parents are working long hours.
“Tony and his team help students realize that they are loved and that they can come as they are. They understand that this is real! They also know that the door is always open whether that be at school or in Tony’s home. Tony’s efforts to serve the Lord are a reason why the city of Grandview has moved in a positive direction while so many other valley towns continue to struggle.”
Kaylee Flores, age 6, has been attending Good News Club for two years. She says, “I like Good News Club because we can learn about God. I also like the songs and snacks.” Adalicia Cardenas, 15, says, “I enjoy going to the Good News Club because it has inspired me to become a better person. We have a Bible at home but I wouldn’t read it because I didn’t know how to use one and mainly because I had doubts about God because of the bad things that were going on in my life. In the Good News Club they showed me how to properly use a Bible. My perspective and relationship towards God has changed throughout the Good News Club.”
Tony invites parents to attend club to learn what he is teaching their children. He says it’s important for them to be involved. So when the weekly challenge goes home in print, it goes home bilingually. Although many families are Catholic, there isn’t much resistance to their kids studying the Bible. When a father asked, “What are you teaching my children?” Tony invited him to bring his own Bible from home and then used it to point out where he was teaching from. “This is good,” said the man. “How come more parents are not involved?” Tony encouraged him to ask other parents the same question.
As with anyone who spends time planting the gospel seed, Tony has had some disappointments, like a student he worked with in elementary school who is now in a gang. But Tony has also seen successes. “I’ve been given the privilege of seeing some of those seeds take root,” he says. “Five of the families who attend our services are a result of those seeds being planted.”
At the Good News Clubs, Tony puts out a can with the words “God Can” on it. Children write their prayer requests and drop them into the can. A few years ago Tony, who reads the requests, found, “For my parents to go to church.” Tony spoke to those parents, and the Lord worked. Today they serve as youth leaders in their church.
Iglesia Del Pueblo
Life at Iglesia Del Pueblo also focuses on family. After the morning service, people gather for Strong Families, a discussion time with a Biblical emphasis on family relationships. Then the evening Family Bible Study, held in the Sanchez home, explores the practical application of the Scriptures in the lives of people of all ages. Tony says everyone shares input on application—no matter what their age.
Teens have their own special times together. In Grandview, Friday nights are “party night,” so the church’s youth group gives teens a fun, safe place to hang out. It also helps students become familiar with the church, which gives them a sense of ownership. It’s a place they can call home; it’s a place of belonging, says Tony.
Out and About
The Sanchezes’ service to Grandview’s youth goes beyond GNCs and church.
Tony was elected to Grandview’s school board after a member resigned. He was reelected to a full term in November 2015. Ninety-eight percent of the students in the district are of Mexican descent, and Tony is the only Spanish speaker on the board. This opens doors of service for him, including voicing the concerns of the students themselves, since he is the only board member who every day is somewhere in the district working with kids. Whether it’s helping them with their reading, popping popcorn, or assisting at a book fair, he’s there interacting. And that has given him relationships with parents and teachers as well as students.
Grace Sanchez has a degree in counseling and has had people come to her for counseling from six cities in the Yakima Valley—to the point that she had to cut back and concentrate on families from Grandview. These include families who have learned about her through Good News Clubs. She also leads a women’s Bible study in her home.
When school is not in session, the Sanchez family has other options for the kids they served during the year. A five-day summer camp, held in a central park, attracts kids who are bused in from all over Grandview. Missions teams from Manchester Community Church, Port Orchard, Washington, and Whitney Baptist Church, Boise, Idaho, have helped run the camp for the past four summers.
Last summer the Yakima Diocese asked the Sanchezes to take over the children’s program at one of its two Catholic housing facilities. Tony says they couldn’t pass up such a blessing. In the fall, the family took over the program at the second facility as well.
When Tony thinks of his family’s service to the children of Grandview, he is amazed at the wide variety of religious backgrounds the kids come from and that he gets to share the life-transforming gospel with them.
Jonita Barram is assistant editor of the Baptist Bulletin.