Brother Bill was on the phone.
"He wanted me to pick up some kids so he could give them shoes and clothes. I drove to the address and came back to the church with the station wagon full of children."
"At that time we had an active ministry here in West Dallas distributing shoes and clothing. Every adult who grew up in this part of town received shoes from that ministry. Brother Bill also obtained stoves and furniture to give to families in need."
"We made sure that every child who came to church on a regular basis had gifts at Christmas. The Christmas presents and food boxes that we give out every Christmas all got started back then."
"That was the beginning of Brother Bill's Helping Hands that continues to this day as a separate agency from the church. I volunteer every Wednesday and Thursday. There are many volunteers who minister with me. I interpret and witness to people as I help them get information and services. Susanne asks me to do the devotional on Wednesdays and Thursdays so that the people who only speak Spanish can understand."What about the car full of kids?
"Well, when I arrived at the church with the car full of children, Brother Bill was nowhere to be found. I asked Ms. Bailey where he was. She had a funny look on her face. Then she told me he was hiding. Hiding? Why is he hiding? I asked."
"'He gave the shoes and clothes away to another family,' she told me."
"I was so angry I was crying. Eventually Ms. Bailey took me back to talk to Brother Bill. He kept asking me to forgive him for putting me in such a difficult spot. I was too angry to forgive him. He begged and begged. Finally he said, 'Hon, if you don't forgive me I am going to come over there and give you a big kiss!'"
"I laughed at that. I didn't want to but he could tell when he made me laugh that I was o.k."
"'What about the children?' I asked. 'I promise they will get their shoes,' he said. I said, 'Fine, then I am going home.'"
"As I started to leave, he added, 'But you have to take the children home!'"
"'No,' I said, 'That is your job. You take them home.' So Mrs. Bailey found shoes and clothing for them and took them home."In addition to driving the church bus and car, Benita began teaching almost immediately. She taught teenagers for the first ten years. Teaching adolescents at the church was just as challenging back then as it can be today, but Benita was up to the task. She is a tiny woman, but she was more than a match for difficult students.
Benita also served forty years as leader of the Union Femenil, the Women's Missionary Union. "They told me I just had to encourage the women, but I found it there was much more work to it than that."
Today she continues to serve the church and Brother Bill's Helping Hands in the heart of the eleventh poorest zip code in the nation.
Benita has done all of this while raising five children and three of her grandchildren.
"There were times I wanted to give up, but Brother Bill and later Brother De La Rosa just wouldn't let me."One of Benita's daughters married and had three children before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Then that daughter's husband was killed in an auto crash. Benita spent years caring for her daughter and her adopted grandchildren as her daughter endured multiple admissions to Terrell State Hospital.
"One Sunday morning, after I had been up crying all night, I called to tell Brother Bill that I couldn't come to church that day. He said, 'If you don't come, I am coming over there to get you.'"
"I said, 'Never mind.' I put on a pair of dark glasses and went to church."
"One time I was trying to get her to sign herself in voluntarily and she told me, I will sign myself in if you will sign yourself in. Then she told them I was the one who needed help."
"They almost took me to Terrell until Maria, one of my other daughters, stepped in and explained things."
"One time I told Brother De La Rosa I am going to stop going to church because God is just not listening to me."
"He said, 'Benita, everyone else may leave you but God will never leave you or forsake you.'"
"I felt so much relief and joy in my heart, it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders."Today Benita is not quite as active as she once was but she is still every bit as faithful and in many ways she plays an even more vital role in our congregation.
"Brother De La Rosa always helped me spiritually and encouraged us when we needed it. He went with me to the state hospital to insist that they change medications for my daughter. They finally found the right kind of medication to help her stabilize her illness."
She embodies the best of what I have come to admire about so many of my brothers and sisters in Hispanic Baptist congregations across Texas. The respect she is accorded in our congregation has something to do with the honor that the culture affords ancianos, or elders, but where Benita is concerned it has much more to do with the kind of witness she has lived for more than fifty years and continues to live to this day.
Is it any wonder when Benita Villa stands up to speak at our church that we all listen?