They sit under the shade of a bridge, with no family or house, with only a few clothes in a garbage bag that serves as a suitcase for a long trip without a destination. They try to eat as little as possible in order to stretch the food they received last week to the following Saturday. This is not about a regular church congregation; it is about hundreds of homeless people in the city of San Antonio, Texas, who joyfully anticipate Saturdays.
One of them shouts out, “There they come! There they come!” as the yellow trucks arrive. Then, hundreds of them come out of their tents or get up off the ground and run joyfully toward a group of people who wake up very early every Saturday morning to bring them coats, food, shoes, and new clothes. They cut their hair and bring portable showers with hot water. They share music, spiritual messages, and above all, conversation and personal prayer.
Geraldo and Mandy Alonzo are members of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Eastgate, San Antonio, Texas. Geraldo was born to Adventist parents in Uruguay and grew up in Argentina. When Geraldo was a young adult, he immigrated to San Antonio for financial reasons. Juana Armandina, better known as Mandy, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and she came to the United States as a teenager and also settled in San Antonio. Their lives crossed, they fell in love, and they were married in 1981. Their union was blessed with a son, who now serves as a church pastor in the state of Virginia.
Geraldo and Mandy have always faithfully participated in church, looking for ways to better serve God in all times and occasions. But a few years ago, a strange new disease appeared: COVID-19. Nobody could gather for church or even in homes. The only option was Zoom. In the midst of this situation, they asked themselves, What will we do? We cannot sit around with our arms crossed.
They came up with the idea of bringing snacks, tacos and bottles of water to people on the streets. These people did not attend church and had no home or internet, but they urgently needed help. Geraldo and Mandy started distributing about twenty bags of food and bottles of water. They kept going back every Saturday, and their outreach started to grow. It was no longer just a few bags of snacks or water but a truckload. Later, they started offering more: they used small trucks where they could wash clothes and people could get their hair cut. Then musicians from the church offered to come and sing while the people were receiving services. Each week they closed the meetings with a special message, appealing to the hearts and minds of those attending. Some people began studying the Bible every week and gave their lives to Jesus.
Then the COVID-19 restrictions ended, and there was a conflict. So many Sabbaths had been spent in the streets helping people, feeding them physically and spiritually, bringing them a message of love; but now they were supposed to go back to the four walls of the church and meet only with their Adventist brothers and sisters. Something didn't feel right! Of course, it was wonderful to be able to meet again, but they missed the more than 150 people out there under the bridge who did not have anything to eat and who desperately needed someone to talk to. Geraldo and Mandy needed a way to resolve the conflict. And so, the Somerset Mission Group Special Church Plant was formed under the leadership of volunteers from the Eastgate and Durango churches. This special group has reached many people who have made a commitment to change their lives.
Sometimes people cry, not only because of what they receive but because they simply see love in these acts of kindness—they see the selfless efforts made to help them personally. Many people’s lives have been restored; they have left the streets and returned to a normal life. But even though they left the bridge, some returned to say thank you; they show the volunteers the paychecks they have received. Most of all, they say thank you because they were shown the love of God, because someone had the courage to show what God wants for them. Some former homeless people now work as volunteers, helping others who are still on the street. Saturday after Saturday, the “Church Under the Bridge” grows in number, with more helpers and more being helped.
Geraldo and Mandy have a dream in their hearts. Their prayer is that God will provide a place to help these people not only on Saturdays but seven days a week! They have been approached by doctors and nurses who would like to join them with a mobile clinic. But their greatest dream is not only to provide services but that everyone may have the opportunity to decide to impact others with God’s love.
Today Geraldo and Mandy are grateful to God for everything He has done in their lives and for the constant help of Pastor Reider Querol, who has supported them over the years. Together, they have built an unbreakable bond of service, acceptance, and love.
Geraldo and Mandy's story is written by Andy Esqueche, associate director of Communication for the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.