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"You see them as your daughters." (#ShareYourStOOry)
by Christine Bolaños
Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2017
If Moses Peña, a friend and fellow youth ministry leader, hadn’t convinced Ricky Cotto to travel to India five summers ago, his life would’ve been completely different. Today, Ricky, an associate pastor at North Community Church in Fort Worth, has traveled to India five times and plans to go on his sixth mission trip in 2018.

His experiences in India have transformed his outlook on life and perspective on giving and receiving. Most of all, he has formed unbreakable friendships with girls in India who have helped him grow as much as he has helped them grow.

Back in 2012, Ricky was with Southwayside Baptist Church and Moses was with Primera Iglesia Bautista in Arlington. Ricky received a call from Moses in March that would unknowingly change his life.

“He tells me, ‘I’m going to India. I have a group of people going but some of them dropped and I thought about you,’” Ricky shares. Moses asked Ricky to keep the invite in mind but informed him he had to make a decision quickly as the mission trip was in June.

Ricky discussed the trip with his wife Rachel who was supportive of him spreading the Gospel on the other side of the world. But they both were concerned about the economic impact of a $3,000 trip.

“I started sending out emails and people were just so supportive,” Ricky recalls. “We raised the money quickly and that’s how it all began.”

Falling in love

The first trip was overwhelming and unlike anything Ricky expected but he soon found himself falling in love with India and its people. Ricky returned the next year, and in 2014 began leading mission teams to India.

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“The thing that captivated me about Orphan Outreach is that you’re pretty much thrown into the culture,” Ricky says.  “You get to know the people and do a lot of stuff out in the community.”

Orphan Outreach tears down boundaries and walls, he says, to allow missionaries to connect with the people in any given country. This was different from other mission trips Ricky previously took part in --- all of which were locally based.

While in India, Ricky visits the village of Anand, which is home to Elwyn Parekh Children’s Home, or the Jeevan Anand Home for girls. There, Mainesh and Snehlata Parmar are caretakers for 20 girls ranging in ages about 5 to 18.

The Fort Worth group is one of the few mission teams that travel to India and the only one that continuously goes back to Anand. That has a special draw for Ricky.

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“If you look at South America and Guatemala, they have teams all-year round to make a connection (with the countries’ people),” Ricky explains. “For these girls to know there are people who care about them, pray for them, will go see them, creates a special bond. They’re like my cousins now. They become family.”

Bonds for a lifetime

Going back is not a question of “if” but “when.”

“You just see real love and become a part of their lives,” Ricky said. The strongest bonds he has forged are with Diya and Kiara*.  Diya is one of the younger girls who enjoys spending time with Ricky and other volunteers.

“Every time we go, I always end up hanging out with her,” he says. “She’s really playful and loves playing games. But you never really expect how much they bless you in life.”

Becoming a parent has changed Ricky’s outlook on life. When he spends time with his two-year-old daughter Elaina, he thinks of the Anand girls and vice versa.

“It’s kind of like you see them as your daughters,” Ricky says. “You kind of compare the way you treat them to how I would treat Elaina.”

Kiara is also a hopeful little girl. She loves to dance and Ricky says she always appears happy.

“She teaches us new dances and we teach them our dances,” Ricky says. “She’s the first one to get up and she’s the one I gravitate to, and vice versa.”

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He hopes that he and the other missionaries provide an example of how men should treat and care for women.

“It’s always sad to leave,” Ricky shares.

Lessons learned and unlearned

Ricky says when it comes to preparing for mission trips, many times the attention is focused on the passport and other document readiness. When it comes to an Orphan Outreach mission trip the preparation is different.

The North Community Church team meets bi-weekly leading up to each trip in preparation. This includes eating Indian cuisine, talking about the importance of food in Indian culture as well as other customs such as not talking too loud, politeness; and ensuring volunteers are ready spiritually.

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“When you go to India, you don’t have time to get over your jetlag,” Ricky shares. “It’s more like acknowledging, ‘Hey, you’re going to be exhausted,’ and sometimes you get hungry and you rely on the Holy Spirit to help you when you’re exhausted so you don’t have meltdowns.”

The cultural change can be drastic, especially for youth and young adults, which can lead these volunteers to feel homesick, lose their appetite and stick to social media. This bi-weekly preparedness prior to the trip helps eliminate these cases.

Like many volunteers before him, when Ricky went on his first international mission trip he had an expectation that people who “don’t have a lot of stuff” want material objects. But, he has found, these people tend to be happy and make the most of what they have.

“We feel sorry for them and shouldn’t,” Ricky says. “Instead, try to be their friend and love on them and talk about Christ and talk about hope.”

Lives are transformed

Instead of merely teaching the Bible to the girls, Ricky says the team strives to show the girls how to integrate Christianity into everyday life.

“Since music is a large part of Indian culture we started teaching them a worship dance and they use those dances for the Christmas program and perform at all the area churches,” Ricky says. There have been three dances so far, all of which have been choreographed by Ricky’s wife, Rachel.

“For them to use dance as a tool to bring light into dark places is something they can remember forever,” he adds. “We’ve seen a change so far as them understanding why (Bible study) is so important.”

Every time he returns he is impressed with the girls’ commitment to learning Scripture, including memorizing passages and songs.

Work still to be done

The girls, all of whom were once orphans, now have tools to give them better opportunities for their future. But there is work that remains.

For Ricky, personally, that work includes sharing his personal faith and hope in Jesus Christ with others in the country. Another intimate reality that grieves his heart are the people who go on mission trips and don’t seem to understand the significance of the experience.

They complain about an uncomfortable flight, a less-than-impressive meal or another insignificant detail.

“It’s like they didn’t understand the purpose of the trip and are more focused on their personal discomfort. They missed everything,” he says.

But, Ricky hopes to change this attitude one missionary at a time. He and the North Community Church team invite students on to join them on trips. And locally, they “bring the church” to the people by visiting homes, apartment complexes and homeless communities.

For Ricky, it is just as important to serve people locally as it is internationally. “If you can’t serve in your own backyard, what makes you think you’re going to serve others in India,” he asks rhetorically.

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Ricky stays true to his word as Faith Based Manager for Blue Zones Project Fort Worth. In this role, Ricky helps enforce Fort Worth’s Healthiest City Initiative, encouraging community changes resulting in healthier options. The idea, per the initiative’s website, is to get the entire community involved --- including businesses, schools, restaurants and grocery stores --- to help lower healthcare costs, improve productivity and lead a life of higher quality.

He previously worked for the City of Fort Worth as Neighborhood Education Specialist where he served as liaison between city government and assigned Fort Worth neighborhoods.

There, the city notes that he "led town hall meetings and provided programs for local school districts, community centers, after school programs, neighborhood associations and helped residents navigate their way through city hall."

Before that, Ricky worked as Program Director in the Parks and Community Services Department, where he coordinated community recreational and educational programs. He holds a bachelor’s degree in recreations and leisure management.

And just like his work continues at home so does his mission work abroad.

Someday he would like to have enough participants to lead two trips to India annually.

A newer, improved orphanage is slated to open in Anand in December, thanks to a major donation from a businessman.

“In 2015, we did the groundbreaking and all the girls were there and this year we went back and we saw the bones of it,” Ricky proudly shares. “We prayed over it and took a tour. I told them if it’s finished in December I would love to come for the inauguration. I think the orphanage is just a testament of God’s faithfulness.”

*the girls names have been changed to protect their privacy



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