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Evangelist unhampered by COVID challenges

Back in his days as a construction worker, Leovardo Flores could never have imagined that he would be preaching in a church, much less that he’d be doing it around the world. Yet that is exactly where the twists and turns of life have taken him since giving his life to Jesus Christ in 1981 while working in Katy, Texas. He felt pulled into a Hispanic Baptist mission in the city and his life was never the same.

“I was feeling like that preacher was talking to me directly. I knew the Lord was calling me, and I couldn't’t resist it anymore,” says Leovardo. “I was serving as a youth teacher and preaching every so often in our church. The pastor told me that he felt God was calling me to preach. He took me to the (Hispanic) seminary and I started there in 1988. God provided everything for us and we never lacked for anything.”

He continued his education at Wayland’s San Antonio campus, completing his degree in Christian Studies in 1993. Moving into ministry was a different world for Leovardo, but he has remained steadfast to what he believes is a calling from God. Stepping out in faith while being active in churches, Leovardo felt a stirring for evangelism and a more active spreading of the gospel outside the church walls. He began working with other evangelistic organizations as a translator and but felt the nudge to venture out on his own. In 2005, he launched the Leovardo Flores Evangelistic Association, a move he calls “a big step of faith.”

“I started serving the Lord doing ministry outside the U.S. I had connections in Nicaragua and Honduras and was working with teams there. We’ve been doing crusades there and in Peru, Acapulco and Vera Cruz, and we have been working with border towns like Matamoros, Reynosa and Rio Bravo,” Leovardo explained. “Two years ago, we went to Beach Reach (at South Padre Island) during spring break and gave out gospel tracts and bottled water with the Bible verse ‘If you drink this water you will thirst again’ and that gave me a chance to talk to people.”

During the school year, Leovardo works as an assistant PE teacher in the Pharr San Juan Alamo school district to support his family. He takes no salary with the ministry and turns every donation back into ministry support. On every free weekend and during school breaks, he and wife Maria are on the road with the gospel message of hope.

“Wherever the Lord opens the door, we go… outside under a tree, in a church or wherever,” he says. “I really enjoy this and would not trade it for the world. The Lord is good and is such a joy.”

Changing with the times

While visiting South America, the Floreses would spend several weeks, visiting schools, many churches and speaking in outside markets or on the streets to share the gospel. Leovardo has built many relationships with Baptist pastors and those connections have led to numerous speaking engagements in schools and other locations. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, Leovardo’s work had to pivot. The ease of travel to his South American crusade destinations changed dramatically, and he has not been able to visit there for at least a year. He turned his attention instead to the border cities, especially since he lives just 15 minutes away in Mercedes. “We do border ministry every weekend,” he notes.

“At Christmas we did an event in Rio Bravo called ‘Fiesta con Jesus’ (Party with Jesus) and did big drawings for bicycles, microwaves, toaster ovens, coffee pots and stuffed animals. We gave the kids a gift bag with candy, peanuts, oranges and a small gift with Christian literature. We fed the crowd Mexican corn and hot dogs with drinks.”

Leovardo says the crowds turn out for his events, and the families are grateful for something as small as a bag of candy. What’s more important to him is that he has an audience to share about the love of Jesus and really bless those low-income communities. During the summer, his crusades include a back-to-school giveaway with backpacks, school supplies and other essentials for the children. It meets a physical need and opens their hearts to hear the message from Leovardo.

“It’s been a big blessing to do that for the children in Mexico. The Lord said to ‘let the little children come unto me’ and I really love to share the gospel with them,” he says. “The kids are so responsive and attentive to the gospel. A lot of these children are homeless, they are in single-parent homes and the parents are abusive. You may think that children are not attentive but they are.”

Creativity in challenges

While his crusades are spreading the gospel to large groups, Leovardo says he believes that sharing one-on-one is the most effective way to reach others for Jesus. He attributes this to his mentors while at Wayland. During the pandemic, while hunger has been a real issue, Leovardo’s team has focused on food distribution, resorting to creativity when large gatherings became prohibited. He called a friend with a radio show and asked for some air time, preached a message and announced free food bags for anyone who drove to the station. They took him up on the offer.

Despite challenges, Leovardo says he has seen the fruits of his labors and affirmation that he’s exactly where God wants him.

“The sparkle of my ministry is seeing those kids smile at you and those parents thank you. I don’t need any other recognition,” he said. “I’m thankful the Lord can still bless hearts with something so small. I intend to keep doing it as long as the Lord gives me breath.”

To support Leovardo’s evangelistic work, contact him at the Leovardo Flores Evangelistic Association, Inc., 821 S. Indiana Ave., Mercedes, Texas 78570. He can also be reached by phone at (956) 536-1108 or via email at Christ_eternal_king@yahoo.com.

Alum looks back on agency career, Rotary service

Life doesn’t always go the way you plan, and those curve balls – and how you field them – shape your character in major ways. That might be a good motto for Pamela Akins, who took a few pop flies and hurled them into a successful business and decades of service through a worldwide organization – in addition to a few other accomplishments along the way. Akins is a 1970 graduate of Wayland who celebrated her 50th reunion this February with her class via Zoom as homecoming went virtual thanks to the COVID pandemic. That event gave her time to reflect on things that didn’t go as planned but turned out quite okay.

Raised in east Texas around Greenville and Sulphur Springs, Pamela found herself in Plainview heading into her junior year of high school after her father got a job transfer there. She had thought she might head back down-state for college, but her father’s sudden death the week of her graduation “threw everything into turmoil,” she said. “I was the oldest of five, and my mother, who had not worked outside the home, was a widow with no means of income,” she recalled. “Wayland put together a package that included work-study, scholarships and grants to cover my tuition, and even room and board in the old Matador Hall, for the first year.”

She stayed in Plainview and thought she might go the pre-med route. But after an unfortunate event her sophomore year, Pamela decided her best bet was to choose an English major and take a full course load each term to graduate early. She did, finishing her baccalaureate degree in three years and tying for the highest ranking graduate.

Writing the next chapter

A series of twists and turns just afterward took her around the world, but she ended up on the east coast, specifically in Connecticut, in 1974. Her skill in writing – which started early in life and was honed under professors like Mrs. Reta Carter and Mr. Jim Veach – had usually woven itself into her work, and she landed a position as an editor with Prentice-Hall, writing business management publications. She also started night classes toward an MBA at the University of New Haven.

“To broaden my work skills, I landed a job with a defense contractor, developing training materials for the U.S. Submarine Fleet and producing the company’s marketing materials. Working with photographers and designers, I discovered I had an eye for design—color, line, the emotional content of images—even though, as a writer, I came at it from the ‘words’ side,” Pamela recalls, adding that she developed the annual report that took the company public and proposals that resulting in multi-million-dollar Department of Defense contracts.

When her daughter was born, she opted to freelance for an advertising agency for more flexibility, later becoming their vice president of marketing and operations. A few years later, she was ready to tackle being her own boss, and Akins Marketing and Design was born in 1989 with a new, 10MB hard drive Macintosh computer and a full-page, black-and-white display monitor. Over the decades, she literally grew her business alongside the development of desktop publishing and the growth of technology in the design field.

Sharing the story

The business stayed busy with accounts including healthcare from regional hospitals to the state public health department, audio industry brands and numerous nonprofit organizations. They enjoyed recognition for many projects as well, including the prestigious Hatch Award for a radio jingle still in use and two Public Relations Society of America awards for statewide pandemic influenza awareness campaigns. Pamela believes her natural talents along with her curious nature contributed to her success and fulfillment. In her 25 years of owning the agency, Pamela had many projects come across her desk. But several still stand out.

She handled the Block Island Ferry account for more than 30 years and enjoyed the creative messages for that venture. She is proud of the “We’re All in This Together” campaign against AIDS stigma, which won statewide recognition and was featured on the United Nations World AIDS awareness website. She also found healthcare marketing quite rewarding, whether for “Centers of Excellence” hospital branding or numerous statewide health awareness campaigns. She sold the business in 2015 and is now fully retired.

Leading with passion

One of her biggest points of pride is that her agency allowed her to fund her daughter’s college degree and provide for retirement. It also allowed her to get heavily involved in Rotary International and support the organization’s worldwide projects. She’s been a member for 33 years. Pamela first got involved in the New London, Conn., club in the late 1980s, very shortly after Rotary lost a Supreme Court case to remain a male-only organization. Since her husband and her boss at the time were both members, she was initially hesitant to accept the prestigious invitation to join, but after considering her own business credentials decided to go for it. In a few years, she moved into leadership at the district level and her mentor encouraged her to submit her name for District Governor.

A few years later, she was selected as her district’s second woman governor and brought her marketing expertise to the table for the district’s celebration of Rotary’s centennial year, developing print and radio PSAs, newspaper inserts and other PR efforts. That year was also the Southeast Asia tsunami, and Pamela led the district in raising $30,000 for recovery projects and providing other assistance to five affected countries.

Due to her leadership skills, Pamela was able to train at the zone level and at Rotary’s International Assembly. She also participated in polio eradication efforts in India, a worldwide initiative for which Rotary has become well known. She currently serves on the Rotary Peace Major Gifts Initiative Committee, raising funds for Rotary’s academic Peace Centers.

“The most rewarding part for me is having friends all around the world. I love the camaraderie of like-minded people dedicated to making the world a better place. I get to see them at Rotary International Conventions, and sometimes at other conferences and events,” she says. “I have Rotary friends who are some of the most generous, caring people I know. My life has been very rich because of Rotary.”

When Pamela is not busy with Rotary, she is still using those English language skills developed at Wayland by writing award-winning essays, short stories and poems or reviewing books for the FloridaBookReview.net website, where the topics reflect her now-tropical home. While on vacation in Sarasota, Fla., in 1998, Pamela and her husband Barry Levinson purchased a beach home and now spend three-quarters of the year there. They spend summers in Connecticut and enjoy being part of Rotary Club efforts in both cities and the rich cultural environment on both coasts. They have a married daughter in Georgia and two grandchildren, and the couple will celebrate their 40th anniversary this summer.

Devotional: We can all begin again

We recently celebrated graduation on the Plainview campus, a particularly joyous occasion since we have not had an in-person celebration since December 2019. We were excited that several of our 2020 graduates opted to return for a ceremony celebrating them alone, even though it was delayed due to pandemic protocols. In the higher ed world, we refer to graduation as "commencement," which literally means a beginning. And while for many of our students it represents an end to the chapter of their life that is their undergraduate degree, it really is the beginning of the rest of their lives. Adulting. Families. Moving away. This can be scary, but there is something so refreshing about a new beginning. I love the verses in Isaiah 43 that speak to newness: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19) The context of this is not exactly cheery. The children of Israel were continuing a pattern of unfaithfulness. Again. But God, in His mercy, was providing for them in ways only he could accomplish. He was working on their behalf, even if they could not see ahead and know what would happen. They had to trust. You and I are the same. We may feel like we're in a wilderness, a wasteland as Isaiah put it. Maybe you're feeling like you're wandering aimlessly and there's a lot of dry, parched land all around. I get it. This past year and some change has been grueling for all of us. But just like in the Old Testament, God has been providing for us in unique ways, sometimes probably without our awareness. He's good like that. If you're feeling a little weary, take it to Jesus. Tell him how you feel and what you need. He's got everything you could want and, better than that, he WANTS to provide. Perhaps you need a "new thing" too, and he's just the one to get that going for you. Don't be afraid to ask.

Teresa Young is a 1994 graduate and the Director of Alumni Relations at Wayland since May 2017. She and husband Tommy have four furry children.

From the History Files

This month's history recap continues a series about some of the historic buildings on the main campus in Plainview, where Wayland was founded in 1908. Built in 1947, McDonald Hall was named for Dr. George McDonald, the university's fifth president and one of the longest tenured leaders. And while the large structure is no longer in use as a men's dormitory, it held that role for more than 60 years. "The Wayland Century," published in 2009, says the following of this structure: "To meet the growing need for housing on the Wayland campus, the school made plans to construct a new men's dormitory on the southeast corner of the campus. On May 2, 1946, the school broke ground on McDonald Hall. The building was officially dedicated on May 24, 1948." It was fitting that this new structure bear the name of one of Wayland's greatest president, Dr. George McDonald. While the building was under construction, McDonald actually tendered his resignation after 29 years of service, 23 as president. He was named Wayland's first President Emeritus the following month. "Wayland faced its darkest and most desperate times while McDonald was president. But due to his leadership, strength and faith, Wayland never closed its doors and never looked back," the book reads.