St. Louis churches take Gospel to Mexico
By Brian Koonce
ALVARO OBREGON, Mexico–Missionaries from First Baptist Church, Arnold, and Heartland Baptist Church, St. Louis, didn’t heal the blind, but they were able to give away more than 100 pairs of glasses and shine the light of Jesus into Mexico’s Heart of Darkness.
The two churches partnered together with the International Mission Board (IMB) to be a strategy coordinator church to figure out how to reach the extreme rural and unreached areas of central Mexico.
How dark is the Heart of Darkness? Less than two percent of the people living in this five-state region of Central Mexico have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s roughly equivalent to China. There are thousands of remote villages tucked away in the mountains with little or no access to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The IMB could never send a missionary there,” said Jim Nicolls, missions coordinator for First Arnold. “There simply aren’t enough people there in the tiny villages. The missionaries need to be in the bigger cities where they can be more effective. Our objective is to do whatever we can to stimulate and nurture the local church movement.”
So instead of a traditional mission trip model, the IMB is connecting state-side churches with local, indigenous church planters. First Arnold spearheaded “The Timothy Project” as a way to train and disciple local Mexican pastors. Mission teams, including last month’s team from Arnold and St. Louis, prayer walked while the local indigenous church planter witnessed and searched for a “person of peace” that might help a new church start get a foothold.
Next comes the Gospel saturation. In the past, the project has put on discipleship and leadership training seminars. This time, the Gospel saturation went hand in hand with an eye-care clinic in the tiny mountain village of Alvaro Obregon.
The nine-person team used an “autorefractor,” which helped them match people’s vision needs to the hundreds of pairs of glasses they bought. Ninety people received prescription glasses and dozens more were given reading glasses. One young boy who came to the clinic was so severely cross-eyed he could not even navigate around the room.
“When he left he was walking independently, looking around and enjoying seeing things that he had never seen clearly before,” Nicolls said. “More importantly, now he can learn to read the Gospel he was given as he left the clinic.”
Heartland Pastor Jeremy Jessen said he, too, saw God’s sovereignty in the way the people’s vision needs matched with the supply of glasses.
“One old farmer was blind in one eye and the only glasses that fit him had massive scratches on one side, but were OK on his one good eye. Stuff like that happened everyday. ”
What was the first thing that old farmer was able to see with his new glasses? The Gospel. Every person waiting to get an exam heard about Jesus from the local pastor, Mateo.
In all, 57 adults prayed to receive Christ and 68 asked to have the local pastor visit their family. But the key to this strategy isn’t just numbers, Nicolls said. It’s discipleship and multiplication.
“We have a name and directions to the homes of all 57 of those people,” he said. “The soil has been tilled and the seeds have been planted. Today there is a church and there is a body of believers.”
Eventually the project hopes to establish a discipleship and training center to help the local believers continue to be a light into the darkness.
Nicolls said that one of the problems facing evangelicals in rural central Mexico is the overwhelming presence of the Catholic Church.
“We know there’s going to be persecution for these young Christians,” he said. “Persecution is already taking place.”
Another problem is the sheer size of the area, and the scarce numbers of preachers. One pastor, Modesto, is 64 years old. He pastors nine different churches.
“His wife is 74 and she will run you into the ground,” Jessen said. “They have a great passion for sharing the Gospel.”
It’s that passion that makes Nicolls believe that despite the challenges Christians face, God is doing a mighty work in Alvaro Obregon and the surrounding villages.
“I think we’re on the brink of seeing a church-planting movement take place,” he said. “We’re in the second generation of churches right now. Once we start seeing that third generation, we’ll see God moving. Hopefully we’ll work ourselves out of a job.”