Last year our church in El Carmen planted a church in a nearby community called "Mission" (because a group from Mission, Texas initially funded the establishment of the community back in the early 1990s). The locals call it La Hormiguera which means the anthill - a joke referencing the fact that it's built on a series of hills and the population is so dense that it reminds one of a large anthill. The fact is that the Mission community is one of the poorest places we've ever seen in Mexico. Many people live in simple, one-room cinder-block structures with no running water. It's a place where, because of the poverty, the drug cartels easily recruit their young gatilleros (triggermen). You might say that this is the front line in the drug wars. The cartels love to play a Robin Hood type of role to these type communities by handing out school supplies at the beginning of the school year in August and blankets when the weather gets cold in December. It's sad to see that many of the teenage boys have adopted the gang-banger style and look up to the cartel men as heroes. Worse still, teenage pregnancies there are rampant. The challenge we face is to capture the hearts and minds of these youth with the gospel!
So in October of 2009, taking up this challenge, our church sent several families to start a church in Mission. We called it La Misión a Mission and after a few weeks of evangelizing and getting word out about the new church, by December it was firmly established with a core of around 50 people. But this was not to be without struggle. Last summer the pastor's two brothers and several other members of the church were kidnapped and brutally beaten by members of the Zetas - the most vicious and bloodthirsty of all of Mexico's cartels. They were fortunate not to have been murdered like the 72 Central American migrants whom the same cartel murdered during the same month. Due to the continued cartel threats, the pastor and his family relocated to another part of Mexico. The congregants, also fearing for their lives and without a pastor, stopped coming. It looked like the church plant was going to die. That's when our pastor in El Carmen, along with the leadership team, decided to "adopt" the Mission church. Even though it was officially planted out of our church we had tried to maintain a level of distance so that the young church could stand on its own two feet and not rely on us. But the changed circumstances called for different measures. The leaders were given different responsibilities and Jan and I volunteered to take the Tuesday night service in which after a worship time the men and women divide into separate Bible studies. Jan started a study on the "Supreme Calling of the Godly Woman" and I started a chapter-by-chapter study on the life of David entitled, "David: God's Braveheart" (David, El Corazón Valiente de Dios).
During the first few weeks only a handfull of people came out. The majority were still frightened by what had happened with the drug cartel. On our second Tuesday night, a man told me that a rumor was circulating around the Mission community that the Zetas were threatening a grenade attack on the small church if it didn't shut down. Though probably just a rumor, the cartels had been carrying out frequent grenade attacks against the government lately. It's hard to describe my reaction in hearing about that threat but all I can say is that inside I had no fear at all. I'm not talking about courage here but rather faith. God had assured me that we were perfectly safe. And so we carried on. Slowly, over the next few weeks, the people began to return. By the end of September we had over fifty consistently every Tuesday night.
The glory goes to God. What I have learned from our involvement in the Mission at the Mission is that God is much bigger than any threat. Human evil, though scary, can never thwart the purposes of God. The people needed to see that the leaders were committed. They needed to see that we weren't afraid. In short, we had to model faith to them. So now the little church is thriving and growing - though not without its problems. After all, the only church without problems is a church without people - so we'll take the problems! Our task, however, is not to staff the church indefinitely but rather to raise up a worship team as well as look for a pastor who can take the church plant and further nuture it. But the lessons we've learned and the relationships we've made over the past four months have been worth their weight in gold. Stay posted and in a later post I'll keep you informed of what's happening at Mission.