When the Changed Lives and Broken Hearts Are Yours
Mission Trip Reflections
by Rick Patrick
After investing our Spring Break on a mission trip to Aguascalientes, Mexico–a desert city of nearly one million people–our mission team of ten church members will never be the same. It is challenging to reduce to words the waves of emotion and brokenness one feels when immersed in a culture that celebrates death, deifies Mary and places faith in the practice of witchcraft. After briefly describing four days of activities, I will share a few general observations regarding this field and offer some personal reflections.
DAY ONE was Sunday and included worship in house churches. It was a joy and honor to preach through the faithful translation of my friend, our missionary. Although we had little in common with the people, the bond of Christ knit our hearts together and we made friends quickly. That evening, we ended the service in prayer for a woman whose abusive husband had left her, taking everything. It was memorably heartbreaking. Some of those we fed after the evening service had not eaten that day at all.
DAY TWO on Monday was a national holiday, providing the opportunity for a special fellowship that would unite youth from three house churches in different parts of the city. These youth had never really come together before. By joining forces, they became what we would consider a very small youth group of ten or fifteen. There were guitars and ball games and pizza (with hot sauce) and fruit (with hot sauce) and songs and testimonies. One young man rode three busses an hour and a half one way just to get there. Think about that the next time you plan a youth rally.
DAY THREE on Tuesday included ministry in a local park in which part of our team ministered to children, others ministered through music, and still others led a Ladies Bible Study and sponsored a program advocating a healthy lifestyle. The prayer walk around small apartments with no running water was heartbreaking. One young child passed by whose father was a known drug dealer. The broken glass in the courtyard was the result of the men in that community who got drunk each night and carelessly broke their beer bottles, creating a hazard for their barefoot children. That evening our ladies met for a Women’s Ministry Fellowship while the rest of the team took a prayer walk outside a couple of the Baptist churches — there are only about five in this city of one million — and lifted up believers who are isolated and outnumbered.
DAY FOUR on Wednesday began with some manual labor sorting through supplies in the missionary’s resource room. Yours truly was reminded of the principle of gravity with regard to bright pink paint and its staining properties upon tan slacks and brown shoes. Some of our men met with a middle aged man in the church struggling with his sense of purpose and direction in life. Tears flowed as we encouraged and prayed for him. That evening our ladies participated in a Bible Study, while the rest of the team enjoyed a worship service in which tambourines were provided. As I preached a brief message on caring for the needs of others, I was mindful that just outside the church there were signs of gangs who had marked their turf on the city streets.
- Christians in Aguascalientes have their Bibles, the Holy Spirit and a few small congregations, but they do NOT have much of the infrastructure we often take for granted–Christian bookstores, seminaries, conferences, radio stations, concerts and ministries that build up our faith and help us to grow. With regard to the availability of spiritual resources alone, I felt like a spoiled Christian brat.
- Those who desire to become high school students in Aguascalientes stand in a line all night long in order to get a ticket that will allow them to take a test which, if they pass, will permit them to go to school IF they buy their books and uniform. Most cannot purchase the books and the uniform. Be thankful for your education.
- Religious liberty is limited. There is an expensive five year process for becoming an officially recognized church. We visited one such church, but spent most of our time among house churches and other ministries with generic names like Family Community that did not opt to purchase the expensive government approval. They could not use either the word “Baptist” or the word “Church” in their name.
- There is no substitute for the career missionary. We visited for a week, laughed, cried, prayed, taught and ministered, bearing tangible fruit. But we were just beginning to adapt to the culture, trying the cactus and learning to eat at ten, three and nine. Our horizons were broadened and our eyes were opened, but the missionaries on the field who know the language and the culture are the ones truly equipped to make a lasting difference. Giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon is the best way to support missionary work that lasts.