Community Missions to Global Missions – Not Just a Theory Anymore!
By Sherry White and Donna McCullough
I have heard repeatedly from the pulpit, from missionaries at home and abroad, that missions do not have to happen far away, nor do they happen exclusively at home. I have even been told – and have witnessed first-hand, that the world is coming to our back yard. That seemed for so long to be the experiences of others – friends in community ministries in melting pot cities like New York City or even Atlanta. But through ministry to the neighborhood at Forest Park Ministry Center, this reality has been borne out in the flesh – and has become a global mission – literally!
Over three years ago, my friend and colleague, Lou Ann, introduced me to a new family in the Forest Park neighborhood. These were people who appeared Hispanic but spoke a very different language that we could not understand – even those of us with a little knowledge of Spanish. This opened the door to realize that there are large pockets of families living in the Montgomery area who are Mixtec, an indigenous Indian race of people from the mountainous regions of Southern Mexico and Guatemala. Lou Ann had learned that the children in these families were having difficulty in school; their parents had no way of reading the papers sent home for them, and even if a Spanish interpretation was provided, it did no good for them. She had begun tutoring these children, assisting them with explaining the instructions and even filling out various forms and papers necessary for school.
Convicted about the need for Mixtec parents to learn English, we prayed for the way that God would have us to do it. The Conversational English school at First Baptist was our first choice, but the cultural barriers that had kept these families sequestered into their own subcommunities had fostered some misunderstanding, maybe even a lack of trust coupled with fear of authority because of immigration issues, and the socioeconomic differences between these families and the internationals in our community associated with the military and with industries were tremendous.
So we embarked upon an effort to teach Conversational English to a small group of Mixtec women, some of whom were illiterate even in their own language – they had oral language skills only! Participation of many of the women was sporadic, as their duties at home took precedence over any outside activities. But one young mother, “Joselina”, became extremely consistent – and she brought with her three preschool and toddler children who needed help, too. Their two older siblings were learning English in school, but these children, especially five-year-old “Omar” knew only the Mixtec heard at home and were ill prepared for the kindergarten class which he would enter the following school year.
Enter Sherry. She had been on numerous medical missions trips to Mexico, and had developed a love for the people of the mountainous regions of that country. When Donna and Carol, who had been teaching English to Joselina, introduced Sherry to these children, she had the same heartstring pull toward this family – and poured herself into tutoring the young ones, especially concentrating on prepping Omar for kindergarten. He went from knowing NOTHING ENGLISH to learning ABCs, and even reading – and when school started, he fit it beautifully, earning excellent marks even the first reporting term!
Others reached out to this family. Greg and his family visited their home numerous times to assist the older children with homework and other needs. Those of us at the ministry center visited, assisted, provided rides to doctor and WIC appointments. And as Christmas approached, Raoul, Joselina’s husband, was so thrilled to be able to purchase his children’s gifts from the Ministry Center Toy Sale,
Then tragedy struck. Raoul, an otherwise loving family man, had an affinity for drinking with the guys. One night in February, Raoul was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. While most who are arrested for such are fined, perhaps allowed to sleep it off or maybe serve a small amount of time, Raoul was the exception. He had in his possession a gun, which we believe had been purchased only for his and his family’s protection. But the right to bear arms is only a right if you are an American citizen. Otherwise, it is a felony. So Raoul, after several months in detention, was deported back to Mexico.
Joselina was heart broken, but she knew that she had to care for her children. With her limited knowledge of the English language (we had begun with learning fast foods from flash cards), Joselina found a job frying potatoes at a fast food restaurant! And we taught her how to navigate the MATS bus route to work each day. The children were doing great in school, Joselina was earning money for rent and food, but they missed Raoul terribly, and he missed them. Joselina had learned, about the time that Raoul was arrested, that she was expecting another child, and Raoul wanted to see his new daughter, too. So with heavy hearts, and fearing for their safety on the journey, we said goodbye to this brave young woman and her beautiful children, and they returned to Mexico. Sherry vowed that on her next mission trip, she would try to locate this family.
Anna, Joselina’s cousin, remained in Montgomery. Anna continues to learn English, does know Spanish, and continues to be a great help in interpreting Mixtec to Spanish and even to English. When Sherry’s mission trip agenda had been set, she asked Anna for the location and phone information for Joselina and her family. Oscar, our missionary friend who now lives in Puebla, was able to phone Joselina and learned that they are living in poor conditions, there are no job opportunities for Rauol, the children had been ill, and there was no money for them to travel to Puebla for a visit with Sherry while she was working at the medical mission in Soto Y Gama, a village near Puebla.
In Sherry’s words:
In 1998, I went on my first mission trip to Mexico with my church and was overwhelmed at the level of poverty and need to just have someone look at them with concern and love. I know that anyone who has been involved with mission work or even just helped someone in need would say that they got way more out of the experience than the person or persons they helped and I feel that way every single time. I have returned to Mexico every year that God has opened the door for me to go and will continue to travel back there or anywhere God leads!
In the spring of 2010, I spoke to Donna about wanting to help at Forest Park and would she let me know what I might could do and she told me that she had the perfect job for me, if I was interested. Once she told me I was very excited and very scared about how I was to teach a young boy how to read and write in English when I cannot speak Spanish and certainly could not speak Mixtec, but when God is in control nothing is impossible. I worked with Omar all through the spring and summer of that year and he was ready for kindergarten. His 2 younger sisters would also learn with us each week and I fell in love with all of them.
When the family started to talk to us about going back to Mexico we were so scared for them, because we knew of the danger and the limited resources in the country. Donna and I both knew that, since the children had all been born and raised in Alabama that this move was going to be a complete shock to them.
I told Donna that, if God sent me on a trip to Mexico I would find them and make sure they were ok.
When the opportunity came for me to go on a mission trip to Mexico I reached out to my friend, Oscar there and shared the story about this family from Alabama and that I would like to try and visit them, if possible. The report back was that they were living in the mountains about 6 hours away from where we would be working and they had no way to come and visit and we probably would not be able to see them. I was sad but still thought maybe I will figure it out when we are there and can talk more, but I never had the chance.
The second day our group was in Mexico, Oscar had been asked to find a birthday cake for one of the ladies on the trip with us and he had heard of a man in the church that owned a bakery. Oscar spoke to this man, Herbert and called me over to meet him and Oscar says to me this man Herbert owns a bakery in Clapa, which is only 3 hours from your family and he is willing to take you and your husband with him to visit your family. I was completely shocked in that I had made an assumption I would not be able to see the family, but with God nothing is impossible. The only other thing that would need to happen is the family would need to be willing to travel the other 3 hours for our visit and they were. We contacted the family and set up a day and time to meet.
Once we arrived to meet the family I was shocked by the weight loss and look of despair in the children that had once been so full of life and happiness. We offered to take them to eat lunch and they were starving. We found out during our visit the Dad had not been able to find any work and they were living with the clothes on their back and day to day with finding food for everyone. My heart was broken!
God had plans for this family! I knew that God had not brought me on this journey to find the family in this situation and not help, so I started trying to find out how much would it cost to pay for housing and utilities. Oscar was able to locate a house that would cost very little in a town where we have a connection with a church. We decided to offer the family to move to this town, if they were willing to have the children in school, go to church and find local work. We called the family up and they wanted to move that day!
One important lesson to me I think was more of a way to answer a question that is asked many times and understandably, Why travel to Mexico when there are many needs right here. Many will have an immediate answer and many will agree with the question. The answer is very simple go where God leads.
This story has taught me many other lessons that I have to remind myself of daily.
Nothing is impossible with God.
Follow God’s plan and it will not fail.
Love and care for God’s people.
God speaks to us daily; we just have to listen.
Friends, we feel that God has shown us – and this true story is proof positive – that He is working, whether in our neighborhood or in another country, and we must be willing to surrender to the call to go – where He leads. Only an omniscient God could orchestrate the events and God-moments that brought us together initially, and brought us back together, along with fellow Christians in another country, to continue the discipleship. You never know – a simple trip into the neighborhood could lead you to the mountains of Mexico – “For man makes his plans, but God directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9