Two weeks ago, I had the privilege to travel with a work team to one of NTM Mexico’s church plant locations. Our primary job was to fix up Matt and Starr Arnolds’ house in the town of ‘BG’ – roof leaks under prior ownership had led to a major infestation of black mold, which caused Starr enough health problems that the Arnolds had to leave!
In order to enable Matt and Starr to continue working among the Tepehuán and BG’s Spanish-speaking believers, we had a lot to do: including roof repair, mold removal, repainting, and cleaning. In some cases, the walls would need to be taken back to the concrete and then rebuilt! It’s an understatement to call me ‘unskilled labor’ in this scenario, but with a couple super-handymen to balance out the newbies we were confident we could get the work done.
With our truckload of materials (and protective gear!), our team of four NTM missionaries (Matt, super-builder Alcides Cano, fellow language learner Tom Carlton, and myself) left Chihuahua early that Monday morning, accompanied by a Tepehuán believer named Marcelo. How much could we get done before returning seven days later? Would our truck survive the steep, winding and unpaved canyon roads? Could the four of us even survive without our wives for so long?! We were about to find out!
Our journey in to BG took over twelve hours – transitioning slowly from four-lane highways to winding mountain roads, and eventually on to unpaved rock-and-dirt roadways eerily reminiscent of a classic wooden rollercoaster! A couple of stops for amazing local Mexican food were definitely enjoyable, but the best part of the trip was the opportunity for shared fellowship. I was surrounded by men who have walked this road with the Lord for a number of years, and cannot possibly express how encouraging it was to hear God’s faithfulness in each of their stories. Talking about ministry and life in Christ helped the time pass quickly, and the drive ended with our safe arrival in BG.
The next four days were filled with hard work! Our team began cleaning the house exterior in preparation for repainting, and then we split up to focus on multiple tasks. I began by scraping mold from one interior room, then ripped up carpet before using a chisel and hammer to remove irreparably damaged portions of wall from another. In both cases the rooms would need additional work before reconstruction and repainting, but with those jobs done we’d achieved what we could with supplies on hand.
Interior painting was the next priority, so our team tackled two bedrooms as well as the entryway. I learned a lot about cutting and rolling thanks to Tom’s patient instruction (pictured at left) – and largely managed to avoid painting myself, apart from one unfortunate incident while rolling a ceiling. (Sorry, no photos available!) And while we managed to keep the inside floors fairly clean, much of our cleanup process was spent removing paint splatter from the house’s exterior: wetting, scrubbing, and wiping tile – often by hand, with liberal elbow grease applied!
You can well imagine how exhausted we were at the end of these workdays. However, we loved heading over to Chris and Rachel Thomas’ house at the day’s end! Chris and Rachel are the Arnolds’ coworkers in BG – and Chris spent a ton of time during the week laboring alongside us, while Rachel went to war against our hunger pangs with amazing homemade meals! We are so grateful for the way both poured love into us, and look forward to seeing them again at our field conference later this year.
Around all of this work, we found time to go and spend with various people in the BG community – Mestizo and Tepehuán, young and old, poor and well-off. In each case we were welcomed warmly into the homes of our hosts, each close friends of the Arnolds and Thomases. We often shared the midday meal (the day’s largest in Mexico), and always enjoyed the incredible culinary creations set before us! These times opened a window into local cultural paradigms, and provided excellent practice for applying our months of Spanish study.
Our trip provided several opportunities to see aspects of the church planting work firsthand. On Thursday afternoon we joined a men’s Bible study at the local Spanish-speaking church – I can’t tell you how encouraging it was to see guys like Oscar, Gaspar and Kiko desiring to grow in the Lord! Then Saturday Tom and I went along with Chris and Rachel to the weekly kid’s club, where dozens upon dozens come to hang out and hear God’s Word. Finally on Sunday we returned to that same church, where Matt preached and we got one more opportunity to interact with the local Spanish-speaking believers. These believers are going to be a huge part of seeing the Tepehuán-language church built and established in their community… pray for them!
If anything, our return route to Chihuahua was rougher than the way in! Recent road development gave us an option which would save two hours, but took us through difficult rugged canyon roads for half our travel distance. Yet the beauty of God’s creation more than compensated us for some wear-and-tear and a few jarred teeth! And as on the way in, the prolonged opportunity to spend time with my amazing coworkers made a long trip seems short.
In the end, that time with Matt, Alcides, Tom, Chris, and Rachel was the highlight of this trip for me. Seeing God at work in the BG churches was amazing, and since visiting I’ve wondered how on earth I’m supposed to leave them behind! Likewise I really enjoyed getting to help out Matt and Starr – supporting their work indirectly, and learning a lot about not only the Tepehuán work but many of the others here in Mexico.
Yet great as those things were, I continue to appreciate how special that time of mutual discipling was. Each guy I traveled with has grown with God through unique struggles, resulting in evident maturity and love for Him. Sharing life together has both challenged and encouraged me! So focused as we are by necessity on Spanish language and culture, I’m resolved anew to not overlook the opportunity I have here and now to learn from the other missionaries God has put around me.
If you’d like to read Tom’s perspective on this trip – or just see more of our photos! – take a look over at his blog! http://thatallmayknow.org/2015/03/into-the-mountains/
- For a safe trip to BG, productive time there, and a ton of growth along the way!
- That Amy and the kids did so well in my absence, and for the strength God gave Amy in particular to hold down the fort.
- Because we’ve seen God directly addressing the exhaustion for which we asked prayer last month… providing timely counsel from some, using specific encouragement from others, and moreover through your faithful prayer on our behalf!
Ways to Pray:
- That the work we’ve accomplished would permit Matt and Starr to thrive in BG for such a time as God would keep them there!
- For growth in both the Tepehuán and Spanish-speaking churches in BG, particularly that God will raise up elders who will faithfully and confidently teach and disciple.
- Finally, that God would grant wisdom to both the Thomas and Arnold families regarding future plans, difficult ministry circumstances, and in all things how to best serve His church in BG.