In our November update, we shared our plans to begin visiting church plant locations here in Mexico. This is something that we’ve looked forward to greatly, working hard in Spanish that we might be ready to start work in one such location! Our first visit came in mid-December, permitting us a week with the missionary team in Las Moras working to reach the Nahuatl people group. (To pronounce ‘Nahuatl’ just say ‘now what’ and you’ll be close enough for now!) The trip was wonderful, and we are excited to share with you some of the things which happened during our pre-Christmas travels!
The first part of our trip – well, after the ten-plus hour drive from Chihuahua to the Nahuatl’s supply town of Mazatlan – was the actual drive to Las Moras. Two hours of paved roads quickly gave way to rugged terrain, which is legendary in NTM Mexico as the most difficult route into any of our works. It took us 5.5 hours to travel perhaps 45-50 miles! A major goal in our trip was to experience this road, that we might be prepared if the Lord leads us to join this team.
Well, experience it we did! And though it did become clear just how much preparation (and what kind of vehicle!) were needed to make the trip, we saw that it was something which could be done. We also experienced other aspects of what life may look like in coming years: solar power, limited water access, homes built from adobe bricks (a dirt-based material), supply-buying for months at a time, and living in highly isolated locations. All of this was quite eye-opening, and highly educational for our family!
Much as we enjoyed these experiences, we had not come simply to sample the daily life of a tribal church planter. Trusting God to guide us where He desires for church planting, Amy and I have often found the Nahuatl people on our minds. In visiting, we hoped to meet several Nahuatl – replacing a group name with the names and faces of people God made in His image – and to begin seeing how they lived. We were not disappointed!
While we were there, people often came to visit throughout the day. Moreover, we were twice invited by a neighbor or friend to eat tamales or pork carnitas in their home! We visited with others while walking through the village, which also gave us a chance to see some of the team’s recent community development projects. Our brief exposure to the people, language, and culture was incredibly intriguing – we enjoyed encountering some of the more distinct word sounds and grammar features! – and left us with a new, more personal perception of this people group we’d heard of for so long.
Of course, the Nahuatl weren’t the only people we were excited to see in Las Moras! We’d previously met the missionary team working there, and were eager to spend more time with them. Rachel Chapman and Katie Moore are two single ladies who – though the whole team collaborates on each part of the larger task – respectively focus on Bible translation and literacy. Their coworkers in Las Moras are Pete and Liesl Hypki, who work on lesson planning and ensuring the comprehensibility of all these ongoing Nahuatl-language materials. (They have a son, Kester, who is just a couple months younger than Joel!) Another couple, Tom and Teresa Elkins, provide extensive logistical support from another location.
Our time together was very sweet! We spent the better part of a week working, playing, and living alongside one another… sharing hopes and struggles, encouragement and lessons learned, good food and hilarious stories. The time together painted a picture of what life in ministry alongside one another could look like, and was time very well spent. We talked about both strategy and motivation in church planting, and in so doing Amy and I gained valuable insight into the history of this team. Our hope is that they profited as greatly as we did from the time with our family, gaining insight into God’s desires for the future of their team, and whether or not we are to be a part of it.
Another incredibly valuable part of our trip was the time we spent observing the ongoing church plant work itself. During our visit, we were privileged to sit in on multiple sessions with language helpers, each integral to a different aspect of preparing to teach God’s Word in another language and culture. Some sessions were focused on lesson preparation, ensuring that the vocabulary chosen was communicating the desired ideas. Others checked progress in Bible translation, determining whether ideas unusual in Nahuatl culture (such as a ruler issuing commands rather than offering polite suggestions) were understandable despite their strangeness. Still others were comprehension checks, where a local friend heard a translated story, answering clarifying questions to make sure it was always clear which person was performing any given action.
Watching the missionary team work through these sessions helped us understand better the work which lies in front of us. Some things, like the lesson preparation, applied directly to work we are doing now. Others helped us understand areas about which we’ve been curious (such as translation!), and – having ourselves now spent much timing learning another language and culture – brought to light aspects of this work we couldn’t have fully grasped back in our missionary training days.
Well, the end of our trip eventually arrived, and we found ourselves boarding a mission plane in order to head back home. In some ways it was hard to leave the tribal church plant behind; we could so easily see ourselves working with this team to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Nahuatl people! (And our kids simply loved it there!) Yet our work in Chihuahua is not complete; we have a ways to go in our study of Spanish and Mexican culture before beginning that work anew in a different location. Too, our desire is not simply to find a circumstantially convenient location where we would *like* to work – for which Las Moras would easily qualify! Our desire is to be used by the Lord for His glory in a place of His choosing.
As we settle back into life and ministry in Chihuahua, another trip like this one is coming all too quickly. In February our family will spend a week in the town of BG, where another missionary team is diligently working to make Christ known among the Tepehuan people. This is the same town I visited in March of 2015 as part of a work team, but this time Amy and the kids will come along. Also joining us are Don and Chrissy Chubb, a couple with whom we’ve grown close in Chihuahua, and who could be future tribal coworkers. We do not yet know where God will plant us for the decades to come, but as we prayerfully seek His guidance, it has been so encouraging to remember just exactly who this God is that we serve. His plans are best, and we love the privilege of walking with Him each day, trusting Him to lead us according to His will.
Praise God with us!
- For safe travel to and from Las Moras, a wonderful Christmas season with friends and family, and a solid return to our studies in Chihuahua.
- That I tested into a new level of language comprehension, called Capable Low. This is a key milestone in our current work and quite encouraging!
- We’ve learned of multiple new families with plans to come work with NTM Mexico. It seems that all of the church planting teams need more help, and we are grateful to see God providing more workers coming up behind us!
Ways you can pray:
- That God continue to raise up workers, both for the church planting teams and the support roles (such as the MK school, which has a particularly great need at this time). We could put a hundred new missionaries to work tomorrow, and still need others to come serve the Lord alongside us here in Mexico.
- For continued encouragement in this long-haul work of ‘mastering’ another language and culture. It is so much, and doesn’t stop – in fact, each new thing we learn reveals three more still ahead of us. Yet we praise God for His loving faithfulness and sufficiency; it is He who works through us, and He is always enough for each day.
- Our upcoming trip to BG in mid-February is another important time to observe a church plant work and seek God’s will for next steps. Please pray for travel safety, productive time with the Arnolds and Thomases, and clear insight into this particular context – one which will be very different from that in Las Moras!