When my husband, Steve, and I first arrived in La Paz, Mexico in May of 1992, we found much spiritual barrenness as well as the physical dryness of the land that surrounded us. Yet little sprouts of life were already growing.
Together with our La Paz co-workers, Martin and Susie Gonzalez, we began to meet people introduced to us by previous missionaries in the area. During our first summer there, God sent a committed Mexican couple our way from the mainland, Tony and Jeannette DuPond, who had a winsome way with people. Soon a little group began to gather on Sundays. The group met on our back patio, where we squeezed chairs between the trees and tried to make sure no one banged their shins on the faucet sticking up out of the cement. We met there for a year, and eventually were able to buy property for the church. Together we named the church La Paz de Cristo, meaning the peace of Christ.
Seeing lives change is a precious thing. The De La Tobas family started slowly in the faith but has clung to God tenaciously. Martin and Susie began meeting with them regularly for Bible study, and gradually the family came to faith in Christ. The husband, Jose Angel, found freedom from his alcoholism and now enthusiastically shares his faith. During his three-hour drive to Cabo San Lucas to sell corn, Jose would stop at scattered little ranches to tell people about Christ. Now he is the pastor of La Paz de Cristo Church.
Nothing can compare with that joy of seeing Jesus transform lives, and we get to be a part of that process as we take the time needed with people. Mexicans have a great word to describe that life together: “convivir.” “Con” means with, and “vivir” means to live; and a “convivencia” is any kind of gathering to just spend time with others – to “live together.” Our Mexican fellow believers have taught us so much about faith and just plain hard work.
They have shown us what it means to be hospitable, what it means to receive people into our homes and get involved in their lives. They have shown us the priority of spending time with people rather than primarily focusing on carrying out certain programs in the church.
We have found that the people who have remained the most faithful are those with whom we have spent the most time. This isn’t always the case, but Jesus’ model of daily life with his disciples continues to prove its value in the lives of new Christians. And as believers have that life-on-life time with seekers with the Word as the guide, they are gradually transformed out of their old habits and ways of thinking.
One example would be that of María and Luis (pseudonyms), new believers at El Faro (“the Lighthouse”) Church, a church plant of the La Paz de Cristo church, started in La Paz by several Mexican leaders and Martin and Susie Gonzalez. María went to a Vacation Bible School (VBS) sponsored by the church, drawn by the offer of free food.
Several women there talked with María and the other moms and shared the Gospel. María believed, began to read the Bible, and evidenced change in several areas of her life. She had had a tough childhood, rarely attending school and frequently getting into fights with other women. Now she gets along with almost every woman in her neighborhood. She has gone back to school, and just obtained her first official birth certificate. When she gave her Bible study group the news, she exclaimed, “Now I count in the world!” She and her common-law husband now want to be married, and she desires to be baptized.
Many times the transformation is quite a slow, sputtering process, and we have to acknowledge God’s great patience and grace throughout. Over the years many missionaries have left Mexico for a variety of reasons: health, family issues, retirement, interpersonal problems. Struggles have also arisen among church leaders and caused the churches to falter or even split. Many people have come to our churches for a while, then left – again, for many reasons. So when we see genuine transformation taking place in people’s lives, we rejoice even more because we know it has to be God at work. And only he knows the end of each person’s journey.
-Written by Lois Dresselhaus
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, September 2010]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons