JUAREZ, Mexico (BP)–The love of Christ was shared with 240 people — and eight families from Grapevine, Texas, will never be the same again — because of a recent missions project in Juarez, Mexico.
In a groundbreaking international missions project, Grapevine’s Memorial Baptist Church sent 30 members to the dusty border town of Juarez, Mexico. But they didn’t go as individuals or as a youth group or as a construction team. They went as families.
And as families they distributed gospel portions, taught Vacation Bible School, played with babies and ministered to men and women. From the youngest 8-year-old child, to the oldest adult, each member played a strategic role in sharing the love of Jesus with the people of Juarez.
In the process, their families became stronger — closer to each other and closer to God.
The families partnered with Allen and Rebecca Alexander, Southern Baptist missionaries to Juarez and other border towns.
Allen was skeptical of children serving on the international mission field, but he agreed to give them a chance — as long as a parent accompanied each child. Their missions project would fulfill a desire he’d had for many years: to see families working together to grow more like Christ.
“I have a pet peeve of my own,” Allen says. “We separate families too much in church.”
By the end of the week, Allen was convinced. Children do have a place on the mission field.
They focused their work in Colonia Hipodramo — a dusty neighborhood whose streets are lined with barbed wire-topped gates, rusted cars and lean guard dogs.
The families worked with Iglesia Bautista Nueva Jerusalen (New Jerusalem Baptist Church), a neighborhood church whose membership has declined steadily in recent years. At the same time, the influence of groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and some traditional religions has grown.
The families arrived in Juarez expecting around 100 children and 15 adults to attend their nightly Bible studies. They ended up with about 180 children and 40 adults — more people than the church’s pastor had ever seen on church grounds.
“How little of us to think we would only have that many with God on our hands,” said 10-year-old Parker Heineman.
Learning to expect big things from God was just one lesson the children and their parents learned while they were in Juarez.
The children learned to be comfortable in a culture unlike their own — with the security of having parents close at hand.
Eleven-year-old Bethany Reynolds formed a close bond with a pre-schooler. By the end of the first day, the child refused to be held by anyone else.
“I’m mostly a stay-home person,” says Bethany. “But here it’s really fun. It’s a family trip, and my friends are here.”
Other children taught classes and learned they weren’t too young to share Jesus. Travis Blake led a question-and-answer quiz with the children’s group he directed one day.
“A bunch of the kids think you get into heaven by works, so I had to add a few questions, saying there’s only one way to get to heaven,” says the 10-year-old, who went to Mexico with his 13-year-old twin sisters and parents.
“Our kids are capable of sharing and doing more than we think they can,” says Travis’s mom, Kendra.
His dad, Steve, puts it a different way. He sees the trip to Mexico as a spiritual marker, a time his children can recall during times of difficulty to remember God’s faithfulness.
That idea rang true for parents of teenagers too.
Duane Reynolds went with his wife and two daughters. Watching 14-year-old Alyson begin to take on an adult role was particularly poignant for him.
“She’s never been in a culture where she’s an outsider,” he says. “The Bible says, ‘Mary treasured all these things in her heart.’ She’s like that; she watches people.”
For years Duane coached Alyson’s basketball teams and enjoyed playing pick-up games at home. Now, as he sees her leave childhood behind, he’s learning to let go.
“There are a lot of things I won’t experience with her,” he acknowledges. “This is one of those things I can.”
And he realizes the strong spiritual ties the experience formed in their family. “Establish a bond,” he advises other parents, “so when they do leave, they’ll return.”
Helping the children — at such young ages — understand their responsibility to carry out the Great Commission drove Angelia Hines, minister of preschool, and many of the other parents to organize and lead the Juarez project.
“Our generation has not done it. Maybe we can instill in them a heart to share the gospel as we model it,” says Hines.
Jan Heineman went to Juarez with her husband and two sons, who learned youngsters in Juarez aren’t so different after all, despite the economic differences.
“They’re so closed in at home,” she says. “They see their own little world — a very comfortable life. They come down here and see these children are just as rich as they are, and if we can give them Christ, they have everything.”
— The Alexanders’ Borderlands missions team: http://www.peopleteams.org/borderlands
— Reaching out to Chinese people in Mexico! http://www.imb.org/ime/dayofprayer/ime2002/wop.htm#chinesemex
— Learn more about missions outreach in Mexico: http://www.imb.org/resources/yourguide/yg-m.htm#MEXICO
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GUY TALK, GIRL STUFF, CHANGE OF HEART, GETTING READY, PITCHING IN and IN STITCHES.