AGUA PRIETA, Mexico (BP)–On opposite sides of the border, two cowboys heard God’s whisper.
Down south in Agua Prieta, Mexico, it took a while for Andy Hill to figure out exactly what God was saying.
“I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” jokes Hill, an International Mission Board missionary in the Mexican border town across from Douglas, Ariz.
When God started speaking to him about reaching “vaqueros” -– Mexican cowboys -– Andy tried to push away the idea. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. That sounds like too much fun,’” he says. “I was afraid it was too much my idea and not enough God’s.”
But Hill couldn’t ignore what he and his wife, Lori, noticed about Mexican culture after they arrived in Agua Prieta as new missionaries four years ago. “Here in Mexico it’s been said that all men are cowboys at heart,” Hill says. “Mexico has a very diverse population, but at the heart of this country are those roots that they’ve come from -– that ‘vaquero’ culture.”
He couldn’t ignore, either, the fact that local believers weren’t reaching the many “vaqueros” who live and work around Agua Prieta.
Among Christians, “there’s been an attitude that once you become a believer, you have to leave anything they consider worldly behind. And that includes things you enjoy doing,” Hill says. “So if a man is a ‘vaquero’ — a cowboy -– if he has horses or enjoys those sorts of things, he has to leave all that stuff, all his old friends, behind. He has to completely separate himself.”
That attitude didn’t sit well with Hill, who grew up on a small farming and ranching operation near Haskell, Texas.
“We’re told [in God’s Word] to be in the world but not of the world. And you can’t be in the world unless you’re interacting with it,” says Hill, a former police officer and Marine Corps sergeant. “You can’t win the lost to Christ, you can’t live your testimony in front of them if you’re living apart from them.”
The more Hill lived around “vaqueros” in Agua Prieta, the more he realized God was up to something with them.
Then one day the phone rang. It was Allen Alexander, Hill’s missionary supervisor.
“Andy, have you ever thought about starting ‘vaquero’ churches in your area?” Alexander asked.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” Hill said. “But I keep pushin’ back against it.” He explained why.
“Well, I wish you’d see where God would take you with this,” Alexander replied.
Meanwhile, back in Hill’s old stompin’ grounds in Texas, God was preparing to take horse whisperer Chip Sugar somewhere, too.
Sugar, of Hawley, Texas, was taming a wild horse in a round pen one day when “God just started laying Scripture out in front of me, showing me how the relationship I have with the horse is like the relationship He wants with me,” Sugar recounts. “He showed me how He’s trying to get me to trust Him more, just like I’m trying to get the horse to trust me.”
From there God led Sugar, a member of Fort Phantom Baptist Church in Abilene, to start a part-time ministry of reaching lost people by reaching horses. In Mexico, Hill got wind of his work through a buddy at the Hills’ home church, First Baptist in Clyde, Texas.
Today in a round pen in Agua Prieta, Sugar brushes a blanket across the back of an unbroken horse. He’s showing the crowd the steps he takes to get this horse to trust him enough to saddle and ride him. Sugar likens each step to the process of trusting Christ.
It’s one of Sugar’s annual volunteer trips to Mexico to help the Hills share the Gospel with “vaqueros.” Hill translates Sugar’s presentation into Spanish. Onlookers watch, amazed, as Sugar’s teenage daughter rides the newly tamed horse at the end of the show. For “vaqueros” and their families, it’s a powerful visual of what Christ wants to do in their lives.
It’s a symbol, too, of what God’s done with the Hills since they came to Agua Prieta. They’ve struggled to figure out what God wanted to do through them, but they’re finally seeing Him bring everything together.
Now seven “vaqueros” and their families study the Bible and worship regularly with the Hills at the local rodeo grounds. Hill believes it’s “the beginning of a movement of ‘vaquero’ churches that has the potential to spread across all of Mexico.”
“We’re on the brink of a breakout of the Holy Spirit the likes of which hasn’t been seen in these parts ever,” Hill says. “And because of that the enemy is fighting us every step of the way, fighting us tooth and nail, trying every tactic he can come up with. So it’s been a battle.”
But through the power of prayer, these Texas cowboys keep moving forward.
“God just keeps whispering in my ear, ‘Trust me. Trust me,’” Hill says.
Lee Taylor, IMB media missionary, contributed to this story. Visit macregion.org to download a video about and prayer requests for Andy Hill’s work among Mexican cowboys.