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In the Yucatan, students gain missions insight

TEKAX, Yucatan, Mexico (BP) — No runway lights guide the plane from the night sky to the tarmac. Armed policía greet passengers as they snake their way through a line in customs and immigration. Baywatch plays over the airwaves like it is 1990. Along the roadside, discarded Coke bottles get picked up, dusted off and reused by passersby.

It was not comfortable, and for some it was even trying, but this was exactly the environment Donald Kim, assistant professor of Bible at the College at Southwestern, hoped for. For one week in January, Kim led a group of 24 Southwestern students to Tekax (te-kash), Mexico, where they worked with missionary Shelby Boyd.

“I’m really not a big fan of the typical mission trip,” Kim said. “There has been a lot of flak for these ‘mission vacations,’ so this was far from a ‘mission vacation.'”

When planning the trip with Boyd, who has now served in the Yucatan for 18 years, Kim told the missionary that the students wanted to spend the week living like the local people live and wanted no special treatment.

“He asked if we wanted to be in hotels, and I said, ‘No. Where do you stay? Wherever you stay, we’re going to be. We’re going to rough it. Whatever it is, we want to see for ourselves,'” Kim said.

And so they did, sleeping in hammocks the Mexican and Mayan people made for them, showering when rooftop barrels held enough water and riding in a tarp-covered truck, called a tap-tap, to travel to other villages. The truck, the missionary told them, had more than 1 million miles on its engine.

“Basically, it was a trip for people to see what missionaries do, themselves, and what missions is all about,” Kim said. “I started off by telling the students that we’re not going there to do missions. Missions is already happening.”

Missions has been “happening” in Tekax for about two decades, after Boyd left the U.S. to serve in the Yucatan. Prior to planting himself in Mexico, Boyd served with the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) until he fell ill with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Boyd did not feel the cancer diagnosis had ended his call to missions, so he went to the Yucatan as a volunteer and then stayed when he felt the Lord’s call to serve there with the people.

“He just stuck around and never thought he was going to stay there very long and ended up staying there for 18 years,” Kim said. “He was giving an account of 3,100 people coming to Christ the first year he was there. It was unbelievable. But for him now, he just realizes it is not about the numbers. It is about that one person that God has gone after, leaving the 99 behind. That’s his principle, and he lives by it.”

Mia Coelho and her husband Matt, both students in the College at Southwestern, were among the group who traveled to the Yucatan. Mia said one thing she noticed during the trip was the emphasis placed on reaching the elders and leaders in the community with the Gospel.

“We tend to reach kids with VBS (Vacation Bible School), hoping the kids will come to Christ and then their parents will accept Christ,” Mia said. “When I went down there, I assumed our skits would be with the kids.”

Instead, following Boyd’s lead, the group shared Christ with the elder villagers, knowing that winning a father or grandfather to the Lord in the strongly patriarchal society would mean the sons and daughters likely would be receptive to the Gospel and listen with open hearts, even if only out of sheer respect for their elders.

“To reach the elderly is key in that culture,” Kim said. “You don’t read that in textbooks. Mission trips don’t think about that. We think of doing VBS, having lots of things, big presentations, maybe the ‘JESUS’ film. But this guy is thinking long-term, and long-term for him means beyond his life.”

So, Boyd made it his goal to raise up leaders within the society, starting and planting churches and then discipling native and indigenous leaders to lead them. During the seminary’s trip, 10 people placed their faith in Christ. Three of those, Kim said, were elderly men.

Mia said her time in Tekax and the surrounding villages stoked the fire in her heart to share the Gospel with a dying world. She and her husband feel the Lord is preparing them to serve stateside to people who, even though they live in America, are in many ways like the people in Tekax.

“We definitely have a heart to be somewhere where we would be aliens in a foreign land,” Mia said. “There are those places in America; we just don’t see them much here in the South.”

Kim says the trip to Mexico and others like it help students prepare for all facets of ministry with the knowledge of the need for missions and evangelism and the importance of supporting that work from their respective areas of ministry.

“God was really good to us,” Kim said. “My goal is not to be triumphant as a short-term missionary but to understand the scope of missions. Every church needs to have that kind of heart mentality.
Sharayah Colter is a news writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).

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  • Sharayah Colter