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Southern missions team ‘electrified’ by ‘Kentucky connection’ in Mexico

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Integrating newly evangelized converts in the life of a local church is not an exclusively North American challenge, a team of Southern Seminary students found while following a “Kentucky connection” to the small, poverty-stricken Mexican town of Panuco. The trip proved to be a catalyst to “electrify” students into considering the urgency of the global missions mandate, a seminary leader said.
Plans for the trip initially took root in a ministry to migrant workers who labor, often for up to six months a year, in the fields of rural Kentucky. Southern Seminary student Twyla Fagan, immersed in the Hispanic mission of Chaplin (Ky.) Baptist Church, began actively organizing students to take the gospel to the Mexican province of Vera Cruz last June.
The week-long trip during last week of January was co-sponsored by the student missions committee and the seminary’s Globalization Project, a three-year effort funded by the Jessie Ball Dupont Foundation to inculcate a global perspective in theological education.
Fagan, a master of arts in missiology student from Tennessee, says she was profoundly convicted by the need for a Baptist witness in the hometown of the migrant workers to whom she had grown so attached.
“I work with these people when they’re here in Kentucky. Out of the 70 or 80 people we deal with in the summer, there’s only about 10 who are Christians,” Fagan said. “It was very important to us to help them find a church home there in Mexico. That was one of the main purposes was to link up the group of people that I knew with the Baptist church there in Panuco.”
Fagan joined forces with fellow student and Mexican national Guillermo Montalvo to pursue the possibility of a trip to Panuco. Montalvo, with his familiarity of the culture and geography, was able to make on-site arrangements for the missions team. Southern’s Vice President for Student Services Daniel Hatfield, a former missionary to Panama, helped lead the trip.
The team divided responsibilities into preaching, Bible teaching, language interpretation, women’s ministry, children’s Backyard Bible Clubs, recreation outreach and music emphases. In their whirlwind week of ministry, the students shared the message of salvation through the cross while educating the already evangelized about the dynamics of Christian family life, especially in light of the unique pressures placed upon families of migrant workers who are in a distant land for much of the year.
Their primary agenda, however, was to construct a line of communication between the migrant workers, both believers and unbelievers, with the Panuco Baptists who worship in the nearby Primera Iglesia Bautista congregation. Informal evening after-church fellowships which included singing, testimonies, and devotionals assisted in introducing the Panuco Baptists to the migrant worker population.
“I’ve heard of some mission trips in which people go and preach and then the people are left without anywhere to go,” student Jon Pearce observed. “We plugged into a church and then ministered to the community, saying: ‘Hey, you all, come. There’s a church in your area.'” Pearce is a master of divinity in missiology student from Indiana.
Some team members were overwhelmed with the hunger for ministry they found in Panuco.
Music leader Gary Sharpe remarked that he was humbled and amazed by watching the vibrant fellowship of the Mexican believers. Sharpe, a master of church music student, is a native of New Brunswick, Canada.
“After being down there, I feel like our culture is almost dysfunctional in our fellowship,” he said. “Because they love being together. The TV isn’t on. Every member of the family from the great-grandmother to the babies would be together in the house, singing and worshiping God.”
Through evangelistic preaching, personal witnessing and the showing of the “Jesus” film, 18 people came to faith in Christ, Fagan reported. The most memorable experience of the trip for Fagan was seeing a Mexican woman who had attended the Kentucky mission help lead a hotel maid to faith in Christ.
SBC International Mission Board missionary David Smith, who served as point-man on the field for the team, praised the students for their zeal, love and preparation.
“They were the bridge that brought new Christians into the church and lost friends into contact with the gospel,” Smith said. “This is a ministry that needs to be developed between stateside churches and international missionaries, bridging internationals in the U.S. with evangelical churches in their hometowns.”
The students did not leave their enthusiasm for global missions in the dusty streets of Panuco, but carried it back with them to the seminary campus.
“I had never been open to international missions,” said team member Donna Lister, a master of arts in Christian education student from South Carolina. “But, after this trip, I am ready to go if God opens the door.”
“Most of us as Baptists take the easy way out and just write a check,” Sharpe noted. “After actually seeing people’s faces, this is the first time I’ve even considered world missions, but now I think it will definitely be a part of what God has planned for me.”
Hatfield said the trip “electrified” the students into a renewed vision of the importance of international missions. Short-term mission trips result in participants who, whether they ever are personally appointed to a foreign field of service, are in touch with the need for prayer, financial support and involvement in missions on a denominational and congregational basis, he noted.
“The chance to actually experience cross-cultural ministry educates us about missions, but also enables us to gain valuable experience in ministry,” Hatfield said.
“We had remarkable success in terms of our ministry connection,” he asserted. “We were able to make the ‘Kentucky connection’ of migrant workers with the local Baptist congregation. The migrant workers were isolated down there. By the end of the week, the people from the church were going to the community and the people from the community were going to the church.
“We hope the church will begin a ministry in that community and will utilize the ‘Kentucky connection’ as a preaching point or a house church or a mission,” Hatfield said.

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  • Russell D. Moore