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Teen’s trek to secluded apt. complex takes a turn

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) — It might be easy to look at Hallay Cagle’s life and ministry and think the doors just swung wide open.

Not so.

“The community was very closed off,” Cagle said of a Mixteco population living in a secluded apartment complex in Montgomery, Ala.

She’d gone there as a high schooler trying to build relationships with what she thought was a Spanish-speaking people group from Mexico.

“We went there to do a backyard Bible club, and we had brought a Spanish translator with us,” said Cagle, a member of Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery. “After a while, a young boy spoke up and said, ‘We speak English well enough, and we don’t speak Spanish at all.’

“And I thought, ‘Oh no — what kind of assumptions have we made?'”

They indeed were from Mexico — but they were Mixteco, a people from southern Mexico with their own language.

And they didn’t want a lot to do with Cagle and her friends.

“But that same young boy, he asked me if I would come back and help him with his homework,” Cagle said.

So she did — for a year.

“We would sit on the curb and do his homework,” Cagle recounted. “It opened the door. But it didn’t happen quickly.”

A year later his mom came outside and asked Cagle to come into their home and eat with them.

That’s how her relationship with the Mixtecos began to deepen.

And two years later — at age 18 — Cagle moved into their apartment complex, shocking the community.

“At the time there was not a single white person living anywhere near the area,” Cagle said. “They were surprised but by then they were all comfortable with me because they knew why I was there and what my purpose was.”

Kristy Kennedy, who directs English as a Second Language ministry for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said Cagle’s open door happened because she was willing to lay the groundwork.

“She’s the American that they all know, love and trust,” Kennedy said. “She befriended them and out of that has grown an incredible ministry.”

Once Cagle moved in, everything began to open up.

“They have a lot of [religious] rituals and ceremonies, and I’d hear about them before I lived there, but once I moved in I could see it, and they were willing to invite me in and have conversations about it,” Cagle said. “They accepted me as part of the community because I became a member of the community.”

And living there made a huge difference in learning the Mixteco culture and language.

“The language is all oral and it’s a tonal language,” Cagle said. “One word with a tiny little change in a sound can mean something completely different.”

But she loved it and she loved the people.

And when she got married, her husband Bryant moved right into the community with her and they continued with an outreach sparked by her venture, Every Tribe Ministries (on Facebook — @EveryTribeProject).

“In our apartment, our ministry center was downstairs and we were living upstairs. We didn’t move out until we found out we were expecting a baby, because there was no room for another person in that tiny apartment,” she said with a laugh.

They moved into a house just outside the apartment complex but haven’t slowed down their involvement in the community — they’re in the process of becoming North American Mission Board missionaries to the Mixtecos.

It’s just continuing what Cagle knew she wanted to do ever since she was a child.

“I was raised in a missionary family and this was just kind of everything that we did day to day,” she said. “I always knew I loved missions and wanted to do missions, and once I met these people I knew this was exactly where I was supposed to be.”

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  • Grace Thornton/The Alabama Baptist