I went on a short-term mission trip to Mexico with my six-year-old son and about 90 other Friends from Oregon over Spring Break. I’m not always a fan of short-term mission trips, because sometimes it seems to be a lot of expense just so Americans going on the trip can have a chance to travel somewhere and feel good about themselves. However, I feel pretty good about this one. Several meetings in our area have collaborated for over 30 years to form a team fittingly called, Equipo (which means “team” in Spanish) that travels to San Luis, Mexico, to build houses every other year.
Within the last 10-12 years, Equipo created the motto, “Short-term missions with a long-term impact,” and we developed a sister-church relationship with Nueva Esperanza, a Baptist church in San Luis. Each year we pitch our tents on their “compound,” taking up most of the space they generally use for a soccer field. We worship together on Sunday and the church provides us with two amazing meals of authentic tacos and tostadas, one when we arrive and one when we leave. This year we helped host a kids Bible school and built three houses, a costura (where people can learn to sew and earn a sewing machine), three chicken coops and a rabbit hutch.
What I love about participating in this mission trip is that Equipo is serious about its model: we attempt to do short-term missions while creating relationships that continue. We’ve built a strong relationship with the pastors, Rafael and Vene, and their children. Many from Nueva Esperanza have been involved in helping build with us, organizing and implementing the Bible school, and coming to spend time with our group around meals. They give sacrificially of their time and resources to host meals for us, just as we give of our time and resources to take 10 days out of our lives and a substantial amount of funds from our meetings as well as donations from our communities to be able to go to Mexico and provide homes for people who otherwise don’t have much. Because of the relationship with Nueva Esperanza, the people for whom homes are built are left not just with a home after our team heads back to Oregon, but with a community. I loved seeing Americans and Mexicans working next to one another throughout the week, laughing, problem solving, trying to communicate and share the love of Christ through their actions.
In many ways, this mission trip is at least as much about evangelizing ourselves as it is about evangelizing the people in Mexico. By evangelism, I mean something like that quote that is attributed to Francis of Assisi which says, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” So we were preaching the gospel in that our meetings organized everything, obtained donations of money and supplies, drove ourselves down to San Luis and put in some hours of hard labor in the sun, contracted stomach junk from close quarters with one another in vans (not from the water or the food) and miserably ill, came home. We were preaching the gospel as we played with kids, tried to communicate in our broken, relatively useless school-Spanish, worshiped together and gave thanks (Eucharist) by breaking flatbread (a.k.a. tortillas) together. And they preached the gospel to us: they showed us much deeper community than we’re accustomed to in our cold-climate, Northwest culture. They cooked homemade food for us. They worked alongside us. They welcomed us into their worship services and Sunday schools and Bible schools. They made fun of us when not one of our English-speaking group brought an English Bible to worship.
When we left Mexico, I asked my son what he learned there. He thought for a while, and he said, “I learned that Jesus died for my sins.” As a Bible professor, I must admit that it’s a little embarrassing that he hadn’t learned that before! It reminded me of how much we tiptoe around sharing our faith in the United States, and it made me wonder whether or not that’s a good thing.
A couple weeks later, we were sitting at breakfast, and I asked him again, “What did you learn in Mexico?” First he said he learned a lot from his friend Rafelito. He spent a good portion of time in San Luis with Rafelito, who is just a few months younger than my son and is the son of the pastors, Rafael and Vene. The two boys caught caterpillars, played basketball and futbol, and colored together. They couldn’t understand each other, but they were excellent friends. One night, my son tripped and scraped his knee. Rafelito wasn’t there when it happened, but he heard my son crying and came to sit with him while I bandaged him. Rafelito sat quietly next to my son with his arm around his shoulders and a serious, concerned look on his face. That night my son drew a picture for him that said, “Gracias for being with me when I got hurt,” and we had someone help us translate it into Spanish. He drew a picture of them sitting together with Rafelito’s arm around him.
When I asked what else he learned, he thought about it again, and then said, “Well, I noticed they don’t all have slanted roofs like we do. Why is that?” We talked about the differences in average rainfall in San Luis and in Oregon, and we talked about other places in the world where roofs are built with walls around them like an upstairs patio. I shared how the roofs in Israel and Palestine are like that, and I’d enjoyed spending time on the roof in the evenings when I visited there. My son wondered if he could go visit there with me someday, and I said, “I don’t know — that’s a part of the world where people don’t get along so well.” My son asked why, and so, being a Bible professor, I started back at the beginning. “Well, do you remember the story of Abraham and Sarah?” I told the story of Ishmael and Isaac, and how their descendants are the Muslims and the Jews or Israelis. I figured by this point he would lose interest, but he kept asking questions. Over the course of the next half hour or so, some of the highlights of his thoughts and questions were:
“Mom, don’t they know about Jesus? Why can’t they get along if they know about Jesus? I know! We can make copies of our Bible and take it to them and tell them about Jesus! We can tell them about the story of the Good Samaritan! We can tell them about the Wheel of Choices!” (That last is an anti-bullying tool he learned in his public school kindergarten class recently.)
We talked about how people have different Bibles and different opinions about whether Jesus was God and we talked about how, at our meeting, we believe Jesus’ message is about loving God and loving others. We talked about how the best way to start showing the world the meaning of following Jesus is if we try to be loving and resolve conflict peacefully with our brother (in his case) and sister (in my case), and show love to our actual neighbors. He chimed in, “Yeah, and we should comfort people when they get hurt, too — like Rafelito did to me!”
I sensed God nudging me to suggest that perhaps my son is ready to make a commitment to follow Jesus intentionally,not just because it’s what his parents believe, but by his own choice and his own sense of calling and passion. We talked about how it’s important at some point in our lives to choose to follow Jesus’ way ourselves, and to gratefully accept that God doesn’t give up on us even though we make mistakes. He’s thinking about that today, and tonight we’re going to talk about it when both my husband and I are there so we can be his community of faith and support if he decides to take this step.
From skinned knees, hours in vans, hot and sweaty days of hard labor, excellent tostadas and shared crayons, perhaps we preached the gospel to some people in Mexico, but at the same time, the gospel was preached to us. This, to me, is the Friends view of missions. We want to share the good news of Jesus’ life and message with everyone we can, and we recognize that God is living and active already no matter where we go — even to a Baptist church in San Luis, Mexico, even to an Oregonian suburb, drawing us to love God and love others with our whole selves and our worldwide community.
When not chasing her two small boys around, Cherice Bock is an adjunct professor at George Fox University and its seminary. She is a life-long Friend from Northwest Yearly Meeting. She and her spouse, Joel, also sojourned in Philadelpia Yearly Meeting while she attained her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary.