Texas Churches Leading Outreach in Mexican Mountains

Jul 09, 2004 05:16 PM EDT

Three Texas churches have come together for an outreach mission to a group of people who have lived in isolation for many years. Since Texas Baptists started reaching out to the Tarahumara Indians in the Sierra Madre mountains, volunteers estimate that there now are about 100 believers in the people group that numbers 50,000-70,000. Bacon Heights Baptist Church in Lubbock and the First Baptist churches in San Marcos and Athens are leading the missions effort.

According to the Associated Baptist Press, 40 people from the three lead churches and the First Baptist churches in New Braunfels and Lewisville spent several days with the Tarahumara people in early June.

“It is a different world,” said Tony Garza, a member of First Baptist Church in San Marcos.

The Tarahumara Indians have lived in the Sierra Madre mountains (a day’s drive south of El Pas) for hundreds of years, having fled from pillaging armies to the isolation of the high country of the Sierra Madres, Garza said. Most of the Tarahumara are polytheistic and have never heard of Jesus Christ. They have a wide variety of spiritual beliefs that include some hints of Christianity but nothing of personal salvation available through the life and death of Christ.

The missions to the Tarahumara began after Texas Baptist Steven Akin learned of the people group at Bacon Heights Church several years ago. Akin, who has served as minister of music at all three of the lead churches, and he now is at Athens, contacted Garza at San Marcus First, and the two of them made contact with a Mexican Baptist pastor, Ernesto Santiago, who lived in Creel, Mexico, and ministered to the Tarahumara.

Through Santiago’s guidance, Akin and Garza began taking small groups of Baptist volunteers to minister in the mountains. When Akin moved to Athens, his concern for the Tarahumara people remained behind at Bacon Heights and spread to the Baptists in Athens, as well. Eventually more and more Texas Baptists were drawn southward for the ministry to the Tarahumara.

“Steven is the one who got all of this started,” said Brad Pettiet, of Bacon Heights. “And it’s infectious.”

Currently, the Texas group is divided amongst four villages – Samachique, Pamachi, Baborigame and Guaguachique. They provide a variety of services – eye exams and glasses, medical treatment, dental work, construction materials and manpower for a school bathhouse, haircuts, a vacation Bible school and hot meals for everyone. A drama illustrating the history of God’s relationship with mankind and showing the “Jesus” film on an outside screen conveys the message behind the Baptists’ ministry.

The Tarahumara, who are not used to outsiders, kept their distance at first, but the ministries and the food brought them closer.

The Texas Baptists wanted to offer an invitation; but Myra, a Mexican missionary nurse who lives in Pamachi, advised otherwise. Myra, who planted her life among the Tarahumara, lives alone in a two-room building that has no electricity. One room serves as her clinic.

“Her dedication and commitment to what she’s doing and what the Lord has called her to do just overwhelmed me,” said Margaret Gowan, a retired missionary and member of Athens First Baptist. “It reminded me of how the Lord can get a hold of a person’s life.”

Following Myra's advice, the groups have worked first on discipleship before offering an invitation. “Among the Tarahumara, you have to do your discipleship before they ever get to that point because they don’t understand anything,” Gowan said

“We just began out of ignorance,” Akin said. “In that ignorance, God has blessed and grown up things.” After a while, “you kind of know what you’re doing.”

And as they’ve worked and learned, they’ve involved others.

[Source: The Associated Baptist Press]