Mission Trip to Agua Prieta,
by Jim Nussbaumer
For several years now, Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Loveland,
Colorado, has had a relationship with the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian
Church in Agua Prieta, Mexico through the assistance of the Frontera de
Cristo border ministry.
|What may have started out as Mountain View wanting to help the church
in Mexico has developed into a mutual relationship where we share both
ways. While we have been able to share of our time and material goods,
our friends of Lily of the Valley Church have shared richly of their faith,
time and friendship. We have sent groups to visit them 4 times over the
years and we have been blessed to have had their pastor, Jesus Gallegos
visit Colorado and preach in our pulpit. They have opened their hearts
and homes to us and shown us a rich faith in our Lord Jesus Christ that
sometimes puts us to shame.
This will tell the story of a visit by 7 members from Mountain View
who visited Agua Prieta for a week in March of 1998. The group consisted
of 5 men and 2 women. It was my 3rd visit, and while many details
of the trip were different, I found myself right back at home with the
warm, friendly people of the Lily of the Valley Church.
Pastor Jesus Gallegos and his wife Rosario.
Houses in poor section of Agua Prieta
||Agua Prieta is situated on the Arizona/Sonora Mexico border, just across
from Douglas, Arizona. It is a town of 100,000 people, many of whom were
attracted to the area by jobs at the Maquiladoras (or factories) building
goods for the U.S. market. While many of the people live in severe poverty
by U.S. standards, there are some nicer homes and businesses as well. The
area is growing very rapidly, as people from further south in Mexico flock
to the border for the promise of jobs. Many of them stay only a few months
or years, saving their money before heading back home. One of the contrasts
I noticed in the 5 years since I had last been there was in the extension
of utilities and paving into some of the newer areas . The government is
trying but can't keep up with the growth.
As is most of Mexico, it is primarily a Catholic area, so the protestant
churches are in a distinct minority there. The work they do is much more
than just preaching the gospel, however; they also show a strong witness
to the community with their high moral code and community outreach programs.
The Lily of the Valley church has also sent out its own mission team to
the troubled Chiapas area in southern Mexico.
|The church building at Lily of the Valley is a large, concrete block,
multipurpose structure housing a sanctuary, church offices, kitchen, medical
and dental clinic and Sunday school rooms. The congregation numbers about
50 members, with lots of children at most activities. They hold both Sunday
morning and Wednesday evening services with more study groups on Sunday
evening. They also have a number of outreach programs within the community
including medical and dental services, health education, counseling, marriage
enrichment classes and adult education, all the while witnessing and preaching
Frontera de Cristo is a joint ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. It is one of seven Presbyterian
Border Ministries along the U.S. / Mexico border. Because Frontera de Cristo
gets no support from the General Mission Budget of the PCUSA, they depend
on giving from Presbyterian congregations and individuals for on going
Lily of the Valley Church building
Shannon Moses, Jesus and Rosario Gallegos
||The staff at Frontera de Cristo and Lily of the Valley Church includes:
Shannon Moses, U.S. co-director for Frontera de Cristo; Benjamin Romero,
general administrator and President of the congregation; Blanca Romero,
secretary of Frontera de Cristo and director of the family ministry; Rev.
Jesus Gallegos, Mexican co-director of Frontera de Cristo and Pastor of
Lily of the Valley; Rosario Gallegos, program promoter of the staff and
pastor's wife; as well as Dr. Peñalosa, part time member of staff
and Elvia Duarte, full time nurse . Shannon was our main hostess for the
Our main work project on this trip was assisting in the construction
of a Community Center in the Colonia Neuvo Progreso. There has been a health
clinic there for several years, but it is a small two room building with
just enough space for the doctor's equipment and two couches for the waiting
area. The Community Center will be a two story structure filling virtually
the entire available lot. It will include a large meeting room, a remodeled
clinic, classrooms and bathrooms with running water to replace the current
This community center is being built over a period of 2 years by numerous
volunteer mission teams from churches throughout the U.S. The mission teams
provide the labor and much of the money, while working under the supervision
of a Mexican foreman. While the mission teams that come down share their
time and talents, they also learn more about the people and conditions
in Agua Prieta and gain a new respect and love for our Mexican brothers
and sisters in Christ.
The excavation for the footings for the community center was dug by
hand by an elderly neighbor and his grandson, Coco. Then a volunteer group,
the week before we got there, poured the footings . Our task was to lay
concrete blocks for the foundation and pour a concrete bond-beam to tie
the bottom parts of the wall together.
|We worked under the supervision of Francisco Chavez, a Mexican contractor.
Even though Señor Chavez spoke no English, Shannon was a good translator
for us and we all got along well, with lots of gestures and pointing. Shannon
was around the work site most of the week - sometimes helping us work and
sometimes working with the neighborhood kids. She had a good relationship
with the local kids, sometimes teaching them songs, sometimes just talking
to them. They seemed to love being around her. She is very key to the current
success of the programs with the U.S. mission teams.
Shannon with the kids
Ralph laying block.
||None of us, except for Ralph Weinland, a retired contractor, were very
experienced at laying concrete block, but we got some instruction and we
all pitched in at some portion of the job. Ralph gave lots of good instruction
in the techniques of how to lay block. There were lots of challenges in
laying the block, because sometimes the concrete footing was not very uniform.
There were places where it seemed like we were trying to pour a new footing
when we had to build it up with several inches of mortar. While part of
us laid blocks, others ran the cement mixer or mixed mortar in a wheelbarrow
by hand to keep them supplied.
|Most of the neighborhood kids went to school on the afternoon shift
but were available to hang around the construction site all morning. After
laying the concrete blocks, we back filled the blocks with concrete to
form a solid wall. This was an area where the kids could really help. They
got really good at filling in the voids with concrete and troweling it
down. They were pleased with this task which they could really handle.
It was both boys and girls - all pitching in equally.
Neighbor girl scraping out cement.
Kids helping Dorothy sift sand.
||In addition to helping fill in the walls, the kids helped with other
jobs as well. They helped us shovel the sand through a screen to filter
it for mixing the mortar, helped load the cement mixer and even helped
wheel loads of cement to the work site. While none of them spoke any English,
and most of us had little if any Spanish, we still got along great.
After all the concrete block was laid and filled, we installed wooden
forms in which to pour the bond-beams. This also included cutting, installing
and tying together some re-bar in the forms. While the forms looked a little
precarious to me, they held together fine and did the job.
|Friday was the most intense day, as we finished up the forms and poured
the concrete for all the bond beams we had material for. We lost track,
but in the course of the week, we went through more than 20 sacks of cement.
Filling the forms meant mixing and wheeling concrete as fast as we could
mix. Coco was proud to be able to show that he was macho enough to work
like a man. He was always showing off his muscles.
Coco wheeling cement.
Neighborhood boys filling cement blocks.
||The week was certainly about a lot more than just getting some construction
work done. Even more important was the opportunity to work with some of
the members of the community there - especially the children. The children
were always around and always eager to help. Of course they were still
kids and liked to play but they were really good helpers too. They seemed
to take great pride in being able to contribute and work alongside the
|Before we left home, at our mission commissioning service, our church
gave each of us a small pin with the words "My Best Friend is a Carpenter"
with instructions to give the pin to someone we met on the trip who made
an impression on us.
The woman who lived next door to the new community center brought lunch
over to us one day. That was a real treat for us - home made Chimichangas,
but also it was an expression of her appreciation for the work and the
concern we were showing. At the end of the week, I gave her my Carpenter
pin as an expression of my appreciation. Several of the kids got Carpenter
pins from other members of our group.
Señora next door with "Carpenter Pin".
Richard & Coco playing.
||One of the special kids that was always around was Coco - about a 6th
grader who really did do a lot of work. He was big and strong enough to
wheel the wheelbarrow, if it wasn't completely full. He also liked to kid
around with us. He and Richard had a good time playing games. It is amazing
how well you can get along even without knowing each other's language.
|We had the opportunity to share several meals with our hosts from Lily
of the Valley church. One night, some of the ladies of the congregation
prepared a delicious meal of authentic Mexican food which was certainly
a treat. Another night, Pastor Gallegos and Rosario invited us to their
house for dinner which we will always remember. This also gave us an opportunity
to take a look at his house, which a previous Mountain View work group
helped construct several years ago. It was gratifying to see the finished
product which I had helped pour the foundation for.
Dinner at Jesus & Rosario's
||We also had the opportunity to worship with our Mexican brothers and
sisters. They are a small congregation and music is a vital part of their
worship. They use piano and guitar in leading the music and display the
words on an overhead projector for everyone to follow along. We joined
in and sang along, even though we didn't understand most of the words.
While the sermon was preached in Spanish, which we didn't understand, Shannon
did a good job of translating as it went along. Everyone there went out
of their way to make us feel welcomed and appreciated.
While we were tired at the end of the week, it was a little sad to be
leaving our friends. We will certainly remember them for a long time. What
will stick with us, long after the work is forgotten, will be the faces,
the joys, the children especially and the shared joy in Christ. While only
the Lord knows when or if we will see them again, we all came away changed.
Sunset over Agua Prieta
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