We crossed the southern border into Reynosa, Mexico on the Pharr International bridge on a Friday afternoon. Our traffic flow on the bridge was light but the traffic heading into the US was lined with hundreds and hundreds of 18 wheelers. It seemed like a never-ending line and it gave me the impression that we were traveling in the wrong direction, but nothing could have been further from the truth. A group of five folks traveled in a van from McAllen to listen and learn about different ministries happening in the Methodist Church in Mexico. The experience was beyond my expectations and I learned the importance of simply being present.
We met with young seminary students who were headed towards an outreach event in la plaza Juarez in the next town. They organize games and activities for children and many go door-to-door asking if any children would like to be apart of the games. The passion and commitment of these young folks was inspiring and challenging. They host this event on a regular basis and the group of 15 students feel called to minister in that plaza. El Valle District hopes to recruit some student interns this summer from Juan Wesley.
We visited an outreach ministry of Principe de Paz UMC that provides medical services, haircuts, groceries, children’s games, preaching, food, and fellowship to a community called Alianza Real near Monterrey. They passed out over 350 hotdogs and had a pinata for a sea of children too many to count. Approximately 60 volunteers do this outreach ministry every six weeks and have done so for the last four years. There is a lay pastor who lives in the community and offers educational tutoring and other social services. The pastor says they feel called to be present there.
One of the most meaningful times of this extended weekend was to be present when pastor Fernando from Principe de Paz delivered a wheelchair to the home of a mom and her young adult son who struggled to walk. The home was very humble with a dirt courtyard and a small room with two beds. This ministry moment was part of the medical clinic ministry and outreach commitment this church has to this community. Mom tied Pepitos shoes and helped him take a few steps towards his new wheelchair. It was so inspiring to see the care and love extended to this family. I felt humbled and incredibly blessed to be there to witness God working.
We ate tacos. We rode in the van throughout Monterrey. We got lost. We followed our schedule the best we could. We were invited to the home of pastor Fernando one evening. He gave us a tour of the church and cooked steaks and chicken on his grill! The level of hospitality and care offered to us was beyond radical, it was simply godly. We talked about that area of Monterrey, we listened about his church in Mexico, we talked about appointment systems. We laughed together and shared appreciation for their hospitality. We became friends!
The writing of this story does not capture what we experienced. You had to be there. I think that was one of the lessons; there is nothing like being present! There is nothing like being present to make new friends. There is nothing like being present to see new possibilities. Being present sometimes means crossing borders, being present sometimes means being uncomfortable, being present sometimes means driving in a half air conditioned van. I plan to go back. I hope my new friends come to my home. I learned anew the power of simply being present.
Written by Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez, District Superintendent, El Valle & Coastal Bend Districts