Missions & Miracles - Church members spread hope with trip

By Carolyn Cole
Published on September 20, 2008

Mustang resident Athena Friese will never forget the joy on a young mother’s face as her 4-year-old son took his first steps after practicing stretches he learned from missionaries.

“The little boy has cerebral palsy, and the mother didn’t really understand what is going on with him,” she said. “She knew something was wrong.”

Twenty-eight volunteers from Chisholm Heights Baptist Church traveled to San Jeronimito, near Mexico’s western coast in July to work at a seminary school. Friese, a Mustang doctor, and occupational therapist Karen Bryan, were among a team of eight medical professionals and volunteers who ventured into surrounding communities during the trip, holding free clinics and check ups.

Friese said they met the boy and his family while holding clinic on their neighbor’s front porch. The child had never walked before, and his family carried him everywhere, she said.

“She (his mother) thought he didn’t walk because he was overweight,” Friese said.

Bryan worked with the boy and his family, explaining cerebral palsy and showing them exercises the child could practice to improve his mobility.

“There was a community park across the street with some benches,” Friese said. “We watched the family go across the street to the park, and mom put the child down, let go of him and coaxed him and watched him take three steps two different times for the first time ever for the child to walk. It was pretty amazing.”

In the decade since Chisholm Heights members started traveling to San Jeronimito, Pastor Dave Bryan said volunteers have witnessed miracles, large and small. Their experiences are echoed hundreds of times by volunteer missionaries from as close as First Baptist Church of Mustang and other congregations across the United States.

“Sometimes I feel guilty because whatever I perceive we are doing there I feel like we get a blessing 10 fold,” he said.

Bryan first learned about the San Jeronimito Seminario Theologico Bautista Del Sur, or Baptist theological seminary, about a year after he came to Chisholm Heights when he joined Waterloo Baptist Church in Edmond on a mission trip. The Waterloo pastor suggested Chisholm Heights church start a mission project to help cement their relationship between the new pastor, the staff and congregation.

“It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was very clear in my heart that the staff and I needed to go,” he said.

The trip changed Bryan’s life. He said he “fell in love” with San Jeronimito, the seminary, its faculty and students. Bryan serves on the school’s board of trustees.

He said the seminary has grown to about 25 students, who are seeking a degree level similar to an associate’s degree in the United States. For their region, he said, there are few opportunities to gain a higher level of education.

The seminary has become a hub for churches around San Jeronimito. Bryan estimated there are 60 churches in the area and added the majority of pastors attended the seminary.

“Our relationship with the seminary has continued to grow,” he said.

Each year, a group of CHBC members, as well as hundreds of other missionary groups, make a pilgrimage of sorts to San Jeronimito to volunteer with vacation Bible schools for the children, host medical clinics and help with construction work.
On each trip, Bryan said he is amazed by all of the work missionaries have accomplished throughout the year.

The Chisholm Heights’ construction crew helped finish a dormitory that will house married students and their families. The eight-person crew, led by Eddie McDowell, finished cabinets and closets and enlisted help from CHBC’s vacation Bible school volunteers to paint.

Before returning home, Bryan stood beside seminary president Omar Bustos as he cut the ribbon, opening the dorm to students.

“It was really a privilege to be there because so many worked to make this possible,” Bryan said.
Other volunteers saw the impact of their labors, Rhonda Hamilton said, as a 10-missionary VBS team taught a record class of 180 children, with the help of local residents. In previous years, Hamilton said the vacation Bible school program averaged 25 children.

Leader Kari McDowell said teachers overcame a language barrier to teach children about the Bible, introduced songs and lead them in crafts. They witnessed several youth who pledged their lives to God, Hamilton said, adding the bond between the two communities felt tangible as the volunteers and residents sang together in a chorus, under the direction of David Baker.

“This year I got to see, again but in a bigger way, how God is going to take two different cultures miles and miles apart and bring them together,” she said.

Volunteers also reached out to the community through medical clinics, which drew a never-ending stream of people who walked miles for treatment.
Friese brought medications with her from the United States to give to residents diagnosed with heart conditions or diabetes who couldn’t afford to buy the medicine themselves.

More than 200 people were treated by CHBC volunteers for conditions ranging from back pain to a woman in early labor who they referred to an area hospital. Many mothers brought their children for checkups.

Karen Bryan showed a child with short heel cords exercises to decrease his leg pain, and Friese said suddenly the other youth picked up on the motions, making it into a game.

“It looked like a pilates class,” she said.
Watching children find joy in small games, Friese said, and seeing their happiness even though they live simply in comparison to U.S. standards is the reason she returns each year, because it brings perspective to her own life.

“They are so happy with so little,” she said. “We take for granted all of the stuff we have.”

Most people living near San Jeronimito live in one-room homes with several family members. Most homes are made from scrap metal and palm fronds and have no plumbing or electricity.

Regardless, Baker said the residents he met wanted to help their visitors. In a sermon, he used a metaphor referring to fried chicken. After the next service, an elderly woman brought him her family’s chicken in a sack.

“It was dead,” he said. “It was raw, very much raw.”

The church pastor plucked the bird, cooked it and served it for the volunteers.

“Their desire to bless us for coming down and how they give so unselfishly and take care of us on such meager means it is truly a blessing,” Baker said.

In an earlier trip, Eddie McDowell said he met a local carpenter who crafted beautiful wooden furniture using a homemade table saw and steel scraps. Over the years, he said he’s become friends with several craftsmen who created ingenious solutions to replace materials and tools common in the United States.

“We are going to get to talk in heaven,” he said. “It’s very frustrating (the language barrier) because you are very close with these people.”

These relationships that missionary work has built between Mustang and San Jeronimito residents are priceless to his congregation, Dave Bryan said. It costs about $1,000 for each missionary to make the trip, and while CHBC congregation donates money to fund the seminary’s operations, Bryan said he asked instructors if they would rather have the $28,000 it costs Mustang residents to come to Mexico instead of their labor.

He said they told him “no,” adding the San Jeronimito community needs the missionaries’ enthusiasm, energy, encouragement and insight.

As for his own congregation, Bryan said each trip strengthens his members and their faith.

“It is a significant event in people’s lives,” he said. “It is so much fun to see somebody who is going for the first time, get to talk with them about their fears, their concerns and, over the course of the week, to see how that works in their lives, and then have them come back and share with the congregation.”

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