Thomas Thorpe* had tried to get into this town twice. He’d only made it in once.
The small community, nestled high in the mountains of Mexico, sits shrouded in clouds and centuries of darkness. They’re fiercely protective of their way of life, and they’re suspicious of outsiders.
So they let Thomas, an International Mission Board (IMB) field worker, come and talk to them once. But the second time, they knew what he was offering and thought it would change them—and they didn’t want it.
It’s a line in the sand that generations have held strong.
As far as Thomas and others know, there’s never been an evangelical presence in the town, and there are no believers there currently. But God crossed Thomas’s path recently with a Baptist association in Alabama that might hold the key that would unlock the door to that mountain town in Mexico.
It all started in 2007 when Lisa Rose, director of church mobilization for Montgomery Baptist Association (MBA), was serving as MBA’s compassion ministries director and realized some of the guests at local ministry centers spoke a language she’d never heard of. Volunteers thought they were Hispanic but realized quickly that they were wrong—they couldn’t communicate in Spanish.
“We found out that what they spoke was called Mixteco,” Lisa said. “I had never heard of that, so I started doing lots of research.”
What she found was that the Mixtec people, one of Mexico’s indigenous people groups, were the most unengaged unreached people group in the Americas. Roughly 726,000 Mixtec—or “people of the clouds”—live high in Mexico’s mountains, with another 100,000 or so living in the US, mostly in California and New York.
To Lisa, meeting Mixtec people in Montgomery felt weighted with eternal purpose. She and volunteers from area churches began to do the hard work of building relationships and laying a foundation for the Gospel among the Mixtec.
“It’s been amazing to see God work,” Lisa said. “It’s been long and hard—we don’t have thousands coming every Sunday.”
But they do have nine hard-fought believers who have come to faith over the years as local churches have invested, as Lisa has discipled women, and as John Halbrooks has led a Bible study that’s become a church plant.
Then in early 2018, MBA hosted a summit for people working to reach the Mixtec in other parts of the nation and in Mexico. She talked with Thomas there, heard his story, and thought, what if—just what if—the Mixtec believers in Montgomery could send word back to their relatives in Mexico that these people of God were friends, not enemies?
It seemed like it could be the key.
And the Mixtec church in Montgomery was on board—they sent messages to their family in Mexico and sent John, Lisa, and another team member off with two suitcases full of gifts for their relatives in that mountain town.
“Our goal was to start relationships with some key families,” John said.
So in mid-August of this year, Thomas drove them into the mountains of Mexico to visit one of those key families. When they arrived, this time they were welcomed in—and invited to spend the night.
“They cooked us their best meals over an open fire, and we shared pictures of their family back in Montgomery and talked and laughed,” John said.
And the next morning, the man of the house loaded them up in his truck and took them to go try to find the other families, including the parents of a young widow in Montgomery who had come to faith in Christ.
“We got to see her parents, and they prepared a meal for us to eat also,” John said. “We ate with them and asked if we could share her salvation story with them.”
They said no—they didn’t want to hear it.
“We visited a little longer and asked again, and that time they didn’t say no,” he said. “So we took that opportunity to share a little bit of her story with them.”
That morning her family—and the patriarch of that other key family—heard the Gospel for the very first time. And when the little team left the city, Thomas had a plan to come back with some tools and help the family they were staying with install the sink in the house they were building.
“We’re praying that when [Thomas] goes back to visit, it will go very well and that the family will wonder more and more why he loves them like he does,” John said.
As the team drove away from the city, Thomas told the team that the families would immediately start talking about what it means to follow Christ.
“The dad was a very respected man in the community, and they view following Jesus as turning their backs on the Mixtec way,” John said. “If they make a decision, it will be a family decision—and it will cost them greatly. As far as we know, there have never been believers in this city. My prayer is that God would open that city and shatter the darkness with the light of the Gospel.”
Thomas said he’s praying the same thing—and he can see that God is already doing amazing work through these connections.
“Montgomery Baptist Association has become a strategic partner for our work in Mexico because they, through their relationships with Mixtecs in Montgomery, have opened the door for our team into a community that had been previously closed to the Gospel,” he said. “How exciting it will be for IMB work as more Southern Baptist churches in the United States engage migrant workers in their communities and connect with IMB personnel in their home countries.”
It’s exciting for Lisa, too, to see how Southern Baptists’ missions funds support Thomas’s full-time presence in Mexico reaching the unreached cities of the mountains, including the people so dear to her heart.
“Through our Montgomery Baptist Association partnership with IMB missionaries in Mexico, we are able to see our Lottie Moon dollars at work firsthand as the missionaries work tirelessly to share the Gospel with an unreached people group,” she said. “It is a win-win for all in sharing the Gospel. Our fledgling Mixtec Church gets to see the Gospel in tangible ways ministering to their families in Mexico, and families in Mexico get to see that there are people here in Montgomery who love their sons, daughters, and siblings with a genuine kind of love that only comes through the Lord.”
* EDITOR’S NOTE: Some names have been changed for security reasons.
Grace Thornton is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama, and is a member of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.