Short-term missions in South America
When I was 15, my life was a mess, but my heart was in the right place. I told God, “If you can fix this mess, I’ll do ANYTHING you ask of me… (except be a missionary).” Within a month, God had sent so many missionaries across my path that I gave in and signed up for my first short-term missions trip. That summer in Panamá truly changed my life, but the greatest change came upon my return when God called me to “go into all the world and tell my people about me.” He later fine-tuned that calling to include reaching unreached people groups and translating the Bible into new languages.
How did He direct me? At age 16, I was the stereotypical cheerleader-type that never left home without half a pound of make-up and half a can of hairspray. That’s why I did NOT want to be a missionary. “Roughing it” was NOT for me. But that summer in Panamá, God dragged me out of my comfort-zone and into the Darien Jungle – the densest and one of the most primitive jungles in the world – to SHOW me His awesome plan for my future.
Before our arrival in Tortuga, a village that had never had contact with outsiders, the local witch doctor warned the tribe of our visit. Dangerous people, he said, were coming to trick them into following false gods. To listen to them would mean certain death, he continued, but they needn’t worry, because these evildoers would be easy to identify: they had no color in their skin! When we rowed up in our giant canoes a few weeks later (30 of the whitest people you’ve ever seen), they knew we were those deadly tricksters!
After four days of intense ministry, one man gave his life to Christ. We baptized him in the piranha-infested river, and upon seeing that he did NOT die as predicted, five more people gave their lives to Christ. What impacted me most was the cumbersome ministry process – long, grueling days of quadruple translation (English > Spanish > Darien language > Tortugan dialect), trying to find common ground with a people we had nothing in common with. After our departure, I asked the missionaries, “How will they learn more about Jesus without Bibles?” Their response left me speechless: “First, we learn their language and create a written language for them. Then, we translate the Bible into it.” It was a process that would take YEARS, but they were committed to seeing it through! The dream of reaching the unreached was born in me that day, in the heart of a spoiled cheerleader! (God truly has a sense of humor!)
Long term missions in Tijuana, Mexico
>>> Fast forward 6 years and 6 mission trips into the future…
As a college graduate with a degree in elementary education, missions, and Spanish, I was ready to go! Unfortunately, thinking “there’s no such thing as a single-female missionary,” I made some poor decisions that led me down an 8 year-long detour. Though the consequences of my decisions were painful, I thank God for the lessons I learned, because they prepared me for many of the challenges I would face on the mission field.
In 2006, God sent me to my first long-term mission field, once again showing me that His ways were not mine. People had always asked me if I would consider going to Mexico as a missionary, and my answer was always, “Mexico?!? They don’t need missionaries!” When asked if I would like to work in an orphanage, I always replied, “That’s not even real ministry!” So, with a much-needed serving of humble pie, God sent me to work at an orphanage in Tijuana, México, within sight of the U.S. border! But, in His wisdom, my 6 years at City of Refuge Children’s Home were exactly what I needed – an opportunity to continue my personal healing journey while getting my feet wet as a missionary.
Church-Planting with Calvary Culiacán
After 6 years in Tijuana, I again put my calling on hold. I got married and started a family while working in a local church. We attempted to plant a new church in our community, but due to personal failures, neither the church plant nor the marriage survived. In fact, more poor decisions ultimately landed me in Celebrate Recovery, a ministry of Calvary Chapel Rosarito, where God radically transformed my life. How? He brought me to a place of FULL surrender (not partial or conditional) where I finally declared: “Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I need you. My life is yours. Do whatever You want with it…”
Then, one day while I was at church, “CULIACÁN!” Our pastor was announcing our next new church plant. Each time it was spoken, the name “CULIACÁN” shot through me like electricity! After some research, I decided I was definitely NOT interested. First, I had no interest in church-planting. Second, I wanted to LEAVE México, not move further into it. Finally, I hate heat and had no desire to move to a tropical, violence-riddled city full of drug cartels, much less raise my baby there!
For months, I could not get Culiacán out of my heart and mind and finally decided to visit. God miraculously provided funding and a green light to travel with my 2-year-old son. From the moment we landed, I knew this was to be our new home. I had no idea what God’s plan was, but with my will fully surrendered to His, I stepped out in faith.
Six years later, that plan is now crystal clear! At first, God used my history and testimony to minister to women and my missions experience to jump-start an outreach ministry. He also completed my healing journey and prepared me for a future of service by nurturing my spirit with intense verse-by-verse Bible teaching. I graduated from church-planting school in 2018, helped plant a new church in 2019, and was invited to lead the women’s ministry and become a leader in the E.P.I.C.C. (Church-Planting School of Calvary Culiacán) in 2020.
In the E.P.I.C.C., I discovered that God’s plan throughout the New Testament was never JUST sending out missionaries but raising up CHURCHES. Through church-planting, God reached the lost all over the world on an ongoing basis, raising up new disciples and leaders to carry on that ministry, and ultimately sending out more missionary church-planters to reach more unreached people groups. I was hooked!
My time in Culiacán has been an amazing journey in which I’ve grown tremendously, seen 7 new churches planted – participated in 3 of them! – and seen hundreds of lives transformed! I’ve also had the awesome privilege of training up new, future church-planters (including my own 9-year-old son!) for the mission fields God has called them to reach.
Catching the Calpulalpan Vision
Then, God brought a restlessness to my spirit once again, preparing me for the next change, the next chapter – Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala! I first heard of the project (now known as Calvary Conexión México) in 2021. Via a YouTube video and a few brief announcements at church, my pastor shared the amazing story of a couple who wanted to donate a large tract of land (nearly 2 acres) to build a church. Each time they offered the land to someone, they were either met with rejection or offers to sell and split the profits. Frustrated, they prayed, and shortly thereafter, a friend connected them with my pastor: “Talk to Pastor Hugo! He loves to plant churches!” And so, the project was born.
The vision has four distinct parts. First, a church will be planted in Calpulalpan. Next, an international school of missions and church-planting will be established where people from all over the world will be trained for missions and church-planting. Through those students, we hope to reach the third phase of the vision: planting 6 new churches in important cities in 6 neighboring states… all within 1-2 hours of Calpulalpan! Finally, the campus dormitories will double as accommodations for short-term missionaries ministering in those cities.
I fell in love with the project instantly but did not immediately see my role in it. That’s when God reminded me of my original calling: “Go into all the world and tell my people about me.” As that calling wove itself into the Calpulalpan vision, God showed me my part: the same things I’m already doing – working at a church-planting school, teaching languages, hosting mission teams, and training up leaders! But rather than JUST training up local church-planters, I will be helping to train international missionaries!
As I considered the possibility of getting involved, even visiting Calpulalpan in February, everyone said, “YES! Go for it!”… everyone except me. I had more questions than answers and was unwilling to abandon Culiacán for a “maybe.” When my pastor said he needed a decision, I made a list of specific questions I needed God to answer before I would go. A few hours later, my pastor sent me a message with his “opinions” on the subject… “opinions” that coincided EXACTLY with my questions! Without even knowing about my list, he answered every question, and in great detail!
When God called me to reach the unreached in 1992, I immediately began language training, learning both French and Spanish the following year, then dabbling in Portuguese, Italian, Chinese… but over time, as that calling was postponed, my vision died. It wasn’t until April of 2022, that God breathed new life into it through a friend who invited me on a missions trip to the Cuare, an unreached people group in the remote mountains of Nayarit. It was there that God renewed my vision and reminded me what He had created me for. I spent a week learning their language, studying their culture, trying to blend in, all while looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. It was amazing!
But it wasn’t until after returning home that God began connecting the dots for me. Church-planting… International missions… Language school… Hosting short-term missions teams… Reaching the unreached… CALPULALPAN and the vision of Calvary Conexión México! Though it may be the next stop on my journey, I have a feeling it will not be my final destination, but rather a launchpad from which both Sammy and I can be further trained and prepared to go out to our own forever mission fields! Stay tuned to find out as the adventure continues…