Ocotlan, Mexico—There were times when Esteban Carrasco felt like giving up. He and his family had moved 15 hours inland to the mountains of Ocotlan from their hometown on the coast of Mexico without knowing anyone 15 years ago. They didn’t have any other reason to move there except that Esteban had felt God leading him to plant churches in this Zapotec area of southern Mexico that had no evangelical churches.
Esteban faced the challenge head on, preaching in town parks and plazas against idolatry. This message of the supremacy of Christ hit a nerve with villagers, who tend to combine the traditions of Catholicism with indigenous tribal practices, offering crops on altars to be blessed by spirits or saints.
The reaction to the message was just as direct—villagers threatened to kill him if he came back. They threw rocks at him. They damaged his car.
But he kept visiting village after village, sharing the gospel with anyone who would listen. Witch doctors cast spells on him. Villagers turned dogs on him. Drunks yelled at him.
“When these things happen, I’m reminded of the heart of God—that Jesus suffered, too,” Esteban said. He remembers that he, too, was once an alcoholic with no understanding of God’s Word until someone shared it with him.
So, he kept preaching. Self-supported, he visited villages on the days he had off from work. It had become more difficult to do this after obtaining a security guard job at a vacant warehouse that required him to work 24-hour shifts. But he kept praying that others would join him in the evangelistic work.
A total of 15 years had passed before he saw his prayer answered when Southern Baptists Rebecca Harrod, of Kentucky, and Christy Willis, of Virginia, sought him out.
The new missionaries had been given the task by their cluster strategy leader Jeff Holeman to engage the Ocotlan Zapotec with the gospel, and they had heard about a local pastor who had been doing just that.
When Esteban saw the young missionaries walking toward him, he told them, “You are here. You are an answer to my prayers.”
He invited them to visit the three small house churches he has formed in the area.
The missionaries came just in the nick of time, Esteban said. The week after they met, his car stopped working, becoming unrepairable. Since then, the trio travels to other villages to spread the gospel, using a car and fuel that the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provides.
“Immediately, we knew that God had brought us our national partner we had been praying for,” said Christy Willis, 29, an International Service Corps missionary from Village Church at Midlothian, Va. “He’s so passionate about missions, but he was so overwhelmed in the work. He’s been preaching the gospel in areas where there are zero believers.”
Their meeting would have been delayed several months because of additional language practice had the two missionaries not already known Spanish. Christy had studied Spanish abroad and taught the language for seven years in the U.S., and Rebecca had majored in Spanish in college.
Still, their work isn’t without language difficulties. Many in outlying villages speak indigenous languages, such as various dialects of Zapotec.
“I prayed for years, ‘God, what do you want for me?'” said Rebecca Harrod, a 22-year-old journeyman missionary from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville. “It’s cool to see that all through college, I studied Spanish, I spent summers in Honduras. Now, I’m using Spanish for God’s glory.
“God’s plan is so much bigger than I ever imagined,” Rebecca said. “Fifteen years ago when I was 7—before I was even a Christian, before I loved Spanish, before I wanted to do anything international—Esteban was praying for me to come and help him. That blows my mind. What an honor that God used me to answer Esteban’s prayer for more workers.
“What’s sobering is that others may be waiting for people who may not be coming,” Rebecca said. “People have been telling us, ‘We have been waiting to hear about Jesus, but there was no one here to tell us.'”
Alejandro Rodriguez,* 78, and his wife, Maria,* 84, had heard about the Bible in their remote village high in the mountains, but no one had spent time with them to share God’s word. People had told them what they should believe or what the Bible says to do, but they developed a hunger to know for themselves what God’s word says.
So, they prayed that one day, someone would come to their mountain village with God’s word in their hands to share with them.
It is one of the areas Christy and Rebecca have been focusing on spreading God’s word. When they encountered Alejandro and Maria, again they were told, “You are here. You are an answer to my prayers.”
After a couple weeks of studying the Bible with the missionaries, Alejandro and Maria accepted Christ as their personal Savior.
“When you’re literally on a top of a mountain, you’re reminded that if you don’t go, nobody else is,” Christy said. “For years, Alejandro and Maria were praying for someone to come share God’s word with them. They were praying for someone to reach them.
“Knowing that churches are praying for me, giving for me to be here, that is what is sustaining me on the field,” Christy said. “There are so many ups and downs on the missions field, but we know there is a whole network of people supporting us, to keep us on the field and doing the work we’re doing on a daily basis here.”
Christy’s and Rebecca’s home churches planned missions trips this year to work alongside them among the Ocotlan Zapotec. Southern Baptist missionaries, including Christy and Rebecca, are supported through the giving of Southern Baptist churches to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. (IMB)