Oaxaca, Mexico—Wherever you go, we go.
First Baptist Church of Oxford, Miss., made this commitment to Jeff and Liesa Holeman long before they began serving as IMB missionaries in 2008.
It started a decade earlier when Jeff became student minister at the church, located in the town of the University of Mississippi. He led the youth group to make return missions trips to Brazil.
MATTER OF TIME
In 2003, during a Sunday morning service at Oxford, Jeff felt called to overseas missions fulltime.
Jeff jokingly said he did what he was supposed to do by going home and telling Liesa, who had been at home caring for a sick child, “We’re going to be missionaries.”
“It didn’t go well,” he smiled. It wasn’t that Liesa didn’t feel a tug toward missions, but she thought that would be later in life after their children were grown. In the meantime, she thought she would continue to work as a criminal investigator for Mississippi’s state tax commission, and the couple would spend their children’s formative years doing student ministry together.
It turned out they would, just not how she had thought.
The Holemans stayed in Oxford for the next few years until they took their two children with them on the church’s missions trip to Brazil in 2006. The children responded so well that the family then went on a trip to Southeast Asia to help lead activities for the children of missionaries during a retreat.
Talking with the missionary families gave Liesa the reassurance she needed about raising a family on the missions field, and the Holemans were appointed by IMB at the end of 2007.
First Baptist, Oxford, partnered with the Holemans where they first served in Peru. Then, in the three years since the Holemans have begun serving as cluster strategy leaders in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Oxford church has adopted the Tlacolula Valley Zapotec people group in that area.
“They didn’t just send us,” Jeff says, “they want to be a part.”
“We have a huge support group behind us … they don’t let go of us,” he says. “That’s a two-way street. We value our relationship with one another. Just because we’re out of sight, we’re not out of mind. We know this because of the way they love us.”
Earlier this year, a missions team from Oxford spent a week alongside Jeff and Liesa, teaching English-as-a-Second-Language and leading medical clinics. For some on the team, their children had been in Liesa’s preschool class at the Oxford church and in the youth group led by Jeff. For others, they had taught the Holemans’ children in Sunday School.
Oxford member Buster Hale had been part of Jeff’s first missions trip to Brazil. He’s served alongside him on missions trips to both Peru and Mexico.
“We’ve watched Jeff and Liesa grow,” he said. “We’ve been a part of raising them in the Lord.”
Jeff and Liesa met while attending Ole Miss and became a part of the Oxford church.
“That’s who first invested in me—my church,” Liesa said. “We want other churches to do the same … God called the church to do this. And we as missionaries have a responsibility to help our churches touch, feel and understand our stories … to help them understand the importance of going to the nations.
“When they sent us,” Liesa said, “they told us they would come alongside us. It’s amazing to see that they sent us, and now they are coming themselves.
“They invested in me. I want to take the time to invest in others.”
Jeff’s home church, First Baptist Church of Yazoo City, Miss., also had taught him the value of missions. Yazoo City member Gene Triggs had served as chairman for the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) for four years. Layman Lawrence Owen Cooper had been president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1973-74. And, the church was home to comedian Jerry Clower for 34 years.
MISSION: MAKE GOD KNOWN
The Holemans mentor dozens of students and young adults from across the U.S. serving in Oaxaca as summer, semester and two-year missionaries, many of whom return to the missions field for extended terms of service.
Sarah Toles from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., worked with the Holemans for four months as a Hands On missionary in Oaxaca before returning to Birmingham to work as a nurse. This year, she went back to Oaxaca on a short-term missions trip to help medical professionals from First Baptist, Oxford, conduct medical clinics there.
“They’re like family,” she said of the Holemans. “They would invite us to their home. They would check in with us to make sure we were connecting not only there but with loved ones back home.”
A student minister at heart, Jeff realizes the impact short-term missions can make.
“God uses short-term missions to open our minds and hearts about what it means to be available to God and to question, ‘Why am I here?’
“We were created to make Him known,” Jeff said. “Our role is making His Name known around the world. Obedience is asking, ‘Where do You want me to go to do that?'”
Nearly every unreached people group in Mexico is represented in the U.S., Jeff said. “My prayer is that U.S. churches become aware that cross-cultural missions isn’t just something they can do in other countries, it’s something they can do in their own cities, and it will equip these people groups to share the gospel in their own countries.”
Similarly, the Holemans have helped Oaxaca Christians to intensify their missions efforts both in Oaxaca and abroad. Jeff guided Iglesia Biblica Evangelica Lluvias de Gracia in Oaxaca to plan a missions trip to Guatemala.
“‘I’ll get you connected,’ Jeff told us,” said Juanita Perez, a member of the Oaxaca church. “He’s just full of resources.
“Oaxaca’s been so blessed by missionaries,” said Juanita, noting the student teams and missionaries who have served there. “Now, it’s our turn to go.” (IMB)