By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Lisa Rose remembers when the Mixtec people first began arriving at Montgomery-area ministry centers. 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,” said Rose, director of compassion ministries for Montgomery Baptist Association. “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. So 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.
Now, more than a decade later, a fledgling Bible study group among Alabama’s Mixtec is dedicating its new church facility Feb. 10. The group doesn’t have a name yet, but it will be meeting in a building provided to them by Highland Gardens Baptist Church, Montgomery.
Active evangelism work
“It is phenomenal — as it continues to grow, it will be the first Southern Baptist church among the Mixtec in Alabama,” Rose said. “To my knowledge, there are only three more in the U.S. — one in California, one in Virginia and one in North Carolina.”
But because of the ministry to the Mixtec that local churches have done in all four of those states, the group has been moved from “unengaged, unreached” to “unreached” status, meaning there was now active evangelism work going on among them.
And though there’s still much work to be done, that is something to celebrate, Rose said.
For about 10 years, as Montgomery-area Baptists served the Mixtec, they invested in the children and “got to know the people and the culture very well but we were just not able to reach out to the adults,” Rose said.
It was a problem largely caused by the language barrier, she said. So they began to really pray and formed a task force.
And last year they had a breakthrough — when the people faced heartache, they reached out to the Christian community that had been so kind to them for so long.
“Two people in the community died within a few months of each other and they asked us to perform the funerals,” Rose said. “There were 200 to 300 people in one room together and we were able to very clearly articulate the gospel.”
Some of the teenagers and young adults who spoke English served as translators, and with their interest piqued, it opened the door for Rose and others to begin to disciple them.
“That made us begin to consider starting a regular Bible study group,” she said.
So they got training in Bible storying from Jack Day, an International Mission Board missionary, and in July 2017, they began two Bible studies — one in the Chisholm neighborhood and one in the Forest Park neighborhood.
And people started coming.
“We consistently have five to seven families and it’s growing,” said Rose, noting they recently moved the combined study into the building at Highland Gardens Baptist. “We have supper together, have a Bible study and sing some worship songs. We talk about life issues and how the Bible guides us.”
The Bible is new to the Mixtec, as is the Christian life, but they are “growing rapidly,” Rose said.
One Mixtec young adult whom Rose is discipling got in the car with her one day and said someone had asked her over the weekend if she was a Christian. She responded that she went to church.
“She told me, ‘I felt guilty all weekend; I feel like Peter in the Bible,’” Rose said. “I told her that was the Holy Spirit working in her, and she said from that day on, she planned to be bold.”
And she has been, Rose said. The young woman serves as a translator for the people in the community who only speak Mixtec, boldly sharing her faith.
Other young women have been bold too, Rose said. One teenage girl, the only believer in her house, has risked the anger of her family as she’s turned her back on the mysticism of the Mixtec people.
“It’s a small group of believers but step by step they are becoming more bold and the group is growing,” she said.
“We’ve seen the men in the community step up and be curious and want to come hear the story of God.”
Rick Barnhart, interim pastor of Highland Gardens Baptist, said that being involved in ministry to the Mixtec has been an amazing thing for his transitional church.
“As part of the intentional look at how to be the best church God has called them to be, they voted to make that building available to the Mixtec community,” he said.
That decision was an extension of their existing ministry to the people group. One set of 10 siblings had been coming to the church’s children’s ministry for some time, even though the parents weren’t involved, Barnhart said.
“When the dad passed away recently, we were able to really minister to the family and assist them,” he said. “We made the decision to expand the use of that annex building to the whole Mixtec community.”
Praying for leaders
Currently the Sunday night Bible study is being led by John Halbrooks, a member of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, but Rose said they hope that as it grows into a church, it will eventually be Mixtec-led.
“We are praying that the young adults here will rise up and become the leaders of the church,” she said. “And our hope is that one day if some of them go back to Mexico, they will take the gospel with them.”
Who are the Mixtec people?
A people group indigenous to Mexico who speak their own language, Mixteco. Roughly 726,000 Mixtec people live in Mexico, with another 100,000 or so living in the U.S., mostly in California.
Mixtec summit set for Feb. 9–10
The same weekend that the fledgling Mixtec Bible study group in Montgomery dedicates its new church building, Montgomery Baptist Association will host its fourth annual National Mixtec Summit.
Set for Feb. 9–10, the summit will bring together people who serve among the Mixtec in the U.S. and Mexico.
• Engaging Mixtec men
• How to work with Mixtec children
• Spiritual practices of the Mixtec
• What the Bible says about immigrants
• How to pray for the Mixtec
Saturday also will include a community outreach for local Mixtec featuring pastors preaching in their heart language.
It will be a chance for local Mixtec believers to meet like-minded Mixtec from other parts of the country, said Lisa Rose, director of compassion ministries for Montgomery Association.
The summit will end with the building dedication at Highland Gardens Baptist Church at 3 p.m.
“It’s an annual gathering to encourage one another,” Rose said. “Anyone is welcome to come.” (TAB)
For more information, call 334-271-6227.
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