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Beauty Poured Into Brokenness

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jul 17, 2018

The Aquiles Serdan neighborhood sits between the garbage dump and the red light district in Reynosa, Mexico. Chickens, stray dogs, and horse-drawn garbage carts wind their way through the dusty streets, punctuated by the occasional vendor hawking snacks from a bicycle. It’s a tough place for a kid to grow up.

But in the midst of the dust and the poverty, the cartel-control, and the overbearing sense that this place is inescapable, there is an old estate, once overrun with rats and garbage, now refurbished with a promise of hope.

Walk across the dusty yard, through the door, up the stairs, and into an upper room, and you’ll find walls lined with artwork done by neighborhood kids: a pink-haired man floating through the clouds on an umbrella, dragons and whales colored with crayons, abstract self-portraits done by the children of prostitutes, street toughs, and shopkeepers. Here, beauty is scratched out on paper and the gospel is spoken to brokenness.

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This is the Isaiah 55 community center, where MTW missionaries Ryan and Karen Culbertson, Tim and Kristy Holliday, and Marcus and Heather Rudd, along with their Isaiah 55 teammates, minister to the people of Aquiles Serdan in partnership with the Camino de Fe church plant. They teach art classes here to the neighborhood kids. Then there’s computer, Bible, and ESL, sewing classes for local women, a space to host neighborhood parties, medical clinics, and VBS—all part of the team’s effort to build relationships and establish themselves as part of the community.

"We’re told in Genesis that we’re created in God’s image,” Ryan said. “The first picture that we have of God actually doing something is creating. And I think that every human being has got that built into their fabric.”

Can you teach me?
One summer four years ago, the team encountered a local boy, 10 or 11. He was a troublemaker, making crude comments and leering at the girls, spurring confrontations with the missionaries. The kid’s ambition was to join the cartel—a natural option in this neighborhood—and he played the role of an aspiring gangster well.

Like many other kids in the neighborhood, he didn’t go to school and couldn’t read. One day he came to the team and asked, “Can you teach me?”

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He entered one of their tutoring programs where the team taught him to read and write and poured into his life, folding the boy into their Christian community.

Four years later, though the boy has not yet professed faith, Ryan says: “I can see the Holy Spirit working on this kid’s heart. Now he’s a welcome guest at my house, and he comes for our small group Bible study just about every week. … The Spirit is definitely working and moving in kids’ lives.”

Enter Camino de Fe. The church was planted in 2012 by Mario Xoca, a Mexican pastor, and is entirely Mexican-led. In 2013, Mario connected with the Isaiah 55 team, joining it full-time in 2015.

“They were looking for a gospel-centered church, and we were looking for a mercy ministry with the same vision—work for the kingdom,” said Mario. The community outreach has become an essential part of the missional ministry philosophy of Camino de Fe.

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“The good news not only means salvation,” he added. “This is only the beginning. It is all about restoration of relationship with others, with creation, with the neighborhood, government, arts, politics, and education. Our vision is to be a church-planting church, to make disciple-making disciples, working always for His kingdom.”

That holistic vision directly feeds into the work at the community center outreach. The team, working with the church, is bringing the gospel to bear on their neighborhood: evangelizing, building relationships and doing life with the poor, hanging out with kids, teaching them art, and discipling them.

Potholes as canvas
For over a year, the Reynosa team had been filling in potholes in the neglected neighborhood. Inspired by a Chicago artist, they gathered bits of broken glass, bottle caps, and shattered ceramic, and had the neighborhood kids make mosaics in the wet cement, building beauty where before there was brokenness.

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What a powerful picture of what the church should look like in action—simultaneously speaking the truth of the gospel and bringing beauty to broken lives and neighborhoods. 

“Our goal is to see a kid from this area be raised up to plant a church in the neighborhood,” Ryan said.

It’s a long-term goal, but one that the Isaiah 55 team and the Reynosa church plant will be praying toward, empowered by and trusting in the Spirit.

Perhaps after years of street soccer and watercolors, after endless hours of conversation with Christians, after Bible studies and discipleship and watching and learning from men and women of faith, God will take the kind of kid who aspires to a life of crime, and refine him into a godly leader who builds for the kingdom in his neighborhood. Perhaps the way to a church plant in Aquiles Serdan is paved with mosaic-filled potholes.

Interested in serving in Mexico? We have lots of opportunities to serve. Explore at mtw.org/serve

Photos by TheSiners.com.

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Pray for the national pastors serving in Mexico and Cuba, many of whom are bi-vocational, and the work God is doing among them.

Pray for the kids in Aquiles Serdan neighborhood of Reynosa, Mexico, and the outreach of Isaiah 55 ministry there.

Pray for the Center for Church Planting, headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico, to raise up Mexican church planters to serve across northern Mexico.

Give thanks for the work God is doing in South Asia in the wake of COVID lockdown relief. Ask God to grow the new believers who came to faith in Christ as a result.

Pray for God's work among migrants and refugees on the U.S./Mexico border. 

Pray for the people of Mati, Greece, who are responding with spiritual openness following disaster response efforts of the Greek Evangelical Church and MTW. 

Pray for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and our church-planting work there. Pray for God to grow, expand, and deepen the churches and draw many to Himself.

Last summer, Claudia came to faith through a summer trip. She has since been baptized. Pray for those who come to faith in Mexico as a result of short-term trips to plug into the church.

Pray today for the unreached living in Central Asia, as well as for the local believers and missionaries hoping to reach them. Pray for relationships and conversations of faith. 

Pray for those who God is calling to missions, that God would clarify their call, and equip them to serve Him.

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