Eagle River team effects long-term change through short-term trip

La Fuente Pastor Adrian Alexander Tower Martinez pours dirt for Madelynn Barnlund and Teresa Taylor of Eagle River, Alaska, to sift March 11 at a church plant in Compostela, Mexico. The dirt was then mixed with cement to create mortar to texturize the church’s walls. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

La Fuente Pastor Adrian Alexander Tower Martinez pours dirt for Madelynn Barnlund and Teresa Taylor of Eagle River, Alaska, to sift March 11 at a church plant in Compostela, Mexico. The dirt was then mixed with cement to create mortar to texturize the church’s walls. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — Thirteen members of Eagle River’s Community Covenant Church helped La Fuente Ministries make a long-term difference in communities in Nayarit, Mexico, on a short-term mission trip from March 8-16.

While the group was based out of the state’s capital of Tepic, they had opportunities to serve in and experience the cultures and communities of several towns as they met some of the ministry’s more pressing needs.

“You guys are coming here to come alongside us to do what we’re already doing,” said La Fuente Pastor Tony Simon during the team’s in brief in Tepic.

Simon contributes to the development of many of the ministry’s 21 church plants and stressed the importance of short-term mission teams, who help ensure La Fuente’s ministry bears fruit by focusing on its immediate needs, rather than the team’s own agenda.

“One of the things I really appreciated was the first time we met with Tony, and he started talking to us about the significance of our work and how that work may seem minimal or menial,” said Lori Michero, explaining the team accomplished work the ministry would have had to find a way to complete with our without the help of the mission team. “So, the money and the labor that we bring—even if it’s short-term—has a long-lasting impact, because it helps us come alongside them.”

And work the team did throughout the trip, to include building a stage platform, completing church and Nana’s House painting projects and building a parking lot awning in Tepic, as well as installing a waste pipe and texturing and painting walls at a church plant in Compostela.

“I’ve been wanting to get to painting the house for probably four or five months. We have just never been able to get to it,” said La Fuente Co-founder Pastor Mary Jo Hansen of the work done at Nana’s House. “You guys came down and did that, and it’s done, and it’s such a relief.”

While it may be hard to know how completing such projects contribute to the long-term needs of the ministry, returning team members couldn’t help but see how the work they did last year when they painted the boys’ dorm endured and continued to benefit Nana’s House.

“That was pretty cool. They took pride in that and kept the work that we did,” said Tim Porter. “It looked like we just did it last week.”

Hansen said returning teams also help build lasting relationships with the Nana’s House children and communities they serve.

“They remember you guys,” Hansen said. “It’s a benefit when you see it click for it to keep going forward and to keep building relationships, which is something that La Fuente really needs.”

Part of establishing those relationships is plugging teams into the ministry’s normal routine, Hansen said. Although there’re temporary additions to the staff’s workload the logistics of supporting a team creates, much of what the staff is doing is business as usual.

Lucas Barnlund of Eagle River, Alaska, helps dig a trench to lay a waste pipe March 11 at the La Fuente church plant in Compostela. Barnlund was one of 13 members of Community Covenant Church to serve in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, from March 8-16. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

Lucas Barnlund of Eagle River, Alaska, helps dig a trench to lay a waste pipe March 11 at the La Fuente church plant in Compostela. Barnlund was one of 13 members of Community Covenant Church to serve in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, from March 8-16. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

“You’re basically able to get a really good view of the ministry and a good view of everything that’s happening down here,” Hansen said. “Usually I have kids over to my house, and I’m at Nana’s House…so I went ahead and just kept that going, because you guys came down here to see what the ministry is doing.”

In addition to the work they accomplished for La Fuente, the team also spent time plugging into the daily routines of Nana’s House, a children’s home that provides care for about 30 youth in Tepic.

While time at the church plants focused on the work the team could accomplish in support of La Fuente, the time spent at Nana’s House was all about relationships, with the team attending football and choir practices; eating meals, playing and doing activities with the children; and learning how to make homemade tortillas from one of the house mothers.

“We would work, and then we’d work with the kids as well,” said Thad Heagy, who was one of three teenagers to participate in the trip. “I expected just the kids—just Nana’s House, but I liked how we went back and forth between the two.”

The time spent in relationship with people helped the team gain a better understanding of the culture and the long-term needs the ministry is helping alleviate, the most prevalent of which include poverty; physical and sexual abuse; and fatherless and abandoned children.

According to Hansen, a lack of education is the greatest contributor to poverty in Nayarit, as many children are pulled from school to work at a young age by their parents or grandparents.

“By the time they become 10 or 11, they look at them as somebody who could work,” Hansen said “Even if they bring a minimal amount of money home, it’s more money than they’re getting.”

The Nana’s House children aren’t an exception to the cycle of abuse and minimal education that exists in the region, Hansen said.

“My kids that are at Nana’s House have been charged rent by their parents or were expected to pay the rent,” she said.

The awareness the mission team from Community Covenant has continued to gain over the last two years has done much to help them better understand how God is using them to meet long-term needs during their brief trips to Mexico.

“Last year, my mind was on the kids and Nana’s House,” said Heidi Porter. “It’s easy to love them and get excited for them and to see the great things that have happened over a year’s time.”

She admits the awareness she’s gained through her experiences beyond the children’s home has helped shape her understanding of the many other needs that exist in the communities La Fuente serves.

“My attitude has changed. Nana’s House is still an awesome ministry that’s going on, and it’s exciting to see how well the kids are cared for and how they’re growing,” Porter said. “However, the poverty in some of these neighborhoods, there’s still a great need.”

Her husband, Tim Porter, agreed.

“The short-term work that we do here is so important in establishing these relationships,” he said. “In the long term, it’s helping spread the Word of God to communities that are so poor.”

As Community Covenant looks toward a third annual trip to Mexico in 2017, it presents an opportunity to further gain an understanding of the ministry and how relationships between the Mexican and Alaskan church communities can continue to grow.

“We talked about being relational, and I didn’t quite understand what that meant,” said Lucas Barnlund. “I thought primarily I’d just come down as a helper, just helping in any way I can, but as we got out into the community and started working with people, I realized everything became relational at that point.”

It’s those relationships that may make the difference for both church communities to effect change and to help the people of Nayarit and Eagle River as God continues His long-term work in everyone the ministry and short-mission trips touch.