What does it cost to follow Christ? At the very least it cost change, a change in perspective, and most necessarily a change in heart. Life is different when Jesus changes everything about it. As a new creation, there are many new opportunities to take, in faith, and follow the Lord in ways that require a great source of strength. That is the strength that was experienced during the short-term mission trip to Monclova, Mexico in July of 2014.
Sunday morning, The Upper Room Free Will Baptist Church in Monclova shared with the short-team team an awesome opportunity to witness the love of Christ and the evidence of His power to change lives! The church family was gathering near a stream of water to celebrate the commitments and baptism of some of their members. As they gathered under a few thin trees attempting to catch what little shade they gave, a message directed to the baptism candidates charged everyone. Baptism is special; it is sacred and serious. It is a public statement and demonstration of the very commitment that is chosen by believers to follow and live for Christ. It is important to understand that the love of Christ affords a new life and often demands change from the old way of living and may include great sacrifices. As each candidate shared their testimony of Christ’s redemption of their life, an opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation of the believers commitment to Christ was available. “Do we still grasp the sacrifice that Christ endured for us? Are we as fully committed to Christ as we can be at this moment, or are we holding back in some area of our lives?”
Brother Juan Montoya, Everado (Lalo) Martinez, and Harold were joined by five brothers and sisters in Christ in the cloudy, stone paved pool fed by a mountain stream. With even fewer shade trees, the church family gazed upon the individualized ceremony, carried out one at a time for each believer’s Baptism. Into the water they were laid, their old lives in their mind. Over them the water flowed just as Christ’s blood of forgiveness washed them clean. Up from the grave of sin they arose to new lives of love by the power of Christ. Hands were placed on them as the brothers prayed over them. Baptism and prayer followed by the congregation singing a song called “I am Baptized.” Those being baptized were already beginning their witness to everyone there of the power of the love of Christ. A fresh wind of his love was truly lavished upon all.
Originally from Piedras Negras (about four hours from Monclova), Pastor Juan Montoya and his wife Ricarda understood the value of such commitment. They both shared how God opened the door for a church to be planted and how God asked them to move and serve in a new city. Not only did they move to a new place, but they left children and grandchildren back home. God kept them in miraculous ways, each day providing for every need. What began as a short-term commitment to plant a church has turned, 15 years later, into a full-time labor of love. Even though it was very difficult for their whole family, trusting God proved over and again to bear the fruit of love that the Lord intended. Many have come to know and serve the Lord in the city of Monclova because of this family’s commitment and sacrifices. Brother Juan told everyone, “The sacrifices that God may require of us can never amount to the fruit and blessings that result!”
The Upper Room Sanctuary is housed on the second floor of the Montoya’s home where they dwell, work, and daily live out their faith among their church family and neighbors. Gradual growth to beyond full capacity led to the team’s project for the week: to break down walls and expand the room and roof of the main sanctuary. Many drops of sweat, hammered nails, slaps of mortar, and trips climbing to the roof and back were sacrificed. Dust stuck like clay in the humidity, and water and Gatorade seemed to last only seconds, and just when you thought that the trusses would fit the roof—more adjustments were needed. As brothers worked together throughout the week to complete this task, relationships were established and encouragement was freely shared. Regardless of the language barrier, communication was never lost because of effective teamwork and friendship. The common bond of Christ’s love glued hearts and minds in unity; a true representation of how the power of the love of Christ compels selfless generosity from hearts to hands and brows.
Two doors down, the blessing of a shaded porch was given so that children from the church and neighborhood could attend Bible School. The children were taught about the power of Christ’s love, the power created the universe and provided a way for all people to be forgiven of sin and live with Jesus now and in eternity. Such small hearts were given an opportunity to know the greatest love of all.
This same shade protected many women from the hot afternoon sun, who came each day eager to fellowship and study God’s Word. Singing and clapping was heard throughout the block; sacrifices of praise to the Lord shared with all who could hear. Afterwards many of life’s burdens were discussed as they began to study Psalm 23 and learn that heavy loads are not meant to be carried; that is what our Shepherd does for us. By the end of the week, many testimonies of God’s faithfulness to take on burdens and provide for every need were shared with smiles and tears. Testimonies that would not only be shared that day, but in many conversations to come in order to tell of God’s power and in hopes that others, too, would be able to experience His love.
Is the power of the Love of Christ evident in our lives? Are we pressing in and trusting on God’s strength to guide us and give us the power to share the love of Christ with others? What if, like Brother Juan, we are being called on to uproot ourselves, even our family, for the sake of the Gospel? Are we willing to trust God completely to provide for us? Are there gifts, talents, abilities, and opportunities we have just waiting to be used to show God’s love tangibly? Are there other people that we could encourage along the way with our testimony? There is amazing power in the love of Christ—power to change lives forever. Sometimes all it takes is one truss, one Bible story, or one trip to a new place to reveal His love.