• What began 50 years ago has found its mark in Ojinaga •
BY JON MARK BEILUE
A little more than 25 years ago, Anson Cagle found himself mingling with some inmates in an open area of a Mexican prison near the border town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua. On more than one occasion on the exploratory trip with First Baptist Church members J.V. Selman and Jeff Frazer, Cagle asked a question many others would have asked: What had he had gotten himself into?
They were sharing Christ with some of the inmates, with Frazer doing his best to translate into Spanish while Selman handed out tubes of toothpaste.
“Finally, we had happily made it past the front gate,” he said, “and then on to Presidio and back to Amarillo. But I think I shared the same opinion as the others: this just might work.” Minus the prison, of course.
It did work, and has worked for a long time. Each spring break in March, as they have for 25 years, vans full of FBC teams leave the church on a Saturday morning for the 500-mile trip to Presidio, Texas.
For the next five days, they stay in the fellowship hall at the Bautista Iglesia in Presidio. Each morning, they cross to the border town of Ojinaga (pop. 28,000) and then some 20 miles on hard-scrabble road to the barren village of Mulato.
Teams will lead Bible School at three schools separated by a few dirt road miles, working with young primary children, older elementary students, and those in middle school. There’s also a women’s ministry, painting and minor repairs, and a makeshift medical clinic led by
Dr. Richard Bechtol and wife, Susan.
In the late afternoon, it’s back to Ojinaga to Iglesia Bautista Bethel, or Bethel Baptist Church, and pastor Edmundo Valenzuela. After the school day, about 60 kids, from pre-school to early teens, flock to Bethel for two hours of Bible School. In addition, there’s a women’s class led by Ruth Baggett, and later a one-day pastor’s conference led by her husband, Dr. Lee Baggett.
There are always minor tweaks and changes, but the heart of this trip has held true year after year after year.
“There’s a consistency to it,” said James Chaddick, who’s been leading the mission team since 1994. “We’re always meeting someone who’s grown now, but was saved in one of our Backyard Bible Clubs.
“But no one else goes there [to these regions] any more. That’s the big thing. There used to be other church groups that would come. But when all the violence started, they stopped coming. Not only did churches stop coming, but all the support dried up, too.”
Roughing It 50 Years Ago
The roots of FBC’s longest-serving mission trip go back a half-century to 1969.
That’s when Charlie Dawson, at the request of a pastor friend in Marfa, Texas, took his three children and C.O. Sutton to Porvenir, a tiny community 145 miles northwest of Presidio along the border, to help build a church.
More men joined the next year when they served the village of Montoya, adjacent to Mulato. It was, in essence, roughing it. Church members stayed in tents on the Texas side of the Rio Grande River, bathed in the river, and boated across for Bible School that was all outdoors.
Two were baptized that year in the Rio Grande. Dawson was presented with a stuffed iguana by the pastor at Montoya in appreciation.
In the ensuing years, the mission would take on various forms, including building a church in the Texas border town of Redford. Some years, college students would attend over Thanksgiving break. There were some years when no one went.
But it recharged in 1993 and 1994. At that time, FBC high school students had no mission trip. There was a ski trip in the winter, but no trip of service, none of mission.
High school teachers knew Selman had a history with Mexico, and he took Cagle and Frazer with him to Presidio and across the border to Ojinaga and Mulato. The stop at the prison… well, that was an unexpected detour.
So on March 12, 1994, the modern era of the Mexico mission trip began with 28 high school students and seven adult sponsors leaving from the Family Life Center parking lot for the Mexico border.
Steven Becker went with his daughter, Sara, a sophomore, in 2001. He has not stopped going since. R’Jana, his wife, has gone on 10 different trips.
“I thought I’d work it for a couple of years after Sara graduated, long enough so I’d have a week’s worth of T-shirts,” he said. “But I just kept going back. It has become a way of life each spring, making mission work a lifestyle.”
College Students Take the Lead
The number of participants who have gone has been as high as 85. That was when it was just high school students. Drug violence in Mexico escalated about 10 years ago and had church staff evaluating the safety of minors in that country. Three different times, church members stayed on the Texas side and worked in Presidio.
In 2015, high school students changed spring break trips, first to Shreveport, and now in the inner city of Phoenix. That year, college students joined with adults. The numbers now
are smaller, in the 30s, but each year in mid-March, they are there. Their presence is felt.
“The first year we didn’t cross, we said we’d be back the next year,” Chaddick said. “They said, ‘No, you won’t. Nobody comes back.’ Those years we didn’t cross (2009, 2012-2013), when we’d come back, they remembered – ‘Hey, you didn’t cross last year.’”
Adults will show up on the dirt streets in front of Bethel Baptist with old Polaroid pictures of them taken as children when they were in Bible School. But the impact of the mission trip, like just about all mission trips, is also on those who serve.
“First, I see students, high school and now college, who learn to love somebody from a different culture and share their testimony,” Chaddick said. “They learn how to love others with the love of Christ. You see that in the last Thursday service and how emotional it is for everybody.
“The other thing is encouraging the people there, for them to see what it’s like for Edmundo to drop to his knees in the dirt and students gather around and pray for him – that’s powerful.”
Chaddick and Becker travel to Ojinaga every January to assess needs, note changes, get feedback for the trip in two months. Chaddick comes back annually with 10 pages of notes.
Through the Angel Tree at Christmas, church members annually purchase gifts for 600 needy children. About 180 of those go to the children in Ojinaga and Mulato.
In 2014, Chaddick pulled out his records over the years and totaled 460 different students and adults who have gone to Mexico. Five years later, that total likely is more than 500.
One of those adults was Pam Beckham. While on the trip in 2018, she later said, she thought she was coming down with a bug, though she did not complain. It was not long after her return that she received a much more serious diagnosis of cancer.
Pam died nearly a year later on March 10, 2019, the first full day of the Mexico mission trip in this the 50th year. Her memorial service was on March 13, and the Mexico group held a prayer service at the same time in the secondary school.
“Mexico was like a deep current running through her life – not on the surface all the time, but always something she thought about and loved,” said James Beckham, her husband.
She cooked a meal or two for the group, enjoyed the camaraderie and getting dirty for a good cause, James said. But she loved the construction and painting, especially with Anson Cagle.
Pam was involved in numerous causes and had varied interests, but James and their two daughters decided memorials should go to the Mexico mission.
“We knew that Pam would have loved that,” James said, “and the trip would receive additional support in her honor.”
2020 Mexico Missions
The Mexico mission team is currently forming for this Spring Break’s trip, March 14-20. There are all kinds of ways to serve. The group will again stay in Presidio, TX and minister daily in Ojinaga, Mulato, and Palomas, Mexico, with backyard Bible club, youth, and women’s ministries.
If you’d like to be a part of this trip, contact our church office. The first training date is February 9th, and the cost is $225 for adults and $125 for students.