As the small tour bus traveled hour after hour through the dusty mountains of southwestern Mexico, Edgardo Colón-Emeric and his companions began to wonder whether anything good would come from this leg of their 10-day journey.
The group was in the middle of a project dubbed Encuentro (which can be translated “encounter” and “I find”)—an effort last May to learn more about the land, culture, and faith of the people of Mexico. The visitors, most from Duke Divinity School and all deeply interested in Hispanic ministry, sought inspiration through the witness of Mexican Methodists and a broader understanding of the church as the international body of Christ.
But perhaps this visit to the remote hamlet of Huitzapula and a nearby mission—serving Methodists and the unchurched from the surrounding countryside—was simply too much.
Colón-Emeric, assistant research professor of theology and Hispanic studies, recalls that anxiety built even further as the group noticed cross after cross along side the deserted bumpy road—memorials to people killed in traffic accidents—and, most ominous of all, the deserted wreckage of a bus at the base of a steep cliff.
By the time the 10 road-weary travelers reached their destination, they could think of little more than gratitude for their safe arrival and a chance to stretch their legs. A warm welcome from the local pastor and a crowd of women and children, a hot meal, and some time for prayer and fellowship helped revive the group.
But that welcome only hinted at what the travelers would find farther up in the mountains, Colón-Emeric says.
The tiny mission was empty when the group arrived the next morning. As the visitors from North Carolina began singing hymns, word quickly spread in the village that guests had come. Soon the mud-walled building was packed with men, women, and children.
Jeremy Troxler, director of the Divinity School’s Thriving Rural Communities initiative, began to preach. Colón-Emeric translated Troxler’s English into Spanish. A woman from the village translated his Spanish into the regional language of Tlapaneco.
The previous day’s fatigue and anxiety were quickly forgotten as prayers ascended in three languages, overcoming differences in culture, dialect, and nationality. As he translated English to Spanish, Colón-Emeric says he realized that this kind of shared experience was exactly what he and Troxler had hoped to cultivate during Encuentro.