As I was crossing the US/Mexican border last week, I pulled up to one of the booths so the Border Guard could ask whatever questions she felt appropriate to let me back into the US.I had encountered her before, and had gotten the impression that (hopefully) she wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. She took down my license plate and ran it through the computer. I'm sure it showed several entries into the US in the past week, as that's what I do.Then she asked where I was coming from, and where I was going, again, pretty routine stuff. Then she asked what I did. I said that I am an American Baptist Missionary, working with a group in the Baja. She proceeded to ask, "So what do you do for work?" "Well, ma'am as I said, I am a missionary, that is my work." "But what do you do for a living"?"Ma'am, that's what I do, and all I do."
Now, as I have mentioned, I don't have the highest opinion of this particular border guard. I was at the same time both bemused and taken aback by her question. But then I began to think a bit more. The term "missionary" can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. There are those who venture across the border occasionally to work with a church, who would consider themselves "missionaries."There are people who do special projects, and call themselves missionaries. And some have the stereotype of a missionary that only does one specific thing, depending upon the experience of that person with missionaries.
This thought, though started in a comical way, has some very important parts to it that need to be shared. For those of you who are American Baptist who are reading this letter, I am very proud to be able to respond in the manner I did, and I have you, and many, many like you to thank. I am an American Baptist Missionary, that is what I do, and all I do, and that's because of your support in many different ways, like prayer, letters and cards of encouragement, and financial donations. This is a challenging time for our American Baptist Family, and finances are a major part of our concern right now. So again, I say the most heartfelt "thanks" to those who have been supportive. We covet your prayers, concerns, and energy.
And just what do we do? Good question!When I was in the Pastoral Ministry, some things were very clear, others pretty obscure as to what I did. Having been a pastor for ten years, I can think of no job that is as emotionally demanding as a pastor. So for those of you who are pastors who are reading this, I want to say thank you for your hard work. For those who are laypersons, please take an intentional moment to thank your pastor for being there and serving with you.
Now that we are missionaries, there are stresses too. The biggest one is to come to terms with (in our case) the culture of the Baja. That involves worshipping in a different way than what we're accustomed to. That means trying to hold intelligent conversations in a language that is still relatively new. Even more, that involves preaching and teaching (in our case) in that language.
But what a people to be with! Mercy and I continue to be busy getting to know the people of the "Dios con Nosotros" convention. Since I wrote last, I have had the privilege of delivering my first sermon in Spanish, before the annual meeting of the Convention, no less. While needing to work on my Spanish more (no surprise there) I was pleased with my first effort. I am so glad that International Ministries sent me to language school for a year before going out. I would be completely lost without it!
We had the pleasure and privilege of hosting ABC Missionary Ruth Mooney as she gave a workshop on the "Participatory Method" of teaching Christian Education. We had a wonderful turnout from the convention, and were able to put the new building at the seminary in Mexicali into use even before it was completely finished. It was also very good to reacquaint with her, as Mercy worked with her in Costa Rica during my language school time.
In order to get the building ready to use, we are very appreciative of three people from the state of Washington who dedicated a good amount of time and effort and materials to install electricity. I was able to help with this, which is a nice change of pace from some of the "intellectual" parts of our duties.
Life around the home continues in good shape. Aida and Richie are beginning to take me on in chess. It is really neat to see them work together to strategize against me. Heaven help me when they get a little experience!
What there was of spring this year has come and gone. In the Imperial Valley, we have had three detectable precipitation events since our arrival in January. The day after we arrived it drizzled for a few minutes. A few weeks later, we were actually able to see drops on the windshield, though we couldn't count them, because they evaporated too quickly. And a couple weeks ago, we actually saw drizzle to the point where I needed to use the windshield wipers to clean off the mud from the dust and drizzle on the windshield. I have a feeling that rarely, very rarely, there are true "gulley washers." If that ever happens in our stay here we'll let you know. The sun, on the other hand, is quite present. We are already experiencing temps around 100 degrees, with 107 being tops so far. Pretty soon, the oven will go from preheat to bake, and we can anticipate temps in the 120's. Believe it or not, being the northern boy I am, I can see quite a few parallels between the perils of a Northern Maine winter and a Baja California Summer.The car kit in case one is stranded will look about the same, as will the avoidance of nature at her harshest. The only thing is, on those days here, the temp starts out in the comfortable 70's and 80's, whereas some of the winters I have experienced have had days where the best the mercury could do was about 45 degrees below zero!
As I go, I want to thank you again for your care. For prayer concerns, we are starting to work on some very preliminary plans for church planting projects. Mercy and I are trying to get more training with the Church Planting Council, so we can develop a church-planting model with the convention that will be beneficial and authentic to whom they are. The costs involved with this don't make it easy, but we feel this is the right course of action. We are very much enjoying our role at the seminary, and are asking for God's direction in that, as it is quite possible that the seminary may be expanding. We also ask you to pray for International Ministries and our American Baptist family during this time of challenge. It is our prayer that you give as you feel led to our entire ABC family, but if there is something in our ministry you want to support directly, we would consider it a blessing.
In Christ's Service,
Rick Barnes and Mercy Gonzalez-Barnes, Aida, Rich, And Josh