Deep in the mountains of central Mexico, an Indian woman has been in labor for a day. Her baby, lodged in her birth canal, has had no detectable heartbeat for many hours, and the mother’s life is slipping away from hemorrhaging. A flooded river, normally crossable by a jeep, separates her from the ambulance, called in by radio, which is waiting on the other side. American missionaries Jason and Nicole Fitzpatrick decide to employ a canoe—tied to rope to prevent it from being swept away in the swift current—to transport the mother to the other side in hopes that she can reach the hospital before she dies. They decide to begin with prayer…
The Fitzpatricks are no strangers to challenges. They’ve been living in rural Mexico for 20 years. Seven years ago they relocated to the poorest state in Mexico to pioneer a work among a marginalized indigenous people, descendants of the Aztec Indians. Jason rode his motorcycle through the mountains where their ancestors had been chased by Spanish conquerors long ago, spreading the gospel in remote villages where Christ had never been preached. Most of the people he encountered practiced a mixture of folk spiritism and Roman Catholicism, the fruit of which is often rampant immorality, incest, drunkenness, grinding poverty, and broken lives.
It hasn’t been easy, and Jason has sometimes faced the machetes and guns of hostile villagers. But hundreds of forgotten Aztecs have become believers, and twelve churches have been planted that meet in the dirt-floored homes of the saints. Children have been taught the Bible, the sick have been healed, pressing needs have been met, and evangelists and pastors have been trained. When I visited the Fitzpatricks in late 2008, however, their biggest challenge was still ahead of them.
During that visit, Jason showed me a rural tract of undeveloped land that his ministry had just purchased. He then shared what was on his heart. Most of his disciples, he explained, were caught in a cycle of heart-breaking poverty. Many were trying to subsist by cultivating small, almost-vertical plots of land. Frost and erosion were a perennial menace, as were lack of seeds and fertilizer. Few of the Aztecs had any education. Those who could find employment were exploited for just a few dollars a day, working long hours. Men were leaving their families for years at a time to earn a living in the United States. Temptations surged. Marriages were suffering. Children were being neglected. Discipleship suffered. Men who were called to ministry had no time to minister.
So Jason and Nicole decided to start a village on the acreage they had just purchased, where their impoverished disciples could start new lives. It would be a place for daily discipleship—by way of example—rather than just through weekly half-hour sermons. It would be a place where everyone would work together to become a self-sufficient community, providing for their own needs and producing an excess so they could care for widows and orphans. Those among them who were called to preach the gospel would have time to go to the unreached. The stream that ran through the acreage would be dammed so that crops could be irrigated and fish could be farmed. The residents would build simple wooden homes from trees that were growing on the property. And Jason and Nicole, with their two children, would live there as well, holding all things in common, living at the same material standard as the Aztec saints.
I must confess that I was somewhat skeptical as I made my way through the underbrush that day with Jason. But eighteen months later, I’ve become a believer. When Becky and I visited in late May, we found the beginnings of a village in that same place, in the order of a rustic retreat center, where about thirty people are already living. They have pure running water that is fed by gravity from a mountain spring to a common kitchen, clothes-washing area, and showers. Those showers have hot water courtesy of an ingenious wood-fired water heater. Each house has low-wattage electric lights powered by sun-charged batteries. All organic waste (including human waste) finds its way to a “mixer” that will soon flow to a “digester,” which will flow to a “scrubber” (all homemade), which will produce methane gas. That gas will be piped to the kitchen stoves, ovens and a future refrigerator. That same process will also produce compost to nourish the village gardens and fields.
And that is just the beginning. Jason has done lots of homework, and there are many projects in the plans to make the village entirely self-sufficient. Jason is comparable to a Christian MacGyver, although his homemade, bicycle-powered washing machine—made from a 55-gallon drum and (you guessed it) an old bicycle—was on the blink during our visit.
The saints who already live at the village are enjoying the benefits of a lifestyle they could only have dreamed of before. It’s as if they have been upgraded from a negative-five-star hotel to a one-half-star hotel. Everyone is required to work at least six hours a day to contribute to the common good. They refer to their place simply as, “The Village.”
The Village residents consist not only of a few young Christian families, but also unwed mothers, abused wives, orphans, former street children, and an ex-con. Jesus is at the center. Everyone gathers each morning for prayer, and Jason has made a habit of reading, for fifteen minutes out loud, an excerpt from the Spanish translation of The Disciple-Making Minister. Those at the village who don’t yet know Jesus are getting a good dose of His love.
The Village is a work in progress, but Jason and Nicole, by God’s grace, see every obstacle as an opportunity for a miracle—just as they did on the day they attempted to ferry a dying mother across a flooded river in a canoe. She made it across that river, by the way. And she made it to the hospital. The doctors performed an emergency C-section. She lived. And to everyone’s astonishment, so did her baby.