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Bringing God’s love to a Mexican village

AQUILES, MEXICO — Humberto Hernandez looked at the 200 or so campaigners sitting around the crackling campfire and lifted a microphone from its stand. 

On this night, he would tell “The Story of the Valley,” and he hoped the hastily rigged sound system would carry his voice over the braying burros and the giggling children playing tag. 
For 17 years, Humberto and Irene Hernandez have invited American church members to travel roughly 1,000 miles to build water lines, share God’s love at Vacation Bible Schools and gospel meetings, and climb mountains to deliver food and blankets. 
On the final starry night of the recent pilgrimage, though, the group would take its longest journey of the week — back to 1981 when Hernandez rode a donkey through pouring rain to bring Christ to these villagers. For many from Oklahoma and Texas who come year after year, the retelling of “The Story” is as much a tradition as the trip itself. 
Fire-lit faces fall silent as Hernandez begins. “It all started in this place, this very place that God has brought each one of us to. Here where the mountains frame the sky is an even more beautiful picture of the love of Christ manifested in people’s lives.”

Hernandez, 68, of La Pesca, Mexico, said the growth of the church still 26 miles from the nearest paved road started with one individual, a leather-skinned man everyone knows as Brother Jose.
Jose Lucio was the spiritual leader in the valley, patriarch of a religion that blended Indian mysticism with Catholic tradition. Lucio met Hernandez on a trip to another part of Mexico and — curious about “this Church of Christ and its book” — invited him to visit and study with him at his home.
Hernandez remembers accepting the offer noncommittally, but Lucio would have none of that. He insisted they set a date for a week-long visit, then met Hernandez at the fork in the road where necessity dictated that a visitor exchange a vehicle for a donkey to make the rest of the trip into the valley.
“That was a long, hard, wet trip,” Hernandez remembered. “Any part of it would have been difficult, but you combine the path, the distance and the weather and you can’t help but worry a little about making it.”
Hernandez made not only that journey, but two more. During the third one, Lucio asked Hernandez to come see the place where he wanted to be buried. The two men walked to Lucio’s property as Hernandez scanned the ground for a gravesite or tombstone. He saw only a deep hole that the elderly man had dug and filled with clear water from a mountain waterfall for his burial into Christ.
Hernandez baptized Lucio that day, and over the next few months, also immersed Lucio’s wife, Elena, and the couple’s 15 surviving children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors.
“Literally, people would come out from behind cactuses and prickly pears when we began preaching the gospel here,” Hernandez said. “They didn’t want to come sit down at first, but they were there in the shadows, listening.”
In the past 25 years, the landscape here has changed dramatically. The Mexican government graded the once-treacherous footpaths into passable gravel roads. Poles and wires carry electricity to many of the small, colorful homes, government schools and tiendas, or tiny stores.

And Churches of Christ thrive in Aquiles and nearby La Union, with future congregations planned in surrounding villages. 
The pulpit inside the lilac-colored Aquiles Iglesia de Cristo building belongs to Hernandez when he visits, but the church of 100 or so sustains itself — buoyed by these yearly visits. Hernandez doesn’t yet have an ending for “The Story of the Valley,” he said, since the yearly trip and ongoing ministry are thriving. 
As long as Christians continue to come here to sleep in tents, shower from bags filled with sun-heated water and eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, he will replay history for them, weaving in more recent anecdotes of villagers who’ve come to Christ after receiving a care package or concrete floor built by servants of God. 
After the campfire starts to burn down and Hernandez’s voice trails off, some privately call him the Spanish Apostle Paul, a comparison at which he laughs.
“All I did was give up an air conditioned office,” Hernandez said. “God has done the rest.”

Filed under: People Staff Reports

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