The Adopt-A-People (AAP) Program
Brings New Life to Churches
Taking the step to adopt an unreached people group has impacted our church (positively) more than anything else we have done in the over twenty years I have been a member here.”
Mike Buehler, of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Yakima, Washington,wasn’t speaking lightly when he said these words. Mike has been an Adult Sunday School teacher in his church and he was also involved in a pioneering project where Westminster funded and helped build a home for a poor family through Habitat For Humanity. In his professional life Buehler is a dentist, a dedicated Christian professional who serves his patients with the best care possible. Buehler’s favorite subject though is how Westminster’s work in adopting the Zoque people of Chiapas, Mexico has transformed his local church and The First Presbyterian Church which has partnered with Westminster in the adoption. “As we have given ourselves and our resources to these people, our giving and our attendance have increased,” said Buehler. “Our missions budget has increased over 40 percent because people have had a chance to get a hands-on experience in reaching people from another culture for Christ and they see the needs,” he said.
The Zoque Indians live at elevations of 5,000 feet up in the remote southern Mexican mountains in towns like Rayon, Pontapec and La Florita. There are more than 25,000 Zoques who have their own language and culture. In the past some churches have tried to help them, but the difference the Presbyterians have made among these peoples is due to the long term commitment that First Presbyterian and Westminister have made to the project. The churches are also working together with Mexican church leaders and Bible schools in Mexico.
In 1994, Dr. Buehler led a summer project team of 38 people from the two churches to do medical and dental work among the Zoques. Medical and dental supplies were donated and they were able to treat over 1,200 people. In 1995, the Zoques began to warmly respond to the Presbyterian’s evangelistic efforts.
”They were surprised we came back to help them the second year,” said Mark Snelling, Senior Pastor at Wesminster Presbyterian. Other churches that had tried to help them hadn’t, but we let the Zoques know that we were committed to help them on a long-term basis,” said Snelling.
The second summer a team of 40 people from the churches went down to do medical and dental work and evangelism. Again, over 1,200 people received medical and dental treatment opening the opportunity to share the Gospel. The team worked together with eight young Mexican women from a Reformed Church Bible School. The team began to see dozens of adults and hundreds of children give their lives to Jesus.
Leaders from the Presbyterian Church of Mexico made sure that these people were discipled during the rest of the year and a house church was started in Rayon which is now reaching people in Pontapec and La Florita. “We now have a viable evangelical partnership formed with the Zoque people in three different communities,” said Mike Nixon, Mission Pastor at The First Presbyterian Church of Yakima.
The Zoque people were so grateful that one of the Indians told Pastor Snelling:”You’ve done more for us in two years than the Mexican government has ever done for us,” said Snelling. The Zoques are considered an outcast people because many were displaced by the effects of a volcano and they have a very low self-esteem.
Working among the Zoques has also increased the self-confidence of the people from the Presbyterian churches in Washington as they are able to see that they can make a difference and help fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all peoples. Westminster is a medium-sized church of 350-400 people, but they have made a large impact on the Zoques and AAP has made a major impact on them. “I’ve been astounded at the interest that this project has stirred up”, said Phil Hull, a Missions Committee member at Westminster. “People who have for years simply come to church every Sunday are now going to Mexico to work among the Zoques.”
The work has continued expanding in 1996 and 1997 and now teams from the churches in Yakima have been able to do door-to-door evangelism in the three Mexican towns. “The house church in Rayon is seeing about 80 people meet on a regular basis and attendance increases during the Christmas holidays to 120,” said Mike Buehler.
The church is currently big enough that the Presbyterian Church of Mexico has asked the Yakima churches to help build a church building for the Zoques. “We have asked the Mexican church to buy the land and help out with the building process,” said Pastor Nixon of First Presbyterian. “We want to make sure that we are continuing to work in partnership with the people in Mexico so that we are not just doing something to them or for them, but rather partnering with them,” Nixon said.
Over the past four years the churches have spent over $50,000 for each major medical/dental and evangelistic outreach they have done as part of adopting the Zoque people. It’s been money well spent according to Pastor Snelling. “We’ve gained way more than the dollars we have given because now our church people have a much greater cross-cultural understanding,” he said. Mike Buehler agrees:“Adopting a people is part of God’s plan to reach all peoples with the Gospel, it’s scriptural and he honors it.”
The Mobilization Division of the U.S. Center For World Mission has an excellent Global Countdown 2000 Mexico video on this and other Adopt-A-People success stories. To order the video or obtain more information on how your church can Adopt-A-People contact: William Carey Library Publishers at (626) 798-0819, or see our web page at: http://www.USCWM.org.