An old adage says that “age is only a number.” It does not add that the number closely parallels the number of achy joints and sore muscles.
At ages 71 and 70, my wife, Karen, and I were the oldest participants in the recent Commission Unto Mexico trip, sponsored annually by Southern Nazarene University. We have been involved in Work & Witness in Mexico for the past 25 years. SNU has sponsored 22 trips to Mexico, and I have been part of 18 of them. I have been a team leader many times. We have also traveled with other groups over the years to various parts of the country.
I have been privileged, over the years, to work in some locations which are very special in the history of the Church of the Nazarene. As an example, my very first Work & Witness experience was a trip to Coban, Guatemala, to work at the Indian Bible College. It is also the location of the very first “Alabaster” building, constructed in the late 1940s.
Just prior to the denomination’s centennial in Mexico, I had the honor of standing on the very spot where Nazarene missionaries from the San Diego Church of the Nazarene stepped from the train in Tonala, Chiapas, and decided to stay there instead of continuing on to Guatemala City.
Our participation with the SNU trips have all been adventures. We have worked in large cities and extremely rural villages. Groups have ranged in size from nearly 300 participants (plus our Mexican brothers and sisters) to around 100 people. We have spent the 10 days living in five star international hotels with meals to match. We have also spent some weeks in rooms in which, to our surprise, the dresser drawers had no bottoms in them and the AC and TV had no knobs on them. Sometimes there was hot water and sometimes not. In some of those cases the meals were not so fancy, either. In many cases there were no toilet seats, so we all learned to "hover."
Sometime along the way, we agreed that our grandchildren could accompany us when they reached their teen years. They had to pay their own way as their part of the arrangement. Some have traveled with us more than once and others have wished they could go again.
The first year, there were four of them with me. I knew that they would be calling “Grandpa” to get my attention, so I simply told all the young people on the team that they should call me Grandpa, as well.
When Laura Sylvester, the missionary, asked me how many grandchildren were with me, she said that it sounded like more than four because every time she turned around, someone was calling for Grandpa.
Grandpa in Spanish is Abuelo. I have been Abuelo to quite a few young Work & Witness participants, both Mexican and Anglo. One of the highlights of our December 2010 trip was on the last day, when we were saying our goodbyes. Two of the Anglo teen girls hugged me and said, “I love you, Abuelo.”
Unforgettable faces
We have met many special people while working in Mexico.
Yolanda Reyes was a middle-aged, single woman who learned that there were no living centers for retired pastors and their spouses. Most had no incomes and no homes. She prayed about that situation, and God instructed her to head up construction of such a retirement center. She had told God there was no way she could do that, because she was one woman with no money and no construction skills. She said that God told her people from another land would build the retirement center. so she should continue to pray.
We were the answer to her prayers, she said. SNU and other smaller groups took on the project of constructing the asylo or retirement home. We were privileged to work on that project several times and to see its first phase dedicated.
Up until that time, no one (except perhaps my wife) had ever told me I was the answer to their prayers!
'Family' around the world
About 16 years ago, we were scheduled to return to a suburb of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, to work. Karen had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, a type of Lymphoma. She was undergoing treatment for it and we decided that I should go ahead with the trip. I explained her situation to the Mexican congregation where we were worshiping and asked them to pray for her recovery. God took the cancer away from her body and she has been cancer free since. Praise His name!
When we returned to that same church a year later, they were still praying for her. I told the pastor that she had been healed and that she was with us in the service. When she stood and thanked them for their faithfulness in prayer, it was a “Hallelujah moment” in that little church. The pastor then talked to his congregation about the fact that prayers have no boundries.
When we took Communion with them, they used small jelly jars and a pitcher wrapped in foil to serve us. After the trip, we found a used Communion set with disposable cups, and accompanying items to ship to them. On a return trip, we participated in Communion with them using that set. Isn't God good?
In closing, Work & Witness is not about walls and doors. It’s about people and souls. I urge everyone who reads these words to find a way to participate!

Talk about it

  • What does Richard Wynn's story tell you about the value of physically going on a mission trip to another culture?
  • What are some of the values of developing personal relationships with members of our church in other world areas and cultures?
  • What are some benefits of having multiple generations participate in a mission trip?