‘This transition has been an emotional experience for me. We’ve worked
hard to make this happen. Today is really a good, good moment.
It is the right time to do this.’—Oklahoma VIM Director Jeremy Basset
By Nyla Wallin and Holly McCray
Mabel and Elizabeth had a deep passion for the poor in the place they called home: Rio Bravo, Mexico. They found a group of Oklahomans who shared their desire to make a difference. The two women teamed with United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (VIM) to serve there, building concrete-block houses, operating medical clinics, and teaching children about the Bible.
That was about 15 years ago. Thus began the ministry now named Manos Juntas Mexico.
In ceremonies on Dec. 2, administration of the ministry was formally transferred from Oklahoma Conference VIM to the Eastern Conference of The Mexico Methodist Church. VIM teams and individual volunteers are continuing the work, which now is directed by Mexican officials and staff.
The action signifies trust in a relationship that bridges the U.S.-Mexico border, said Bishop Raul Garcia of the Eastern Conference, Mexico Methodist Church, speaking in Rio Bravo on that historic day.
"We are very conscious that we are to respond before the Lord the same way the Americans have developed this ministry," he told the audience that included a delegation from Oklahoma.
"Throughout the years, by the love of Jesus in our hearts, we have experienced that human beings can build bridges anywhere instead of building walls. It is beautiful to recognize we are one Body. We complement each other; we are all doing the work of the Lord."
Garcia said the Eastern Conference in July approved the new relationship established by the administrative change. On behalf of the two Conferences, he and Oklahoma Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. signed a "Covenant of Shared Ministry" during the Dec. 2 events.
Willie Berman succeeds U.S. missionary Marsha Alexander as director of Manos Juntas. "We want to work with the teams in a way that will make the work more efficient and less expensive," Berman said. He referred to resources of the Mexican government that are available to the Mexican Methodists.
Rev. Alexander, whose hometown is Chickasha, Okla., said, "Over these five years I have been here, we have strengthened the partnership so that some day this could happen, this could be their ministry. Who knows these people better than they do?
"The vital part of this ministry is that people who come as VIM to share the love of Christ are making a difference—and will continue to make a difference."
According to the Oklahoma VIM office, an average of 100 teams—about 2,000 people—served annually at Manos Juntas during 2006-08. A total of 28 teams already have registered for 2010.
Christian neighborliness was underscored by both Bishop Hayes and Jeremy Basset, VIM director in Oklahoma.
Hayes recited the two commandments named by Jesus as most important: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. People in Oklahoma and Rio Bravo turned first to God to bless the mission 15 years ago, to express Christian love for their neighbors, and thus the ministry endures today, he said.
Mexico is our neighbor, and Jesus has very clear things to say about our neighbor. Ministry does not just flow north to south," Rev. Basset said. "We’re so much stronger, both sides, having grown through this journey together. The shared covenant we are entering into today is a recognition of that reality."
He said Manos Juntas is sufficiently designed and staffed without burdening either Conference, as long as commitment is strong to authentic ministry together. He predicted growth is possible, too.
The Mexican administrators told of some future plans. "We are going to increase our area of coverage, going farther into Mexico," said Julian Otero, who oversees operations and team scheduling. "I believe the heart of God beats most with the poor and the destitute."
Construction coordinator Jorge Chacon said improving church buildings is another need.
Bishop Garcia reported a meeting the previous day with a Mexican group that also wants to organize and send volunteers.
At the covenant-signing ceremony, Bishop Hayes presented a gift of $3,025 from Oklahoma Conference to the ministry. Sounds of construction mingled with the voices of the speakers.
"I am thrilled that we see new dreams and new visions of what can happen under this leadership," Hayes said later. "For the first time, I am on site. I can only imagine who has come here and given themselves unselfishly for the cause of the Kingdom of God."
Morgan Green of Oklahoma City has led VIM teams from OKC-Chapel Hill church.
"We started by bringing medical teams. We have a dentist who has been a participant from Day One," Green said. "He first started pulling teeth (using) a folding chair tilted back to a window. We believe in this ministry. We come twice a year."
Construction projects especially draw Green. "You can bring a team down here and, in two days, they can go from a slab to a home, give that home to a family here, and raise their level of living."
A park, built by VIM teams, also was dedicated on Dec. 2, and management of it was transferred to the Rio Bravo municipality. Green said a Chapel Hill member helped secure a $10,000 Petree grant to launch that project.
President Bill Junk of the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation said several endowment funds, invested through the Foundation, support VIM teams and purchase medicine for the clinics.
"A large contingent of folks in Oklahoma have built buildings and contributed to the medical work," Junk said. "Those people know how important it is for this ministry to happen, no matter who owns it. I think the endowments will continue to support this ministry well into the future. What makes the Foundation work is matching up people’s passions with resources."
Bishop Garcia honored the Oklahomans who "heard the voice of God, like in the Macedonian call to come and help. Thank you for working so hard for so long. You have done all this unselfishly. It has cost you a lot to establish this; the investment has been high."
He said lives have been renewed because of the VIM effort. "Take back to your Conference our hand and our heart, our respect and our love. The seed that you planted is giving fruit, much fruit. We thank you for this confidence in the Mexican Conference to pass on the administration of this. We are going to be responsible, in the name of the Lord."
Initial information about volunteering is available by contacting Kristin Terrell-Wilkes in the Oklahoma VIM office, firstname.lastname@example.org, 405-530-2029, 800-231-4166 ext. 2029. Web site is www.okvim.org.