For nearly fifteen years, Coats Baptist has longed to engage an unreached people group (UPG) with the gospel. Our desire has always been to take the gospel to those who have never heard (Rom. 10:14-15). I want to take this blog post space to generally share our recent missional involvement in Mexico. You can look forward to a more in-depth and in-person report of this material by our missions leadership. Until then, allow what is below to get us started.
In 2018 our pastoral leadership requested that two members of our church (Bradley Wilkie and Jimmy Newkirk) attend a missions conference of the International Mission Board to discover opportunities among unreached peoples. There they met missionaries Doug and Dana Roberts, then serving in Puebla, Mexico. Part of their work was with the Nahuatl people group living outside the city on the slopes of the dormant volcano Mount La Malinche.
We then learned of Nick Smith, the Southeastern Seminary graduate and pastor of Mission Baptist in Burgaw, NC. For several years, Nick had led small teams from his church to engage the Nahuatl people with the gospel and build relationships of grace among them. He was looking for help, perhaps from someone like us.
A multi-month conversation ensued between all three parties (the Roberts, Nick Smith, and our leadership), which led to our church sending a small team to visit Doug and Dana in Mexico and witness their work among the Nahuatl. Accompanied by Nick Smith our team included: Jimmy Newkirk, Bradley Wilkie, Katie Budd and Carrie Martin. That was 2019.
Then 2020 happened. We prayed. We talked. We planned.
Fast forward into 2021, our church returned to the mountain. Earlier this month our church sent a second team, Bradley Wilkie, Michele Barden and myself, once again accompanied by Nick Smith. The goal for our trip was simple: to corroborate the reported findings of the previous 2019 team, while advancing our knowledge and assessment of the mission. I can tell you that I am very thankful for the work of Nick Smith and the 2019 team.
What do we know thus far?
1. The Nahuatl are an unreached people.
The “unreached” (or UPG) nomenclature should be distinguished from “uncontacted” or “unengaged.” There are such people throughout the world with “UUPG” and “UUUPG” designations. In short, uncontacted is just that. Our knowledge of them is our only relationship to them. Think, the Amazon River basin. The unengaged are those people who have a Christian among them, but are without a church or a plan for further evangelization. The unreached, such as the Nahuatl, are those people with Christians among them, with a plan to reach the remaining, yet the mission is not accomplished. (Footnote: The Nahuatl people are dispersed throughout Mexico, similar to how people from France live in multiple US cities. We, however, are concentrating on this particular group of Nahuatl outside Puebla to the northeast.)
2. The mission is Healthy Church Formation.
To understand the mission, an adequate grasp of the Missionary Task is vital. The missionary task is a six-step process by which people groups are engaged and churches are planted. The six steps are: Entry, Evangelism, Discipleship, Healthy Church Formation, Leadership Development, Exit. You can read about the Missionary Task on pages 73-102 of this IMB training document, Foundations.
As this particular population of Nahuatl people have been evangelized, disciples of Jesus Christ have risen among them. The small number of disciples are now regularly meeting together on Sundays for what can be considered an infant church start. They have named functional pastoral leadership and are beginning to observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, that is the extent of their ecclesiology. Components of church polity such as a plurality of elders and deacons, covenant church membership, etc. are still beyond their reach of their knowledge and training.
Although evangelism and discipleship are still critical works to be done, the mission has advanced to a point of forming a healthy church. Our mission, therefore, is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) so that the Nahuatl Christians can make disciples of their own people.
But this calls us to remember the pressing need for us to be equipped in the missionary task. We ourselves must know how to share the gospel (Evangelism), study the Bible (Discipleship), serve the church (Healthy Church Formation), and send the trained/support the mission (Leadership Development). Only then are we truly a Great Commission Church poised to multiply ourselves both near and far. And that is very exciting. To God be the glory.
3. We have current partnerships.
Should we progress in this mission, we can think of current partners in three categories:
- Those on the ground: IMB missionaries Tim and Becky Lightsey currently reside in Puebla, Mexico and have direct access to the Nahuatl people. Serving in part as an in-country liaison, they are great assets for both research and strategy as well as host/chaperones to mission teams.
- Those in US churches: Mission Baptist and pastor Nick Smith are the sole US church currently at work among this people. There have been churches in the past, and others who have shown recent interest, but CBC and Mission Baptist are the only two churches to visit the mountains in recent years.
- Those at the IMB: Doug and Dana Roberts are now in Richmond, VA working for the IMB. They specialize in church partnerships, which makes them a unique asset for us, one with which there is relational history and knowledge of the Nahuatl people.
Our missions and pastoral leadership will be following up with each of our partners in the coming weeks. In particular, we will be meeting with pastor Nick Smith to sketch the parameters of a potential partnership for our two local churches. For example, if Coats Baptist was to accept this mission — what would that require of Coats Baptist in relation to Mission Baptist? At the same time, we will work hard to understand a more holistic picture of this mission from the perspective of the IMB and our missionaries in Mexico.
Once this work is complete, those leaders will report this information to our congregation as a whole. Our leadership wants the church to know what they know. At the same time, we do not want to raise questions that we cannot answer. We need time, but not much time, to pull together an adequate report.
Until then, let me encourage you to pray for the Nahuatl people and those who engage them. At the same time, lean into the missionary task. Begin thinking and learning in the categories of Evangelism, Discipleship, Healthy Church Formation, and Leadership Development. These are the key components of our strategy to effectively make and multiply disciples, near and far.
If you have any particular questions about our potential involvement in Mexico, let me encourage you to email Bradley Wilkie at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you as we prepare our forthcoming report.