A mountaintop minus the grandeur
Ramshackle tin shanties jostled each other along rutted dirt lanes up and down the mountainside — if one could really call them mountains. Mountains speak of grandeur and stability, but the “mountains” of this neighborhood were built on the trash of those more fortunate.
Stability was lacking in this poverty-stricken region of Mexico, where many families struggled to provide for their basic needs. These struggles were compounded by the drug trade that brought havoc to the lives it invaded. Few were left unaffected.
Inside one of those small tin shanties, within this community, sat a young woman. Rain pummeled the tin roof above her, but the sounds were lost on her. Droplets seeped through several leaks in the roof and fell to the ground beside her. They went unnoticed. Her mind was elsewhere.
Sitting in the middle of the room with her eyes closed, Amelia Orrostieta thought back on her childhood. While her father flitted in and out of their lives as poor life choices landed him in prison time and time again, her mother worked long hours, juggling multiple jobs to provide for Amelia and her two younger siblings.
Life wasn’t always easy, but despite the hardships there were many good memories.
Tears welled in Amelia’s eyes as she pondered the faithfulness of God in not only her life, but in that of her younger siblings. It was on this mountain with no grandeur that time and time again God had proven His faithfulness and His grandeur.
But she hadn’t always understood that.
An invitation to hope
A “chance” invitation landed 14-year-old Amelia at a three-day youth camp. It wasn’t the message that first caught her attention. It was seeing God in the lives of the youths she encountered that stirred hope in her aching soul. There was something different about them, and whatever it was that they had, Amelia wanted it. She sat up and listened.
They spoke of a God who loved her as a person and paid the price for her sins. This was so different from her idea of a distant god who demanded her good works.
“In that moment,” Amelia remembers, “I knew I wanted and needed to receive the love of God. … I confessed that I needed God’s forgiveness for my sins, and I trusted in His message of salvation.”
But her new life on the inside didn’t keep life from happening on the outside.
Mere months after Amelia stood and confessed Jesus Christ as Savior, a sudden illness took Amelia’s mother prematurely from the lives of her children. She became ill one day — and the next day was dead.
Amelia found herself motherless, practically fatherless, and with two younger siblings to raise. But she knew God was faithful. “I took all my problems to God in prayer,” Amelia said. “And He filled me with His peace.”
It was then that God brought Amelia’s father back into their lives. Although her father had many problems of his own, God was going to use him to get Amelia exactly where she needed to be.
Amelia tells how her father moved them to a different neighborhood. Once there, “I continued to go to the same church, but it was far,” Amelia said. “My father didn’t want me going that far … so he took me looking around the new neighborhood for a church.”
This was a man who wouldn’t think of stepping foot inside an evangelical church. And he helped her find one. An evangelical, missions-minded church started by American missionary Rick Johnson.
This was the church God would use to change Amelia’s life.
God’s plans are bigger than we can imagine
Time passed, Amelia continued to grow in the things of the Lord, and her church kept missions front and center.
“Rick Johnson had a heart for missions,” Amelia recounts. “He showed us videos like Ee-taow! and exposed us to many aspects of missionary life.” His passion for missions infused the very fibers of the young church.
They corresponded with and prayed for missionaries. They went on mission trips within Mexico and beyond with Rick, and his wife, Eunie. When they saw needs in missions, this struggling church in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Mexico collected money to meet the needs. They lived and breathed missions. These were the men and women who mentored young Amelia and her siblings.
And then God Himself impressed missions on this young woman’s heart.
“I was on my way home from work,” Amelia remembers. “I was talking with God. It wasn’t an audible voice, but I thought I heard God saying He wanted me to be a missionary. So I asked Him, ‘God, do you want me to be a missionary?’”
Amelia knew in her heart the answer was yes. Still, she remembered an Old Testament principle that though children can make promises to God, their earthly father can say yes or no. She wanted her father’s approval.
“God, if You want me to, I’ll serve You. But if You want me to serve You, You’ll have to open the heart of my father.” Amelia admits, “But I never thought my dad would let me go.”
Then the unexpected answer came. He said, “Yes.”
Now what? She had no idea how to become a missionary. Her thoughts went something like, “I’ll get my suitcase, pack a few things along with my Bible and go.”
The unknowns outweighed the knowns. But by faith, Amelia said “Yes!” to God. She said “Yes!” to a magnitude of unknowns, confident that the one great known in her life, her Heavenly Father, was in control.
But it wasn’t only she and her dad who had to say yes.
Amelia reunited with her father.
Amelia’s church gets involved
“I knew my church needed to be involved in this, but I didn’t understand how they would be the ones sending me and supporting me, praying for me and everything,” Amelia recounts. She wasn’t sure how it was all supposed to work.
Neither did they. They were well grounded, well taught, and already a church with a passion for missions — but they had never sent anyone out before.
“What does that mean? What’s implied in that she wants to be a missionary? What do we do? Where do we start? How do we help her do that?” the church leadership asked missionary Rick Johnson.
And then they prayed.
For one year Amelia and the church leadership prayed for God’s will to be clearly known. As the year came to a close, the leadership asked Amelia again, “Are you sure you’re interested in missions?” Her answer had not changed.
Rick researched the cost for Amelia to receive training through the NTM missionary training program in Chihuahua, Mexico — and then took his findings to the church leadership.
“When we got together again,” Rick said, “we put all the numbers out on the table and some of them were quite astounded. It was huge for them. It was really, really giant.”
“This involves a lot of time and a lot of money!” Antonio reiterated as the meeting came to a close. “It is more than we have. For us, it is impossible.”
But Antonio wasn’t suggesting they give up. Over the years, the church had been taught that the work of the Lord is not dependent on the economy. So it didn’t matter that they were a church with limited resources. It only mattered that they obeyed. And in that moment, facing the financial hurdle of supporting Amelia, this understanding held them firm.
Below: Pastor José Barboza holding the offering box designated for funds to support Amelia. After all these years, the church continues to support Amelia 100 percent.
Antonio concluded, “We need to pray fervently and figure out how we can do this.”
The leadership agreed. They never said, “That’s too much. We can’t do that.” Their response was more along the lines of, “Wow! How are we going to do that?”
Rick remembers, “They still weren’t sure how they were going to do it, but they were excited to be a part of what God would do through Amelia.”
And so the journey began. A journey not limited to Amelia, but one that extended to her church family. She applied to NTM in Chihuahua and received an acceptance letter, but just as she was about to purchase tickets, the unthinkable happened.
Closed door becomes a speed bump
Amelia’s father ended up back in prison. And this changed everything.
With no warning, 18-year-old Amelia was once again the guardian of her younger siblings aged 8 and 10 — and taking them with her was not an option.
Her church family put forth a valiant effort to make it work, even offering to take her siblings into their homes and families so that she could go. But as Amelia corresponded with her father, it became clear that his consent hinged on her taking her brother and sister with her. And there was wisdom in keeping the family together.
“It was like God was doing miracle after miracle,” Amelia remembers. “Door after door was opening — and then ‘Boom!’ The door was closed. … The beautiful part was that I really felt at peace. I really could say, ‘OK, Lord, You are in control. … If You open the door, or if You close the door on me, I am content with what You want.’”
With no sign of the door reopening, but still trusting in God, Amelia arrived at church early one evening. Her siblings wouldn’t be able to go with her to the Bible Institute, which meant she couldn’t go. The church leadership needed to be told.
They still weren’t sure how they were going to do it, but they were excited to be a part of what God would do through Amelia. Pastor Jose Barboza with missionary Rick Johnson.
They met her at the door. “It’s good you came early, Amelia, because we need to talk with you.”
“I came early because I need to talk to you,” Amelia responded. “But you first.”
So they sat down and the leadership explained how they discussed her unusual circumstances with the directors of the Bible Institute, asking if an exception could be made. The response they received was, “We’ve prayed about it. Tell Amelia to come and bring her siblings with her.”
Amelia was stunned — and uncharacteristically speechless. She sat there with her mouth open, staring into space, oblivious to the men asking her questions. She was completely lost in the wonder of what God had done for her.
A team is born
Following four years of training with NTM came the task of putting together a team. Eventually, an all-Mexican team consisting of three singles — Amelia, Miguel and Gricelda — and one couple was established among the Triqui people of San Quintín in Baja California, Mexico.
One of Amelia’s co-workers, Miguel Pena.
By then Amelia’s brother and sister were teenagers, settled into school and life, and God miraculously worked out the details for them to continue studying where they were. God was moving Amelia into missions, and He hadn’t forgotten her younger two siblings.
Now her new life as a missionary began in earnest. But there were some bumps in the road ahead.
The language of the Triqui people proved to be a complicated tonal language. To put it into perspective, while Thai and Chinese are considered difficult to learn because they each have five tones, this dialect of Triqui has eight. It wasn’t going to be a quick study to fluency. But they persevered.
Then another jarring bump. Due to life circumstances, the couple needed to leave the Triqui work. It could have been a crippling and devastating turn in the road for the team. But by faith, the three single missionaries moved forward.
Amelia continued on with the translation of the Bible. Miguel took over translating the foundational Bible lessons, preparing for the day when teaching would begin. And Gricelda plugged away on the literacy booklets, recognizing that readers of the tribal language are crucial to an “independent-of-the-missionaries” maturing church.
They were a unified team.
Gricelda Villalba on left working on literacy booklets with a Triqui woman.
The Triqui people wait expectantly
“In the beginning I had a lot of fear of translating God’s Word,” Amelia shared. “I didn’t want to risk changing something. … But now that I’m in the process of translating, it’s beautiful.”
Even more beautiful to Amelia is “how ready the Triqui people are to receive God’s Word. The reason the gospel hasn’t been shared here is because we, the missionaries, aren’t ready. We don’t have the lessons ready, or the translation.
But the people are ready. … I see God is preparing them to receive the gospel.”
Amelia’s pastor, José Barboza, summed it up well. “We can say it’s a long process, but really the time passes so rapidly. Now the Triqui are almost at the door to hear and listen to God’s Word in their own language.”
What blessings are we missing out on?
What if Amelia hadn’t said yes to God and missions? What if her church had said they were too poor to take on such a responsibility? And what if the Triqui team had given up in discouragement? Would the Triqui still be “almost at the door”?
For sure, Amelia would have missed seeing the amazing things God could do on her behalf. Her church wouldn’t have seen God multiply their sacrificial offerings to support her. And the mission team would have missed falling in love with the Triqui people — and the future privilege of sharing the gospel with them. Of course, God would have found other willing vessels — and someone else would have reaped the blessings.
Below: Living and serving among the Triqui people of Baja California, Mexico.
What about you? Is there anything in your life that you’re missing out on? Perhaps you’re feeling fearful of the unknown. Maybe you’re wondering how a yes response to His nudges will change your world.
Or maybe you’re feeling like God is asking too much and you’re not ready to step off the mountain. But what if that mountain you’re standing on, unwilling to leave, is really just a pile of trash? And out there, on the horizon, is something truly marvelous that God has for you? Your journey, like Amelia’s, starts with a “Yes.”