Although COVID-19 has shut down the city of San Pedro, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Mexico, the Body of Christ there is alive and well. A recent missions team from The Point, a church in Charlottesville, Virginia, had the amazing opportunity to witness the growing church first-hand, right before the crisis hit.
Brian Mullins, Advancing Native Missions’ director of church mobilization, led a team from The Point on a week-long trip to visit Stephen and Marcela Tolman’s branch of Seedtime and Harvest Ministries in San Pedro, Mexico. According to Brian, Stephen is a humble leader who involves his whole church in the work of the ministry. He trains, encourages, and then sends out the people of his church to work for the Lord. He serves by equipping others to serve.
This was The Point’s second trip to San Pedro since October. Those who had gone on the previous trip were excited to see the progress that had been made on the two-story building that they had helped erect. In addition to housing Sunday school classes and missionary training programs, the structure will host an English school, a middle school, and offices for the sports ministry. In the last six months, exterior siding had been hung and electricity connected in the two rooms on each floor.
During this trip, The Point team installed insulation throughout the entire building. They painted the exterior and installed drywall on the first floor, taping and sealing joints with mud. As the team worked, men and women from Seedtime and Harvest’s church in San Pedro were working alongside them, learning to install insulation and sheetrock. This enabled them to continue the work independently after the team left.
Stephen and Marcela’s sisters, who work for the ministry, live on the property. Their humble practice is to channel all incoming funds to the missionaries and ministry needs. As a result, their own houses have been neglected and become run down. While in San Pedro, the team from The Point helped spruce up their homes by painting the exteriors. One skilled painter fixed other problems to improve the buildings’ appearance. A kitchen that had not been painted in 15 years got a facelift. Now the whole property looks more inviting to visitors as well as its residents.
Two team members from The Point participated in a Bible study that Stephen leads in a local factory two or three times a week. Since Stephen initiated the program, the factory owner began noticing less absenteeism and greater productivity, so he asked for more Bible studies. Now other factories are asking Stephen to teach at their facilities. Stephen is also offering Celebrate Recovery, a support group and Bible study, to factory workers at night. One worker was amazed to hear a story of God’s deliverance similar to his own. The team’s open sharing has allowed the factory workers to be more open about their struggles and needs.
The Point team joined in the small group discussions that Stephen and Marcela’s church started during Wednesday night services. Instead of meeting as a large congregation, the people divide into groups for younger and older teens, men, and women. Stephen has been very pleased with the huge impact of this more focused approach, as individuals have started opening up to their groups. On Friday, the team set up a Q&A panel for a special youth night. About 40 young people attended, from 15 to 20 years of age, and they asked some tough questions. They were honest with their concerns, struggles, and doubts. The team members, amazed at the depth and honesty of the questions, were challenged to offer biblical answers.
One of the thriving ministries that The Point team observed was Saved by Soccer, a sports ministry run by Stephen’s son, Peter, and his colleague Paco. They have developed highly skilled teams of teenage players and now organize tournaments and competitions nationwide. Some players go on to play nationally. Most importantly, Peter and Paco share the love of Jesus with them, while they are on their way to becoming skilled athletes.
Touching Individual Lives
Jesús, one of the students in Seedtime and Harvest’s English school in San Pedro, was excited to see the team members he had met six months ago. He was eager to talk with them and practice his English. Though clean-cut, personable, and on the Honor Roll, Jesús does not yet know Christ as his Savior. The staff and students at the English school are loving him and pointing him to the Lord daily.
Another connection that The Point team made was with a recovering drug addict who had arrived at the ministry’s recovery home just a week earlier. Mexican drug cartels have prohibited recovery homes across the country, but Seedtime and Harvest Ministries acted in faith and opened one anyway in San Pedro. The young man who had only been there for a week translated for the team as they ministered at the recovery home. He was born in Arizona to illegal aliens and was living in Washington state with his wife and two children when he got into drugs. After his wife left him and he was deported to Mexico, he ended up at the recovery house, trying to find his way back to the Lord. God used him mightily to translate for the team, blessing him with messages of salvation from the Bible studies and with other opportunities to hear the team members’ testimonies.
Responding to the Crisis
Stephen Tolman says that when the U.S. sneezes, Mexico gets a cold. Several weeks after The Point team returned to Charlottesville, they were saddened to hear that COVID-19 had hit San Pedro. Hospitals there are overwhelmed. Many doctors, nurses, and orderlies have been infected with the virus. In the absence of healthcare workers, Christians from Seedtime and Harvest have been going out to take care of the sick. Thankfully, God is protecting them from infection.
As people in San Pedro go door to door begging for food, Stephen and Marcela’s ministry is doing what it can to help. One pastor came to them, fearful and weeping. He had no money, no food, and no hope. Stephen invited him in and fed him. Then he and his family held a worship service with him. As the pastor began to focus on worshiping God, his tears dried up, the grimace of fear left his face, and he felt encouraged to trust the Lord again.
In spite of the current situation in Mexico, Stephen made himself available to minister to pastors in the US in a recent online video conference. He shared three ways to conquer fear: 1) acknowledge that God is the Lord and there is no one greater than Him, 2) praise and worship God, and 3) love others unconditionally because perfect love casts out fear. Stephen is a wonderful example of the success that comes from these practices, offering hope and encouragement to the pastors by webinar. The team from The Point was encouraged to know that even though most normal ministry has shut down, Stephen and Marcela are finding new ways to reach out with the love of Jesus in San Pedro.