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A Journey for Cruz de Cristo, Mahahual Mexico

image - Cruz de Cristo Mahahual Mexico
My journey to Mahahual, Mexico started in a most unexpected place…praying beside a stream on the Tibetan Plateau. While traveling to a remote school there for a documentary film project, my team became stranded for hours while the road in front of us was literally being finished. With no where to go, and no distractions, I sat and prayed more intently and peacefully than at any time in my life. I asked the Lord to provide an opportunity to travel and serve His Church in a similar manner. And this is how I found myself, two years later, making the four hour drive south of Cancun to Costa Maya Ministries in Mahahual.
image - pastor Mahahual Mexico I met up with Pastor Martin Valleskey at Iglesia Cruz de Cristo, Cross of Christ church, and we headed to Pulticub, a mission outpost in a fishing community 50 kilometers up the coast. As pavement gave way to dirt roads, and dirt roads to a sandy trail, I was struck by the effort that goes into the mission work here. This is Jesus’ Great Commission in living, breathing form. Over 5 million people live in the three Mexican states that make up the Yucatan Peninsula…Cruz de Cristo is the only Lutheran church there and is one of the few churches of any denomination functioning on a daily basis. While the preconception is that Mexicans are devote Catholics, the truth is, at least in this area, that most are unchurched or disconnected from their faith. As we dodge potholes that threaten to swallow our tires, we honestly don’t know if anyone will be waiting when we arrive. But faith comes by hearing, and with so few opportunities to do so, keeping these people connected to Word means making the drive. We are blessed to find two families for Bible study.
Upon returning to Mahahual, we meet a woman with a request. Her daughter is pregnant and needs to see a doctor, could they borrow Pastor’s car to get her there? Pastor agrees. The hospital is a half day’s drive away and he doesn’t know when the vehicle will return. It doesn’t seem to matter. If he can help, he does. Born to missionary parents in Africa, Pastor Valleskey’s heart lies in outreach. Lending his car, driving the extra kilometers, sharing his food or comforting words, if there is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, he does so without hesitation. He is self sufficient, thoughtful, humble, resolved…blessings that steel him as currently the only called worker on the ground in Mahahual. But he certainly is not alone in his efforts.
image - worship service - Mahahual MexicoDeb Blackburn, a North Carolinian by birth, is the local ministry coordinator for Costa Maya Ministries, a gracious woman whose energy is as boundless as her love for Christ. Working in mysterious ways, God used Hurricane Dean to help Deb meet Lynn and Jerry Zimpelmann and in turn bring Deb to faith. The Zimpelmanns, Wisconsin residents and missionaries in their own right, had nearly completed their dream retirement home on a beach near Mahahual when the Category 5 storm Dean pummeled the area. Needing a place to stay, Deb and her husband Hugh parked their RV on the Zimpelmann’s property and helped with the rebuild. The Zimpelmanns held Bible studies with Deb who in time came to faith, and the seeds of Costa Maya Ministries were planted. Mysterious ways indeed!
I joined Deb in picking up kids in the “Kilometer 55” neighborhood, a place of relative poverty. Standing outside the van as Deb honked the horn, I would hear the sound of feet pounding the ground as kids came running from all directions, eager for English lessons and art projects, for the soup kitchen and Bible study. Deb smiles as she mentions they had “37 kids in this van at one time.” The message is clear, the ground here is fertile for spreading the Word.
image - receiving communion - Mahahual MexicoA great deal of my time in Mahahual was spent interviewing members of the church, many in their native Spanish. Working with Pastor to translate my questions, we asked them to share their story of faith. While I have some understanding of Spanish, I’m far from fluent. However, their physical responses bridged the language barrier in a way that mere words could not. Unbridled joy shown on their faces and through their body language as they spoke about the power of the Gospel coming into their lives. As someone blessed to be raised in a Christian household from birth, “hearing” this testimony was rare, raw and inspiring.
image - talking with children - Mahahual MexicoSunday morning comes and Iglesia Cruz de Cristo is abuzz with activity. Children set up chairs. Volunteers from the States make new acquaintances. Kids pour in from the vans outside. The service begins and songs of praise echo into “Casitas” or “little houses” neighborhood where the church resides. Yallo, a man with a weathered face and eyes of deep compassion, stands to read a scripture lesson, sharing the Word with his fellow Mexicans. This is critical. The mission, built by the tireless efforts of Jerry Zimpelmann and countless volunteers, now needs the people it serves to take ownership, to make it their church, to spread the joy they’ve found whenever they go. Watching Yallo as he read, face beaming with pride, there is no doubt strong roots are taking hold.
I think often of our brothers and sisters in Mahahual, of Yallo, Don Santos, Pedro, Balta, Ruby, Miguel and Remedios, of Deb Blackburn and Pastor Valleskey, of the volunteers who so gracious give their time both here in the United States and in Mexico in support of the mission. I pray for the Lord’s continued blessings, but far to often, I need to remind myself to refold my hands and pray not only for this mission, but for those through the world. Places like Mahahual are indeed the “ends of the earth” where people have not heard of Jesus. They all need our prayers, I ask that you join me in remembering them in yours as well.
The mission in Mahahual was self-started. It hasn’t received any synod funding and is flourishing by the support and donations of volunteers. You can learn more at This year Crown of Life School’s Friday morning Matins’ offering will be going to support the mission in Mahahual. If you are interested in supporting this mission as well, please contact Pastor Pudlo at 651-451-3832 or

Cultivating Seeds

If you’ve ever been to the Eagan campus on a Sunday morning, chances are good you’ve seen Darrell and Liz Isebrand. They have been staples at Crown of Life for the past 4 years, and for 30 plus years at Beautiful Savior before the merger. Darrell has always been one who is good about introducing himself and making guests feel welcome. But what you see on Sunday morning only scratches the surface of the work of this “farmer at heart”.
Darrell describes himself this way, “Gardening has been a part of our family’s history for over 40 years as I was raised on a farm in Iowa in the 50’s & 60’s.” That gardening is still a huge part of his life. Darrell and Liz’s backyard is pretty much entirely garden. “Our garden is about 50’ x 70’ with a large variety of veggies and fruits.”
Every year Darrell spends countless hours cultivating this massive garden. Why? It’s a passion. “Gardening for me is a good form of exercise. It brings me back to the basics of planting seeds and taking care of the new plants. Each seed or plant is like a little miracle.” The produce also gets put to good use. Darrell says, “A good amount of the garden produce is given to the food shelf in Crown of Life’s name. Of course, family, friends and neighbors also get to enjoy the blessings of the garden.” Darrell has made a name for himself at The Open Door, a food shelf dedicated to offering healthy food options to those in need. Several times/year The Open Door sends a thank you card to the members of Crown of Life for the donations of fresh produce.
While this is a passion of Darrell’s, it is only part of the reason why he gardens. Darrell goes on, “There are numerous examples in the Bible using seeds and plants as a comparison to believers and unbelievers. Ultimately God grows the plants. I just take care of them. Gardening is a lot of work but is very rewarding and the quality of the food is great.” It’s this reminder that leads Darrell to also spend time not just in the garden in his back yard, but also in the garden of Eagan (pun intended). There are plenty of souls in Eagan who need care and the water of God’s word. That’s why Darrell also makes regular visits to people who have recently moved into the Eagan area. He visits them after Crown of Life sends them a welcoming postcard in order to welcome them to the area and encourage them to check out Crown of Life if they haven’t found a church home yet.
At his core, Darrell is a gardener. But the garden in his backyard only scratches the surface of the kind of gardening he does.
If you have any interest in making visits to people who have recently moved in to Eagan or West St. Paul in order to welcome them to the area and encourage them to check out Crown of Life, contact Pastor Pudlo. We’re always looking for more ways to reach our community.