I walked into my Mexican home and collapsed on the couch. Through tears, I exclaimed to my host dad, “I wish I had never come to Mexico. This was a terrible decision.” He sat down on the couch, put his arm around me and calmly said, “I am sorry you are so disappointed.” We stayed on the couch for a couple of moments as he wrapped me in a hug and added, “Everything will work out.” In this moment, I realized that even though I was a missionary sent to accompany people in Mexico, the people I’ve met have accompanied me just as much, if not more, than I them. My host dad showed me the love that I needed.

ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) is a program where individuals ages 21-29 immerse themselves in a foreign country for a year. We live in a community where we do not blend in and share experiences and culture with people we have not previously known. We learn to see life through a new perspective and connect with people in a different way. We practice “accompaniment” in our calls. YAGM staff instruct us not to try and change anything about our host communities. What I’ve noticed is that having no expectation of change has brought about great transformation in both the communities we inhabit and the people we are.

I was called to serve at the Mexican Association of Rural and Urban Transformation (AMEXTRA), a nonprofit organization in Mexico City that receives financial support from the ELCA and YAGM volunteers like me. I work in the AMEXTRA office and visit some of our communities to work on zonal transformation.

I visited Tultitlán in Mexico State, where we facilitated a children’s fair with a local congregation. There families live in homes made of cardboard and metal sheets. Seeing the smiling faces of children who live in impoverished conditions has strengthened my faith, hope and love in Christian community and transformation. Another day I found myself in Ajusco, a poor zone of Mexico City, where we gave free financial counseling to parents and taught boys and girls how to save and spend responsibly.

At AMEXTRA, we focus on spiritual renewal. We have Bible reflections every Tuesday and instill the same spiritual values in the communities that we support. The organization taught me a phrase that we live by: “We do not serve because we are transformed, but we are transformed when we serve.” Seeing AMEXTRA’s work has shown me how much good one organization, or one person, can do for their community. Serving at AMEXTRA has instilled a hope in me that things are changing for the better.

Living in Mexico has been challenging and exhilarating at the same time. There have been days when I ask myself, “What am I doing here?” and others when I am so happy that I am here. My year in Mexico has challenged me in my identity as a United States American and as a Christian. It has taught me that accompanying is about giving and receiving, about sharing Jesus’s ministry and growing together in Christ.

Justin Marx
Justin Marx is an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer serving in Mexico in 2017.

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