By Paige Ann Miller
At a Charge Conference in 2012, four United Methodist congregations came together for what seemed to be another routine meeting. It was, for many in the sanctuary of Avery’s Creek United Methodist Church, a reunion. Two of our churches had sent members to Costa Rica on a District mission trip two months prior. That short-term mission trip had lit a long-term fire in their hearts, and they came to the meeting with a burning question: With so many Hispanic and Latino people living right next door, can our next “international mission trip” happen right here at home?
That very night, Skyland United Methodist Church tentatively offered a vacant house on its property as a possible mission house. Mills River, Fletcher, Skyland, and Avery’s Creek United Methodist Churches entered a time of prayer and dreaming and planning. Three years and one additional church (new church plant, DNA) later, Casa Azul, or the Blue House, is a reality.
Casa Azul is not a church. It is a connectional, cooperative ministry of the North Henderson-South Buncombe Missional Network designed to connect our predominantly English-speaking congregations with our Spanish-speaking neighbors in a way that will draw all of us closer to Christ.
In order to achieve this goal, we first needed to bring native Spanish speakers with a heart for ministry onto our team. In September of 2014, Ramon and Rosa Nazario filled that need as they packed up and moved to Asheville to begin ministry. They moved that fall in spite of the fact that we were still renovating the house. They lived out of suitcases until this past spring, when our cooperative and extensive renovation project was completed and they final settled in.
Today, Ramon and Rosa, both certified Lay Missioners in the United Methodist Church, are at work in the communities we five churches call home. They host a Bible study in their living room on Thursday evenings, and at this time participants include individuals from Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Argentina. They range in age from three-years old to octogenarians.
During the rest of the week, Rosa and Ramon are in the community – partnering with a local elementary school, assisting with a summer feeding program, praying with residents in a trailer park near their home, and spreading the Good News of Christ in a local dialysis center where Rosa takes regular treatments. (Her health has not been good for years, but she has faced serious health challenges since moving to North Carolina.)
As confident as we are that God has gone before and behind this ministry, as apparent as the grace has been, we confess it has been a massive and at times uncomfortable leap of faith. We need each other more than most connectional and missional networks do. We cannot succeed in realizing what we believe to be God’s vision for this ministry without the support – spiritual, physical, and financial support – of all of our partner churches. This has been both a challenge and a blessing as we learn to pull together as a team and as we strive to create a ministry that is “itinerancy-proof,” meaning it will long outlast the tenure of the elders in our connection. We are grateful for and dependent upon the ties that bind, the primary tie being our faith in and love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ramon shared in a recent ministry report, “We give thanks to God for blessings and also for challenges. That which at first seemed impossible, today is a reality, thanks be to God. God has blessed us, and we are beginning to move forward, step by step; and we are beginning to see the fruits of what the future holds for this place that will be a refuge where Hispanic people can establish a relationship with God.”
Can our next “international mission trip” happen right here at home? By God’s grace, that answer is yes. Thanks be to God, indeed!
Paige Ann Miller is an Associate Pastor at Mills River UMC and the conference convener for Hispanic/Latino Ministries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.