Planting Seeds for Ongoing Mission
How did a couple born and raised in Mexico City end up ready to serve as missionaries with Resonate Global Mission in Belgium? The answer is found at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) and in a generous congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Carmen Bautista grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Mexico City, but she came to know the Lord in a deeper way as a young teenager through the ministry of a Presbyterian Reformed church. She quickly became involved with the congregation’s youth ministry, where she also had the opportunity to meet a number of missionaries serving in Mexico City, including Bill and Laura Van Tol from CRCNA World Missions (now part of Resonate Global Mission).
When Carmen began to feel the Holy Spirit’s tug inviting her to serve in ministry, the Van Tols suggested that she could study at CTS. Carmen said she couldn’t imagine pursuing such a big dream, though. For one thing, she didn’t feel that her English-language skills were very proficient. And the financial hurdle of attending a U.S. seminary seemed totally insurmountable. Then God stepped in.
The Van Tols were preparing to retire, and they introduced Carmen to David and Bianca Gifford, who were arriving to serve in their place. David had connections with Cascade Fellowship CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., and he reached out to them to see if there might be a way they could help. As the leaders of the congregation listened to Carmen's story, they became convinced that God was not only calling her to ministry but also calling them to support her in her journey.
A family from Cascade Fellowship offered accommodations and the use of a vehicle to Carmen, and the church’s deacons offered her financial support toward tuition and living expenses. Suddenly Carmen’s “big dream” became a reality.
Carmen began taking classes in summer 2008, and she graduated from CTS in May 2010 with a master’s degree in youth and family ministry. Carmen said that her experience at CTS was absolutely life changing – so much so that she now refers to her “pre-” and her “post-Calvin” life.
Every class seemed to present her with “Wow!” moments, she said, and she found her understanding of both her faith and her calling being broadened. Little did she know then, though, that after completing her degree and returning to Mexico, neither her relationship with CTS nor with Cascade Fellowship was at an end.
Just weeks before Carmen had left to begin her studies, she and another member of her congregation, Uriel (“Uri”) Alcivar, had begun dating. Their long-distance courtship had continued throughout Carmen’s two years of study, and they were married within just a month of her return to Mexico City.
A middle-school teacher, Uri was committed to supporting Carmen as she began her largely unpaid ministry work among teens and young adults. Then, over the next several years, Uri found himself being drawn deeper into Carmen’s work. They opened the doors of their home to many neighbors from the community, and Uri said he began discovering real joy in discipling and walking alongside people who were struggling or had questions about their faith.
The more Uri invested, he said, the more excited he became, and the more he began to see his own need for additional training.
Uri began to wonder where he could find a seminary that would help him specialize in the area of pastoral care. Not surprisingly, his search led him to CTS.
Yet he found himself confronted with a number of obstacles. First, he did not have an undergraduate degree, and he feared that would pose a challenge to his acceptance. Moreover, his English-language skills lagged behind Carmen’s. And they were now the parents of two children, so the financial issues that Carmen had faced years earlier loomed even larger. What’s more, it was 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic had begun.
As Uri interviewed with CTS representatives, though, the seminary staff became deeply convinced of his calling. As Carmen shared Uri’s story with the people who had become her friends at Cascade Fellowship CRC, the congregation also became excited, and they graciously committed to walk alongside this family on the next leg of their journey. The support was overwhelming, said Uri and Carmen, and yet two significant hurdles remained.
First, Carmen’s father had become seriously ill, and she and Uri wanted to offer all the emotional and practical support they could. Second, Uri’s hearing to obtain a student visit had been delayed.
Sadly, Carmen’s father passed away in early August, just a week before Uri’s delayed visa appointment. This meant that traveling to her parents’ hometown would cause Uri to miss the appointment. But because Carmen’s father’s dream was that Uri should be able to pursue his calling, her mother insisted they attend the appointment instead of being with her at that time.
On Aug. 11, 2020, Uri’s student visa was approved, and just 11 days later the family began their move to Grand Rapids. Given the circumstances, their leaving was bittersweet, but God’s gracious, miraculous provision had made clear that they should go.
Uri said his experience at CTS was transformative. Living in campus housing, they interacted with Korean, African, North American, and Chinese families, as well as other Latino families. He calls this multicultural experience the “hidden curriculum” at the seminary. And as he learned to honor and respect the perspectives of others, he said, his own faith was both widened and deepened.
Graduating in 2022 with a master’s degree in Christian leadership (with a concentration in pastoral care), Uri accepted a position at the seminary serving as a resident director to other students. He said it gave him the perfect opportunity to continue honing his pastoral skills.
God soon also made Carmen and Uri’s next step clear.
Now serving with Resonate Global Mission, they hope to leave for Belgium in early 2024 to minister in a congregation that has a number of Latino immigrants and refugees. And beyond that, said Uri and Carmen, they already sense that they may one day be providing pastoral care for other missionaries and their families who are serving far from home.
From Mexico City, to Grand Rapids, to Belgium, and beyond – all made possible through ministry shares and the support of a local congregation – Carmen and Uri give thanks for God’s provisions and the opportunities God has made possible. Uri added, “Others before us have invested and planted seeds, and now we are the fruit! We hope to now be the ones investing and planting in others, trusting that God will bring the harvest!”
This fall, CRC News is sharing stories that demonstrate the impact of ministry shares. To learn more, visit crcna.org/ministryshares or invite Jeff Bolt (U.S.) or Roshani Morton (Canada) to speak to your council, congregation, or classis.