By Jeremy Stuart
Church planter Samuel Orrico said, “You hear constantly that people are disappearing, people are being kidnapped. You experience having people that you met being either robbed, raped or kidnapped.” Samuel has fears about moving back to Mexico to pastor a church of about sixty that he recently co-planted. He said, “One of my fears is if something ever happens to my family because I brought them to Mexico.”
Each year, hundreds of thousands enter the United States from Mexico, fleeing such fear and pursuing the American Dream. Passing them on their way in, over one hundred thousand Mexicans return home from the US of their own volition, most often to reunite with family. This year, Samuel will join the latter, but with a goal that extends beyond family reunification to city transformation. “Mexico is a rough place, but it’s by Christians who remain in the city and present the gospel that it’s going to change,” Samuel said.
In the student apartment, Samuel, his wife Rebekah, and their two little boys will vacate in just two months, the couple sat down to tell their story. Before coming to the US for theological education, Samuel lived in Xalapa, the capital city of the Mexican state of Veracruz, often called the “Athens of Veracruz.” “We have universities that are in the humanities field, like art, literature, philosophy, poetry, film making,” he said. “We’re always talking about politics or whatever book we are reading.” In a city with a population that is more than 80 percent Roman Catholic, he grew up in a non-religious family with two sisters and a twin brother.
Judging by the books arranged every which way to fit every square inch of Samuel’s shelf space, it is safe to say that he reads avidly. “I was really into philosophy… I was studying Nihilism and Nietzsche,” he said. He held to atheism through high school and part of college. He continued: “That led me to a little bit of an existential crisis,” which led to his decision to trust Christ. Samuel withdrew from business school and moved to Argentina to study theology for a year, after which he moved to the US to attend Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, Iowa. Surprised the school accepted him, Samuel traveled to the US with only a three-month English class under his belt. He taught himself English by spending day and night reading in the library. A Mexican who spoke no English in a predominantly Anglo region, Samuel had a lonely and difficult first couple of years in the States.
“Perhaps it was my fault because I was playing a cliché, but I was mowing grass at my college.” He added, “I was so naive that I didn’t even think that that was a caricature of a Mexican… A lady came to me, and she didn’t even say “good morning” or ask my name. She wanted to know if I was legal, and what I was doing in her country.”
When Rebekah, an American, visited Mexico for the first time, she experienced a markedly different reception. “I got really sick on the plane, so I wasn’t feeling good. The shock of not being able to talk to anyone is sort of lonely, but I love how the people were so welcoming… Even though I couldn’t communicate with the people, I felt welcome.”
Having spent the past ten years in American churches, Samuel observed an apathy that made people avoid talking about what he calls “the Hispanic reality”—the presence of Hispanics in our nation and our neighborhoods, their plight on both sides of the border—ranging from racism to death due to injustice—and ultimately, their need of the gospel. Samuel said, “Even figuring out where our food comes from—who is mowing our yards. How are they living? Why do they come?”
The solution? “I think you can help us by preaching and living in a way that makes us understand that the American Dream is not the gospel,” he said. He proposes that churches in the US reach out to Hispanics with the true gospel. No doubt stemming from his belief that the gospel also leads to city transformation, he strongly encourages churches involved with first-generation immigrants to see such members as future missionaries to their current communities and to their own countries. He envisions churches through which “they are not kicked back to their country—they are not dumped, but they are sent—commissioned to go and reach their country.”
The controversial idea of sending immigrants back to the countries from which they rightfully fled perpetually circulates in the news, especially during this election year. But Samuel wants to be clear that he has never called for a self-deportation program. Nor does he call the American church to send all immigrants back to their homelands. “I’m just saying that we also need to include in our missional strategy a way that Mexicans or Hispanics not only remain in this country but are sent and are partnered with other churches to go back and reach their neighborhoods.” Samuel has applied this strategy in his own life, having moved to the US for training, only to return home to his neighborhood on mission. “We complain—Mexicans complain about their country, about the situation [there], but as Christians, what are we doing about it?”
Samuel’s challenge to forsake the American Dream and embrace the gospel extends to both American and Mexican Christians. After living in the US for ten years, he uniquely identifies with the challenge of both. “I struggle with the comfort that I got myself used to,” he said. “And when I think about going back to Mexico, I think about my wife and my kids and the place that I’m bringing them to. Why not just be here? This is a beautiful country. This is a comfortable country.”
In good company, Samuel has seen his entire family of origin trust Christ and grow to treasure the mission of God for Xalapa and Mexico. “My brother moved from France with his wife to be involved in the [new] church,” he said. “My sister moved from Italy with her husband to be involved with the church. They quit their jobs and moved to the city.”
After celebrating his graduation from Dallas Theological Seminary in May 2016, Samuel, Rebekah, and their two boys, Isaias (2) and Oseas (1) plan to leave the US with little more than their clothes—and Samuel’s books. The family will sell their furniture, their car, and use whatever money they gain to travel to Xalapa to join their biological and spiritual families at Cultura Gospel. Rebekah will leave the only nation she has called home, speaking little to no Spanish, laboring to make the foreign the familiar. They will exchange the American Dream for the mission of God and the dream of a neighborhood, a city, a country changed by the gospel.
Jeremy is a New Englander living in Dallas with his wife and daughter, while attending Dallas Theological Seminary. He has a passion for church planting in Massachusetts and currently leads a home group at the Village Church in Dallas, TX .