Our church partnership with Living Hope Church in Memphis, TN launched us into an opportunity to serve and love on the coffee community connected with our friends in Puebla, Mexico. The church in Puebla is also called Vínculo and it is led by Hector Llampallas. You may recognize Hector as our awesome driver from our visit to Xalapa in May.
Now six months later, we return to further our relations in Puebla and rural Mexico. From Living Hope’s perspective, we see an incredible network of Jesus followers on a third generation church plant in Puebla that has been connected with Living Hope for about 10 years.
LH Missions | Zongolica and Puebla
Nov. 9 Wednesday
Arrival to Veracruz about noon
Hector brings the 12 passenger van to VER and we meet Elias who speaks English well as our translator for our first half of the trip. Elias is 20 and a very mature young man. He is also a leader within Vínculo.
Andrew nicknamed the van Guinevere from the movie Onward. Riding in it felt just like the movie.
Once loaded into the van, we find out the worship leader from Vínculo is in the car ahead of us. His name is Eliasem. He is in Veracruz for his vocational work and is actually headed to Orizaba as well. He works in sales for a company called Gate. Being familiar with the city of Veracruz and originally from Orizaba, he knows exactly where to take us for a warm welcome to Mexico. We ate seaside in a nice seafood restaurant called Villa Rica Restaurante and enjoyed local cuisine to discuss the Good Neighbor Project.
After eating, we begin our two hour ride to Orizaba. In Orizaba, we stop at a Sam’s Club to prepare the necessities of the Good Neighbor Project. This is a project to provide simple goods to the coffee producers/their community that they will use on a normal basis. We collected: beans, rice, oil, canned sardines, canned tuna, canned jalapeños, sugar, and cookies for the kids. We prepared for 6 families in the community, Romulo and his family (the church planter in Zongolica), and an extra set. Total was roughly $70 per gift pack. Such a small USD amount made such a relational impact in the community. Since this Sam’s didn’t like the shared Acts 29 churches membership card, Hector even benefited by getting a new one year membership for Vinculo from LH Missions.
Now dinner time, we make our way to Gamma Hotel in Orizaba. Luckily within walking distance, we ate at Taqueria El Pastorcito 2. Traditional tacos topped off the day. A young boy sold flowers to us. Hector communicated for us and we added a meal for him to our check and we gave the flowers to the waitress. A small walk down the street in Orizaba was beautiful, and the hotel had an amazing rooftop view of the surrounding scenery. It was raining so the combination of the clouds and the darkness kept the distant mountain range a surprise for the next morning.
Nov. 10 Thursday
An early 8am breakfast on the roof with most of us having chilaquiles gave us an incredible view of the mountains we would be visiting. Caleb shared Isaiah 52 with the group and we prayed for our day. We are the watchmen described lifting our voices with praise and joy climbing a beautiful mountain proclaiming the name of Jesus. Hector driving Guinevere, Elias as copilot, followed by Andrew, Caleb, Savannah, Lisa, and the gift packs for the community, we hit the highway toward the small town of Zongolica. On this 2 hour drive, we see the amazing scenery change around us as we discuss Romulo and his church.
Romulo is going through the process to become an Act 29 church in hard to reach places. This humble man describes himself as a shepherd for his small church of 20-30 people. Recently, the leadership in this church left the congregation, and Romulo has stepped up preaching and serving the people here.
Rómulo’s church is in Texhuacan where he lives, and the community he outreaches to spreading the gospel is the neighborhood of Aztingo. These smaller villages are around Zongolica. He hikes to Aztingo every 10-20 days to share the good news about Jesus Christ. His hike takes about 4 hours one way. We nicknamed him mountain goat because of the swift trekking he can do in dress shoes up a muddy 45 degree incline. Romulo was born and raised in this area. He has been doing this for about 10 years, and as we saw, was a major influence on the native people here. The native tongue is Nuatl - an Aztec language. A way Romulo makes a living is by selling their coffee.
We check into Sierra De Madre Hotel as soon as we arrive into Zongolica. We will sleep here during the night, but we have a full day ahead of us. We unload our bags and prepare the 8 gift packs (each weighing 40-50lbs). We plan to visit 4 families this day and 4 tomorrow. God provided for us here in two major ways:
1) Romulo has a contact who trucks people into the mountains named Asael. So, we loaded waters and our 4 gift packs into a pickup truck. Hector and the ladies rode in the cab while the rest of us hopped into the covered truck bed on two bench seats. This 1 hour roller coaster ride was a much better option than the 4 hour hike. Worth every bit of the 50USD we paid Asael each day. Guinevere rested from the bumpy roads.
2) To carry these heavy packs, Andrew and Caleb were able to shift around luggage to accommodate one pack each on their backs. Andrew packed additional collapsible luggage for the possibility of purchasing coffee from the neighborhood of Aztingo. This was unintentional by our team, but was sovereign by God.
On our way Hector stops our ride so we can see the incredible view of God’s creation. At this spot, there is a natural spring flowing down the mountain. Trusting the lead of our guides Hector and Romulo, Andrew and Caleb follow and take sips from this spring. We find out Hector has been sharing the unconditional love of the gospel to our young driver. We surround Asael, and pray for his strength in what he felt was too much for the Lord’s forgiveness. He was overwhelmed with emotion as the true picture of the gospel was portrayed to him.
As our truck ventures to the end of a road an hour into the mountains, we begin our trek on foot through a jungle trail about 3 feet wide. Asael will return at dusk to bring us back to Zongolica. We come to Don Pablo’s house first (a hut may be the best way to describe these dirt floor homes). This is the original relationship Romulo established and we used this spot as our home base. We share the gifts and they invite us in instantly providing hospitality planning to provide a meal for us later in the day. To communicate, words went through English to Spanglish to Spanish to Nuatl so we become good friends with Elias as our only translator.
We then ready ourselves for the next hike to Bernarda’s. Her husband and sons work seasonally every 3 months in Monterey so the majority of this coffee farm is in production with an all female family - Bernarda and her daughter in laws and granddaughters. Here, we learn about this family as they are roasting coffee stirring over a pan heated by wood. Chickens and dogs are at our feet. A 3 year old boy instantly becomes best friends with Caleb over cookies. Elias lights up and explains to us they are preparing a meal. It is a major honor and especially when it is tacos. They bring us fresh cups of coffee and offer to sell green coffee with parchment to Andrew (this just means there’s one more step to clean it before roasting), and of course Andrew is ready as he realizes the extra luggage is with him already. As we wait for the meal, Romulo and Hector share the gospel with Bernarda. She has a disease that has inflamed a gland in her neck. This is a heavy burden for her. Surgery is an option but it requires a good bit of money and may not help. She is very worried and does not want to miss her children as they grow up. Our tacos come out, and the hand made delicious expectation is sardines cooked in a tomato broth. Our team does their best to eat (the handmade freshly cooked corn tortillas were very good). Romulo and Hector come to the rescue and finish the sardines that were left. Andrew and Caleb pray over Bernarda and her family.
Hector later shares a photo he took in Bernarda’s home of an empty shelf that gave him a lot of hope. He explained in places like this, traditional religion dominates. The power of God changes this for worship of the one true God. He referenced Thessaloniki who left idols and went after the true God. The same is happening in this community removing idols from niches and are now fighting with idols of the heart. Those who have new life in Jesus Christ see these idols and remove them with the power of the Holy Spirit. God is expanding His kingdom in places where few live and few go. Hallelujah!
We trek back to home base Don Pablo’s, and that sweet family prepared tacos with tuna in tomato broth. Enjoying the company the minutes quickly go by.
At this point in the day, we have time to visit one more family. Romulo takes us straight up the mountain. Savannah and Lisa stay behind some ways up and get to know one of the neighbors. Unfortunately, they don’t have a translator staying behind. Romulo the mountain goat makes sure the girls are welcomed, and the guys trek on. Caleb’s Chaco’s are slipping in mud and the soles of Andrew’s boots have come totally off. We reach the high elevation, and of course are welcomed with fresh coffee as we see how the tortillas are made and cooked. This farmer, Ricardo, has his daughters in Baja California working and asks us to pray for them. Here, we taste cooked chyote (similar to a potato except with spiky skin) and a local orange. Both are very good.
We trek down the mountain, find the girls, and wait on the road for Asael. Our only casualty is a caterpillar sting on Caleb’s wrist. Romulo looks at the sting and says that although it hurts really badly, this is the better of the two caterpillars. The other one will give you fevers and can even kill you. Right after dark, another farmer named Facundo who Romulo intends to visit greets us at the road. He is a coffee producer and offers to sell green coffee to Andrew.
Asael arrives and we venture back in the dark. Once back, we go to a local coffee bar for a light dinner (pizza and hot wings). We discuss the day and determine that splitting up maybe best so the guys do majority of the hiking and the girls hang back to build relationships with Don Pablo’s family and Bernalda’s family. God answered this need through Lisa’s outgoing personality and Caleb finding out our waitress lived in Dothan, Alabama for years and spoke English well. Lisa invites Ana to join us, and she does! We head to the hotel to sleep and rise early to visit more in the community of Aztingo.
November 11 Friday
Our early morning rise consisted of loading everything and checking out of the rooms. We were able to keep our personal luggage at our quaint hotel. We walked the streets until Romulo and his family arrived to go with us. We enjoyed the small town bakery goods as an early morning pre-breakfast since some of the families wanted to enjoy breakfast with us later in the morning.
Having Rómulo’s wife Jasmine, elder son Caleb, daughter who loved Justin Bieber, and younger son join was a Godsend as well. Ana knew Spanish and English. Rómulo’s wife knew the families well and communicated in Spanish and Nuatl.
Romulo and his son Caleb stayed with the guys for the heavy hiking. The guys visited several homes that had no one home. Our last trek to visit Eutiquio’s farm was straight down the mountain from Don Pablo. This steep trail went through a beautiful mountainside of coffee trees. We are visiting right before harvest season so we did enjoy just a couple red cherries. Arriving to Eutiquio’s, little Caleb was collecting the ripe oranges, and we were greeted instantly with cups of coffee to sit and enjoy. We were offered generously a type of peanut he grows and bananas. Those were the most flavorful bananas you could imagine. Eutico pulls out 3 batches of different green coffee that he was wanting to sell. These were last seasons harvest, but one of these was the absolute last harvest of the native arabica blended tree in the area - criollo. The others were collected from the Colombian and Costa Rican species of arabica coffee. Eutiquio’s family started preparing a taco meal with beans and a homemade salsa from chipotle peppers along with fresh cheese. His wife was very talented cooking and his mother was helping. She was 82 years old. While we eat, Romulo and Hector share the gospel with Eutiquio and Eutiquio makes a decision to ask Jesus for forgiveness of his sins. Caleb prayed over Eutiquio and his home. Andrew purchased these coffees with more than he had asked. Mountainside, Eutiquio was drying his coffee cherries with the beautiful mountain scenery around it. As we leave, they give us parting gifts - dried chipotle chilis and he gave Andrew a small bag of the fresh coffee harvest from the week prior.
We make the hike straight up the mountain to meet the girls and Rómulo’s family. As we move toward the road to wait to be picked up by Asael, Romulo the mountain goat disappears with the last gift pack for the farmer we met in the dark the night before. He returns with 20 kilos of coffee for Andrew. As we waited, we made friends with surrounding neighbors working on their paths. Hector and Elias bought small coffee trees. Caleb shared extra cookies with kids close by. They brought gifts of chyote and a melon. Hector brought the food back to his family and his wife was very excited.
When we return to Zongolica, Romulo takes us to a coffee processor in town. All the coffee Andrew purchased still had the last step to clean it - taking the parchment off. This quick process saved Andrew days of peeling parchment by hand! We then enjoyed a small meal with Romulo and his family at Cafe Tariaxca before hitting the windy mountain road to Orizaba.
Arriving in Orizaba, we met a local church planter friend of Hector’s - Enrique Villegas and his wife, and ate at a small taco shop. He leads Iglesia Gracia Soberana Orizaba. We shared experiences and prayed together. Once back to our Gamma hotel, we relax rooftop listening to live music.
November 12 Saturday
Today is our travel day to Puebla. We wake early for a breakfast downstairs, and leave as soon as we are packed up. The ride to Puebla was about 2 hours and we went to the orphanage - Casa Alto Refugio - as soon as we arrived in the city. Hector’s son Matias joins us and Elias switches with his sister Sarai as the translator. We weren’t sure what to expect. Since this was Vínculo’s first official visit, they allocate an hour and a half for us. During the tour, we learn this is the only Christian orphanage in Puebla and it’s set up more like a home with specific living spaces in each of the cabins. There were 40 children ranging from 3 to 17. As we end the tour, we can tell the kids are becoming antsy to play and talk with us. They do educate them and focus on speaking English. Many were excited to speak what they’ve learned. Andrew and Caleb begin playing games with the kids as Savannah, Lisa, and Hector decide what donations would be best for them. Hector calls them all together on their outdoor basketball court and plays a few interactive games. Our team does our best to keep up with a language barrier. Caleb leads a song with Sarai having fun. Hector calls them to sit down and he tells the gospel story. Then play a game tossing rather ball to one another until we are required to end our visit.
We leave and meet the rest of Hector’s family for lunch. Naje and their daughter Camila join us right down the street from their home for the Puebla exclusive Arabian Pastor Tacos with queso.
From here, Savannah and Lisa go to the hotel to check in while Andrew and Caleb head to Vinculo for the students gathering (ages 12-18). Caleb leads music and Andrew leads the games. Naje taught about good friends vs fake friends. After the students left the church we picked up Savannah and Lisa and enjoyed a night tour of Puebla. Naje translates for Logos providing Spanish books and resources for Hispanic preachers so she communicates very well. We saw the memorial for the Cinco De Mayo monument which is really only celebrated in Puebla in Mexico. Then, finished at the town center with authentic ice cream from a shop called Mary Barragan Paleteria. The night life was very active with life music and dancing. The largest Catholic Church in Mexico is in their downtown area and we walked up to see a light show on its church building front. The architecture had beautiful Spanish and French influence over the past 500 years.
On our way to the hotel, poor Guinevere was really struggling. Hector delivered us to the hotel and made it to his home before having to get it towed for repairs. Since this van was a Vínculo connection, we had Guinevere back in action Monday afternoon.
November 13 Sunday
Vinculo service stars at 11am! Caleb heads out early to practice with the band. Alex Tarasiuk met Andrew for breakfast and they discussed the sermon teachings briefly. Alex is from Vertical Connection Church in Queretero (a Lumina church plant connection from Pablo). He brought two friends from his church with him. Stephan is from Chiapas and Daniel is from Honduras and has known Alex and his wife Julia a very long time.
Hector has asked Andrew to speak on living in community because they are focused on creating small groups within the young 2 years old church. Andrew teaches from Acts 2 - living in community means committing to the teachings and to prayer, living that into action showing signs and wonders, and trusting God will provide. Throughout our time with the church leadership, Caleb and Andrew were asked a lot about the small groups setup at Mosaic and Living Hope.
After church, we enjoyed Pueblan cuisine at Mellos which is owned by a Vínculo church member. At the end of the meal he thanked us and gave Lisa a bowl from the restaurant. Poblano con pollo is an authentic dish started by the nuns in Puebla. It had become a staple in this Pueblan culture.
We left the restaurant and explored their downtown marketplace. The incredible architecture matched the endless small shops. Caleb ordered his beloved churros for everyone. Our team and Vínculo’s leadership devoured 40 churros. We were taken to the top of an art museum that overlooked the downtown city. Puebla has the most Catholic Churches per area in Mexico. From here, the sun has set, but the pueblan people were still soaking up each moment with our team. Walking, we found a cafe to enjoy coffee drinks as we all discussed churches, families, and learned from one another.
November 14 Monday
We enjoyed a morning of sleep! Over breakfast, we discussed Fiesta Inn being the ideal location near Vínculo and Hector’s home. Hector took us to the location of very affordable Talavera pottery outside of Puebla city limits in Tlaxcala.
Ruben and his daughters from Vínculo joined us. He is on the leadership team. Fun fact - he was Hector’s student pastor when he was a student. He now calls Hector his shepherd.
Antonio, another leader in the church, meets us back at Hector’s home to load up the repaired Guinevere to hit the road to Xalapa. Hector’s son, Matias joins us for the road trip as well. Savannah has talked about the delicious tómales we had in Xalapa at Amanda the restaurant connected with Comunidades Nova, and of course the cafechata (coffee horchata) from Reformanda. We go to Reformanda when we get into town and make the coffee drink dreams come true. Jared Orrico updates us on his relations in the community and we see his roaster and learn a few roasting pointers. Our team snags a few leather goods from the Foráneo Leather Goods case. This is the company Jared’s brother Samuel runs. He is the pastor at Nova and creates leather goods to make a living.
We leave Reformanda and find one of Amanda’s four locations connecting with the family who runs it. The tómales were incredible and we get an inside peak to see them being made. We are gifted with tascalate drink mix (a delicious drink originated in Chiapas) and Lisa receives a couple of their beautiful mugs.
We stayed at Villas De Margaritas, a very traditional hotel. Checkin was a little confusing, but the view of the city in the morning was amazing.
November 15 Tuesday
We made the short trip to Xalapa to make today’s travel much easier to get to the airport. The route to VER from Puebla is much safer through Xalapa and cuts our travel time down to a little over an hour.