A West Unity couple continues their mission of helping less fortunate souls south of the border, offering food, clothing, and the word of God.
Joe and Mary Alvarez have been involved with mission work for years, traveling early on to migrant farm stations throughout several Ohio counties to spread the word of God while offering assistance in essentials items.
The couple also participated in prison ministries, sharing sermons to inmates incarcerated in prisons in Michigan and Ohio. They recently were involved in a weekend prison ministry where they reunited with friend, and fellow prison missionary Brenda Duvendack of Hillsdale County, Michigan.
Duvendack, who has known the Alvarezes for well over a dozen years, said the couple are heavily involved with ministry, and last year they took on the role of ownership of a mission house near Monterrey Mexico, the third largest metropolitan city in that country.
“We’ve been friends for years, and I have known about their mission work, and the interesting stories they have,” Duvendack said. “I helped with some fundraisers to assist them in getting back and forth to Mexico, which can be costly.
“People can stay at the mission and then go out and help with the mission work,” she added.
Both Joe and Mary Alvarez spend 3-4 months out of each year living in Marin, Nuevo Leon, Mexico where they share their home as a place for teams wanting to serve in outreach programs. The couple said it was their calling to take on the role as mission home owners to assist in mission work.
Joe Alvarez said he always wanted to share the gospel, and help those in need but outside the four walls of a traditional church setting. When Alvarez began serving in outreach programs, he saw many people who needed the word of God but we unable to attend a traditional service.
“Many people there do not know where to go for assistance, and that is where we hope to come in,” he said. “The mission house is a good place for people wanting to help to come then go out and spread the word of God, and to help those in need.”
The Alvarezes acquired the mission home from Gail Barnett when her husband Gilbert passed away. The Barnetts were involved with their own outreach program for over 25 years, and worked with at least 14 soup kitchens in Mexico, Joe Alvarez said.
“We worked with them for several years after we went to see them in Archbold to talk about mission work,” Joe Alvarez said. “We got involved by bagging up candy to take there on the trip, then we decided to go there to the mission to help.
“We went to soup kitchens and to homes to spread the word and to help in any way we could,” he added.
The Alvarezes used their savings to purchase the three-story home, which currently can house up to 20 persons. Visiting teams can stay for several weeks to take part in mission work, using the house as home base.
Tracts, bibles and other supplies came from a New Paris, Indiana company, shipping the material to Monterrey. Originally, bibles and other supplies were paid out of pocket, Mary Alvarez said.
“We used whatever we had saved up to get the things we needed,” Mary Alvarez said. “But this company in Indiana sent tracts and bibles there for us to pass along, and that helped us a lot.”
During the off season, the home remains occupied by a family hired to tend to the residence. A fresh coat of paint will be applied to the house, which requires no other modifications or repairs.
“The place is in good shape, but we wanted to have someone there to make sure things were OK while we were here preparing for the next trip,” Mary Alvarez said. “Really, it is a second home for us, and we want to make sure things stay in good condition for the next mission trip.”
Different denominations wanting to participate are not an issue, says Joe Alvarez, who said people of different faiths have visited and served in the outreach program. Local connections in Mexico help the Alvarezes and others to pinpoint areas in need.
“Since we have been involved for so long, people know us and know what we do,” Joe Alvarez said, adding the local connections assist the visiting missionaries by identifying areas of need.
“We all have visited the local jail, pass out Bibles and candy, and deliver food to those less fortunate,” Joe Alvarez said. There are so many people there that need assistance in a city that has five million people.”
While stateside, the Alvarez family strategize for the next trip, locating funds, and working to secure supplies needed once they cross into Mexico. Teams are usually planned in advance to visit the mission then tend to the less fortunate in the nearby villages.
Family Christian Center helps with coordination of teams to visit the mission. Typically four teams are scheduled to visit the Alvarez mission house between January through April.
One of the visiting teams is Children’s Lantern of Defiance. Children’s Lantern is a non-profit organization that helps the needy by supplying resources to organizations that help the less fortunate.
Reverend David Nofizinger, of Hope Alive Counseling Services in Defiance, heads up the Missions Program at Family Christian Center. He became acquainted with the Alvarezes when the couple secured the home last year after the previous owner had to retire.
“We give them (Alvarez) monthly support for their work and help them with their mission,” Nofzinger said. “We have traveled down there before to work in ministry, and share the word of God and help those in need.
“I have been involved in preaching, handed out tracts and helped to feed the hungry, and those needs continue,” he added.
Joe Alvarez admits there was a learning curve in mission work, with lessons soon taken to heart to avert issues over the border.
The first year was wrought with some sadness when he ministered to one woman, who asked Alvarez to pray for her baby. When he visited the home, furnished only with meager belongings and pallets on a dirt floor, he offered his prayers to the child.
One year later, he heard the baby had passed away. It was that moment when the Alvarezes decided to do all they can to get mission teams to offer not only supplies, but even medical teams as well.
“The baby’s name was Angelica and she had a cleft lip, but she was a beautiful child,” he said. “She didn’t need to die.
“We decided to offer hope for the next Angelicas and to secure the means to help,” he added.
A trip through Laredo two years ago also caused some concern for Alvarez, who was traveling with a team with food and supplies, along with school bus donated by a Baptist church in the states.
Alvarez contacted a friend in Laredo to help transport the supplies via truck and trailer, with the bus to be picked up later. While traveling on an unsecured road, the team was followed by the Mexican Cartel.
“We were travelling on this road, and trying to reach another road protected by the military,” he said. “We had ten miles of road before we got to the secured highway.”
Alvarez and his team kept their faith in God while concerned that the Cartel would take the supplies meant for the needy. They crossed onto the safe road and made it to their destination.
“We decided that it was not safe to drive down with supplies, so we now get what we need in Mexico,” he said. “It may cost more, and we have to secure more money ahead of time to get what we need, but we cannot put anyone in danger.”
Boxes of food and supplies are secured in Mexico. Mary Alvarez said she and several others visit a local ‘Wal-Mart’ style store to get the essentials.
“They have all the things people need, and for us, we simply go in and get about 200 boxes to donate to the needy,” Mary Alvarez said. “Our goal is to get 500 boxes to help more families.
“There are thousands of people who need the basic things in those boxes, and the more we can get, the more we can be of help,” she added.
Sharing the word of God also has some risks. While keeping it a secret from his wife at first, Joe Alvarez said he was walking in a small Mexican neighborhood prepared to offer tracts and words of God to four men when he noticed some of them giving hard stares.
Instead of changing course, Alvarez offered the tracts to the men and a blessing. He also noticed one of the men, sitting inside a truck, had an AK-47 in the cab.
“I didn’t tell my wife until after we left,” he said. “She knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t want to change course.”
“So I offered the literature and went on my way peacefully,” he added.
Alvarez said the cartel and crime should not dissuade people from taking part in mission work. People wanting to help can fly into the region then safely travel to the mission house.
“There hasn’t been a lot of problems with cartel or crimes in the area, and we have been there many times,” he said. “Many of the people we meet there are very caring, and just need someone to help them along.”
The long-term goal for the Alvarezes is to bolster their mission and to reach the millions in Monterrey. So far, they have helped thousands over the years.
However, the small outreach project could use additional people on the field. Local churches near the West Unity region have spread the word of the Alvarezes outreach program, and people have stepped up to donate goods or money.
“Family Christian Center helps with organizing the teams to visit, and we work with them so they know what is needed in the region,” Alvarez said. “The local churches in Mexico also help identify what areas we need to target, and we also have a young lady who wants to go there and do her clinical work.
“It really is a word of mouth ministry where people tell each other then come together to help out however they can,” he added.
Community members and local churches, including Fayette Church of the Nazarene, and House of Prayer in Montpelier, have offered their assistance to the Alvarezes over the years.
An August fundraiser in Fayette will take place to help fund future trips top Mexico. The Reaching Mexico 5k fun run/walk will take place at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, August 10 inside the Fayette city park located off Eagle Street.
Registration for the race begins at 6:45 a.m. Adults pay $15 each if registering before July 15, or $20 the day of the race.
The top overall male and female runners will receive awards, along with the top two overall males/ females in their age categories. A ½ mile fun run for children starts at 8:10 a.m.
Ice cream and other items for the children will be offered. Last year, the fundraiser netted the Alvarezes $1,500 for their mission work.
“People tell each other about the mission, and really that is how it works for us,” Mary Alvarez said. “We haven’t really been able to reach out to other churches or groups, but it seems to all come together for us.”
People wishing to donate toward Hope Mexico Mission can contribute to a fund established at Farmer and Merchants State Bank in West Unity.
For more information, visit the mission’s Facebook page by typing in Hope Mexico Mission inside the search option.
Questions about the fun run can be forwarded to Aaron Snyder at 419-467-0072 or E-mail/ firstname.lastname@example.org.