In May 2009 Steven and Theresa Frey returned to Cd. Valles, Mexico. By this time the vision for the Bible Institute had continued to grow to include a passion to train the students in vocational and practical trades as well as in a sound biblical foundation. The dream had begun several years previously with a realization that many pastors, especially in the smaller villages, are completely destitute and unable to even feed their own families. Many servants, living in a community where tithes from the church amount to only several dollars per week, must of necessity live in a little mud-floored shack and attempt to eke out a living while ministering to the equally poor of the community.
The desire of Steven and Theresa was to be able to provide practical work skills training to pastors and students so that when they did return to their villages to minister they would be able to find paid employment, and possibly even have the ability to begin a small business. In this way they could pastor a local church, provide for the needs of their own families, and possibly even provide work for others in the communities in which they served.
In 2002 Voice in the Wilderness Ministries had purchased a property in a nearby colonia called la Pimienta with the intent of placing a church building on the property. This property was a town lot, and well situated for this type of use. However, due to the sudden termination of Steven’s ministry and his departure from Mexico in 2003, the church had never been built and the property remained vacant. In 2006, with the beginning of Voice in the Wilderness Ministries’ work with the Bible Institute and Project LAMBS, a large tent was purchased and classes were held at this site for a brief period of time. However it soon became evident that this was not a workable solution, and the site was no longer used for the Bible schools.
When Steven and Theresa returned to Cd. Valles in 2009 to continue with their vision of putting up buildings for the Bible Institute and Project LAMBS they proposed that this property be the building site for the new schools. However, as the vision grew it quickly become evident that this particular property would be inadequate for the scope of the new work, and that it should be sold and a larger property found outside of the city large enough to support the needs of the project. The search for the right property began.
In September 2010 a Mexican legal nonprofit was set up to cover the work of the Bible Institute, Project LAMBS, and the growing vision that this work entailed. The name Obreros Unidos para Cosechar (Laborers United to Harvest) was chosen as a good representation of what the vision for the ministry entailed. The Board of Directors is fully Mexican, and OUpC A.C. is a fully registered, Mexican (civil association) nonprofit.
Search for a property for the schools continued. After several lurches of excitement followed by divinely closed doors, the vision for the school began to mature and to take on a slightly new form. By 2011 no longer was it simply envisioned as a Bible Institute with several add-on vocational classes, but rather as a Training Center where the students and the school could become self-financing. The idea had now expanded to include the purchase of a property large enough to be developed not only into the needed facilities for a Bible-based Training Center, but also into a self-supporting farm where students could learn the skills and disciplines of physical work.
A beautiful property was finally found and the purchase was finalized in February 2011. This new property was large enough to accommodate the vision – 6.6 hectares of land (in total about 16 acres). The site is about four miles south of the edge of the city directly in an indigenous Tenek region. It is in an agricultural sugarcane growing area with fertile black clay soil. The vision for this farm-based missionary Training Center is that it will become a place where men and women can live in community, work and study, be discipled in the Word, learn ministry with hands-on training, and be able to grow in their walk in the Lord 24/7. Here they will also learn work skills and trades, and they will learn how to be self-financing and independent.
Because the new Training Center is located in an area close to four major tribal groups its focus will probably be directed to, but not limited to indigenous, national men and women who have God’s call on their lives for ministry back into their own villages. Whereas the more academic-based Bible Institute Luz de las Naciones and the mobile Project LAMBS schools are mainly reaching those in the city, the purpose of the farm-based Training Center will to be to equip national missionaries. We also envision this Training Center being able to accommodate those who do not have a strong academic background, and may not even be able to read or write. We are aware that God’s call on lives is not limited to academia or classroom knowledge.
The only drawback to the farm was that the land needed a lot of work before it could be utilized for either sugarcane production, or for the buildings. Steven and Javier Santos (the farm administrator) rolled up their sleeves and began the process of making the farm usable in the spring of 2011. Sugarcane is an annual crop, and if well attended it can be harvested for up to eight or more years. Five hectares of the land had been in sugarcane at one time, but it had been unattended for many years and the standing cane had long-since become useless. The first thing that needed to be done was to cut out all of the old, useless sugarcane on these five hectares and cultivate the soil again. This had not been done for many years and the soil was as solid and hard as rock. Further, it was completely overgrown and infested with weeds and invasive grasses which needed to be battled. With basically no money, some loans, much sweat and labor on the part of Javier and Steven, and by the grace of God a crop was planted in the summer rains of 2011.
From that point on a non-ending battle with weeds and grasses ensued. The main struggle was during the months immediately following the planting while the sugarcane was still small enough to be easily overwhelmed and choked out by the competing weeds. Through much sweat, machete work, and the help of herbicides, a partial victory was won and the sugarcane began to grow.
Next, the scrub trees, weeds and grasses were tackled on the ¾ hectare area where the future Training Center building site was to be located. This area was about half covered in thorny and useless shrub trees with the rest strangled by thick choking vines and waist-high grasses, and had not been cleared or cultivated for many years. Javier Santos and Steven sharpened their machetes and cut wooden crooked sticks called “ganchos”, and set to work clearing land the hard way. One can only understand land clearing and tree cutting with a machete and bent back in 120 degree heat by actually doing it. Finally this area was cleared and the stumps pulled and burned. A tractor was hired, and the land was broken and cultivated during the end of October 2012.
In February 2012 the Ministry was able to import a donated Ford 8N tractor for the farm. This little 26 Hp gas engine tractor is a 1948 model, and 65 years young. It came with several implements and is a great help for the farm, especially in ongoing weed control, posthole digging, and light cultivation work. However, because of the extremely heavy clay soils in the Cd. Valles area it immediately became evident that it is too small for the actual deep tilling demanded in sugarcane production and that it will be necessary for the farm to continue to rely on rented machinery for this part of the work.
Now there remained only one more area of approximately ¾ hectares to be cleared in order to put the whole of the farm into useful production, or readied for building. This section of land was in even worse condition than the former, being completely covered with thorny bush and thick, strangling undergrowth and waist-high grasses. Once again Javier Santos and Steven rolled up their sleeves, sharpened their machetes and cut ganchos. Work began on clearing this area in the very end of 2012. By mid January 2013 this final area had also been cleared, the stumps gathered and piled, and the first cultivation done. Now the entire farm was ready for use.
In November 2012 the first crop of sugarcane was also harvested amidst mud and rain – the culmination of about a year and a half of labor. The crop had been planted in an extremely dry year, with minimal fieldwork done due to limited funds, and it was unknown if a harvest would even result. But God is good, and he blessed with sufficient rains and an abundant harvest was taken off – over 413 tons of sugarcane from the five hectares of land.
During the fall of 2012 Theresa began sewing classes for women. Six lightly used Pfaff sewing machines had been purchased and imported for the ministry in anticipation of a sewing and tailoring program being offered in the Bible Institute. Since the vision of the vocational portion of the Bible Institute was changing slightly, Theresa decided to begin offering sewing classes to women in her home rather than in the Bible school itself. She soon had women coming from a cross section of the community, and an expanding sewing program began to flourish in the living room. Theresa developed these classes into a program where the women advanced from never having touched an electric sewing machine, to the making of small bags and pillows, to the design and construction of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing. Theresa’s vision is that some of her students will be able to use their new skills to create a home business through which they can help to support their families. Theresa is also training one of her most promising students to continue teaching the sewing classes in order to hand this portion of the work over to national leadership as well. As of April 2013 the sewing classes have developed into a sewing school which is now running out of the Bible Institute building with a national staff coworker instructing alongside Theresa.