November 24, 2015

When the Nations Came to North Dakota

Post by Anne Easker

Luis Janeiro has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel. In his homeland of Mexico, he has conducted outreach in orphanages and among the elderly, served as a missionary to tribal people, planted churches in rural areas, and pastored a church for twenty years. He now serves as the Director of Development – Hispanic Division for Christian Aid Mission, helping spread the vision of indigenous missions to the Hispanic community across the United States, Puerto Rico, and expanding into Spain.

None of his work would have been possible were it not for one family in the little town of Mohall, North Dakota, who chose to take in a foreign exchange student one year.

Born in the city of Puebla, Mexico, Luis was raised as a nominal Catholic. The nun who helped him prepare for his First Communion at age seven gave him a gift—a beautiful illustrated Bible. Luis loved the stories and pictures, and was deeply dismayed when it was stolen from him a year later.

Luis did not have access to other Bibles as a Catholic in Mexico, and he had no idea there were whole Bible stores and study guides. He knew only that he had lost something precious.

"That I had enjoyed it so much and then it was stolen—it produced in me a great desire to know it," Luis said.

As he grew up, Luis talked to God every day, asking Him to make His ways known to Luis, but he never heard the gospel presented clearly to him. In his teenage years, though he was seeking God, he also desired a more wild life. He wanted to experiment freely with drugs and sex—so he applied to be a transfer student in the United States, hoping to end up in a big city by the beach.

Luis almost didn't get into the program, but in September, another student cancelled, and one spot opened in North Dakota. Before agreeing to go, he was encouraged to call the family he would be staying with.

On the phone with his host family, he asked if it was cold where they lived. His host sister told him it had already snowed, but it wasn't cold yet. Luis was puzzled. He later learned that North Dakota winters get too cold to snow.

Nonetheless, Luis left his city of a few million people and arrived in Mohall, a town along the Canadian border with a population of 500, where the main source of entertainment was the three-lane bowling alley.

Upon arrival, he learned that the father of the family he was staying with was a pastor. At first, Luis didn't know what to expect. Protestants in Mexico make up a mere 7.6 percent of the population, and in the 1980s, the number was much fewer. As a Catholic, Luis knew none of them.

But his host family was loving and kind. They introduced him to the Catholic priest in town so he could choose whether to attend Catholic services or go to church with them. He chose their church, where he began to find the answers he'd been searching for his whole life.

In his classes at school, Luis had difficulty keeping up with the fast-paced English conversation, but in church, the language was easy to comprehend.

"It was like it was in Spanish, and it was talking to me," Luis said.

He was eager to learn and grow, experiencing the truth of Christianity alongside the new experiences of family and rural life. In Mexico, he came from a broken home, but here he felt the love of a whole family who loved and followed the Lord. He spent his days horseback riding, snowmobiling, and studying the Word of God.

All winter, Luis was eager to be baptized but was told it was too cold, and he had to wait.

Luis Janeiro with wife, Silvia.

"As soon as the little lake was unfrozen, I got baptized," he said. "It was just a little lake in the wild—more of a pond really."

When the year was finished, Luis returned to Mexico and became involved with ministry there. He took his first mission trip into the mountains and explained the gospel to a man who said he wanted to accept Christ. Luis led him in prayer to the free gift of salvation.

Eventually, Luis's parents became Christians as well, and Luis did more mission work among children, the elderly, and many ethnic groups of Mexico. He worked at Christian Aid Mission from 1992-1995, then took a break to serve as a pastor. In 2013, he returned to help share the vision of indigenous missions with Hispanic people around the world.

"All that started because someone reached a student," Luis said. "So the message is look around at all the people God has sent to this country—and reach them."