Shoulder to Shoulder Mexico is a church planting ministry that facilitates partnerships between churches in Mexico with churches in the United States. It focuses on young churches who are seeking to work with like-minded pastors in sharing resources, encouragement and tools for accomplishing each church’s mission. Currently, Grace partners with 5 or 6 different churches that are supported by Shoulder to Shoulder.

This summer, two college students from Grace, Justin Mancari and John Bowen, spent two months in Mazatlan, Mexico working with Shoulder to Shoulder and 8-10 churches there. They spent time building relationships with students, youth, and adults. They also assisted with construction projects, vacation Bible schools, connected with people in rehabilitation centers, and much more. We caught up with them when they returned home.

Justin, an incoming freshman at Grace College in Akron, shared with us why he decided to spend his summer in Mazatlan. “I already had an internship lined up in Indianapolis for the summer, but felt God’s calling to go to Mexico. It was an amazing opportunity to deeper invest in relationships that I had been building for the past few years from previous trips (it’s amazing how close you can get to a group of people over the span of only a week), as well as build new connections. I have never felt like I was supposed to do anything with my life other than ministry, and I felt right at home living two months on mission.”

John, a junior at the University of Akron studying engineering, relayed the story of how he made his way to Mazatlan. “I had an engineering internship that was supposed to happen this summer, but it ended up being moved to start in the fall. Then I got offered the position as a translator, and I realized that it was God opening a door for me to try something new. I was curious to see what it would be like to live in a different country, and I was excited to improve on my Spanish. I wasn’t thinking that ministry was a possible path for me to take at first, but this summer has shown me that this is the way that God wants me to go. Being able to spiritually invest in a different culture is something that is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced.”

Another young adult from Grace, Bethany Fabig, accepted a full-time position with Shoulder to Shoulder and is currently living in Mexico for the next 15 months. Her work changes depending on the season. When there are teams from the states there, she works primarily as a translator, and when there is not a need for translation, she works in multimedia communications. Bethany values genuinely getting to know others and being present with the people in the community she is working in. She shares why she loves working on the missions field. “Shoulder to Shoulder has helped lead me to a life of missions. Everyone here welcomes you with open arms and wants to help out in any way possible. I really enjoy building relationships by sharing what God has done in my own life, and there is so much fulfillment in personally getting to know others and their stories, and seeing what God does in their lives over time. God is doing big things here, and I am excited to see where this ministry can go and all that He has in store. It is amazing how God brings different people’s passions together with the same vision in mind.”

We love seeing these young adults follow God’s calling and the way their experiences in Mazatlan are helping them understand more fully what that looks like. John left us with some profound parting words about his summer. “This whole experience taught me that family is not just your blood relatives. It is a lot stronger than that. Within the body of Christ, family can be the people that don’t live in the same country or speak the same language as you. Family is the group of people that love you for who you are and care enough about your spiritual well-being to invest in you.”