This week, I grieved. Thirty-five years ago, I made a journey that would change my destiny forever. In those days, I was the youth pastor at First Church, Quitman, Texas. That year, many changes happened in a short time. I finished college, got married and moved to a strange land called. . . Texas. I had only been there a few months when my pastor asked me to go to a meeting. There, we discussed ways to reach the Hispanics along the Rio Grande River.

Of course, I grew up in Missouri and knew nothing about Hispanics or their culture. But times have changed. Today, the Hispanic culture is a part of America’s everyday life.

I remember the day I first crossed the border into Mexico. Instantly, everything was different: the sights, sounds and smells. Apprehension filled my heart as I made my way to the First Church of Nuevo Laredo. I sat in the evening worship service, not understanding a word. I felt as though I had arrived at the tower of Babel, only to find everyone speaking in tongues. At the end of the evening, I learned that it wasn’t a worship service after all. I had just sat through a two-hour business meeting.

In those early days, pastors came and went. Then the church hired Pastor Nicolas Alba. This former schoolteacher had a burning passion for his Lord and for people. He also had a deep desire to see God do a work. I loved this man the instant I met him because He reminds me so much of Jesus. His eyes and expression reflect the love of the Lord to everyone he meets.

We often speak about men having a “better half.” That phrase perfectly described Pastor Alba’s lovely wife, Maria. The first day I met her, she announced that she was going to be my Mexican “mother.” Maria was a uniquely gifted person, a warrior and a lamb rolled into one. I know that the Bible says the demons feared the name of Jesus. I think they trembled almost as much when they heard Maria’s name. I have seen her confront the forces of Hell, diligently proclaiming Jesus as the light of the world. Darkness fled from the countless lives she touched.

Maria was a church planter, a missionary, a mother, a wife, a mom, a teacher and a cook. Anyone who had the privilege of being in her home received the best Mexican meal imaginable. Her servant spirit was evident; she waited upon you as though you were royalty. As you sat there staring at a plate heaped with food, she was always concerned that you weren’t getting enough.

From the day I met Pastor Nicolas and his wife, we became more than just missionary partners. We were family. This past Monday night, I received word that Maria had passed away, and I grieved as a son for his . . . Mexican mother.

The day after Christmas, I will take another mission team to the First Church of Nuevo Laredo. I have learned along this journey of life that God puts certain people in your path to change you forever. For more than three decades, I have taken students to Mexico so they can experience incredible people such as the Albas. I want them to meet the people who have changed my life. Several years ago, Pastor Alba and Maria earned the doctorate degree in Missionology. I have often tried to share with them that many of the young people whose lives they touched are now serving as missionaries all over the world. A changed life changes lives.

Pastor Alba, my friend and partner in the ministry, I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry for our loss. Your love for Maria was evident, and your love together for the Lord was legendary. I am sorry that the next generation of students who come to Nuevo Laredo will not have the privilege of meeting her until eternity calls. Her homecoming has left us a little more homesick for our eternal resting place. But I know she would want us to continue telling His story and sharing His light.

So, my Baptist Messenger friends, I want you to know that one of the best things that you can do for your children is put them in the path of people such as Maria Alba. Ask God to provide influencers who will affect your children’s lives for the good. A changed life changes lives . . . for eternity.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.