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Sending the Gospel by Air
Pastor Daniel Jones pilots his ultralight aircraft over the village of Palmarito, Mexico. The dirt landing strip is visible in the distance just off his right shoulder. He circles over the village while locals clear large rocks off the runway. The rocks are put there to keep drug smugglers from landing there.

Pastor Dan jones travels by ultralight plane to bring God’s Word to unreached people in Mexico

Story by Debra Smith
Photos by Steve Shambeck

While waiting for their school bus, teenage sisters Roshon and Rochelle Jones smiled and waved as they called “God bless you” in Spanish. The man passing by on his bicycle, Miguel Oximea, smiled back and rode past to work. The morning exchange had become routine for the daughters of missionaries Daniel and Ana Jones in mountainous Sonora, Mexico.

Daniel leads the villagers in worship prior to the Bible study in Palmarito.Years later, Miguel showed up unannounced at the Jones’ missions base and home, Rancho Maranatha. Rochelle explained, “Miguel was involved in the local mafia, and his life was in danger.” Amidst the stress and fear, “God reminded him of my sister and me. So he came, met my parents, and asked them to share whatever it was that we had. They explained the Gospel, and beginning from such a simple thing—us greeting and ‘blessing’ him, as he called it, every morning in the 1990s—he got saved. Then his family turned to Christ too. His village, Osobampo, is where our biggest church is to this day. I love knowing that through something so simple, God changed a community.”

Daniel and Ana established Rancho Maranatha in 1990 just off the area’s only paved highway, between two towns and near numerous remote villages. Through the decades, their ministries have included leading over a dozen weekly Bible studies, running several Christian radio stations that are now online, and raising about 30 children in addition to their biological three: Roshon, Rochelle, and Joshua. Today Ana is studying nutrition at a university, and Daniel leads one or more Bible studies each day in nearby villages. In isolated communities, which Daniel sometimes drives up to two hours on dirt roads to reach, the studies function as the participants’ churches.

A Pilgrim Learns to Fly

A young believer from a hippie background in 1978, Daniel heard Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, CA, instruct the congregation: “If you’ve heard what I’m saying before, it’s probably time to get out and start a new ministry somewhere.” Through this, Daniel recalled, “I felt the Lord calling me to be a pilgrim. Scripture calls us ‘strangers’ and ‘aliens’ here; we are citizens of heaven.”

 

“[Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah] confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13b

Daniel enrolled in language school in Sonora and stayed two years while single. Once married, he and Ana, originally from Mexico, spent a few years in California before returning to Sonora with 4-year-old Roshon and 2-year-old Rochelle. They initially focused on evangelism. “But after a year, I asked where all the people we’d led to the Lord were,” Daniel recalled. Just as a father shouldn’t leave the infants he births to grow up alone, “I realized God was leading me to be more committed to the people we evangelized.” He transitioned to weekly Bible studies, and some of the early ones continue to this day.

For years, Daniel was unaware of how near some remote villages were. Upon being flown to a wedding in a Cessna in the 1990s, “I was shocked it took only 20 minutes. Driving there takes 12 to 20 hours,” depending on road conditions, Daniel stated. “On a map, I learned it was only 50 to 60 miles away. Having a background in hang gliding as a sport, I started thinking that with a motor, my hang glider could become an ultralight.” Ultralight planes generally weigh no more than 1,000 pounds, carry only one or two people including the pilot, and are less stringently regulated than other aircraft. “To make sure it was the Lord and not my own idea,” Daniel continued, “I asked God to open the doors if He wanted it. I’d been praying about it for almost 20 years when I got the phone call.” Jerry Whit, a fellow missionary, was offering to teach Daniel to fly. That was 2013, “And the airplane has been a huge door opener,” Daniel said.

“I asked God to open the doors if He wanted it. I’d been praying about it for almost 20 years when I got the phone call.”

Pastor Daniel Jones prepares to take off in his ultralight.

Wheelchair Bound but Not Earthbound

Daniel recalled, “I’d been wanting to go to this isolated place called Loreto in Chihuahua state. It’s almost 6,000 feet high and takes ten hours to drive to. It seems almost everyone there grows or sells drugs.” Months ago, Daniel was asked to fly a wheelchair-bound stranger, Julia Gaxiola, to her hometown of Loreto for a family emergency. There are several Loretos throughout Mexico, but this was the same one Daniel had felt burdened to reach for Christ.

Julia has been confined to a wheelchair for 30 years—since age 16, after she refused to dance with a man at a party in Loreto and he shot her. Last year, one of Julia’s relatives in Loreto nearly killed the other. Julia prayed that if God preserved the young man’s life, she would seek and follow Him. He lived—and she kept her promise. Now the same young man is a hitman for the mafia. She wanted to visit him and persuade him not to return violence for violence. So in April, Daniel and other believers helped Julia into his ultralight. “It’s amazing she was willing to fly,” Daniel said. “We had to lift her in and bungie her legs together. She was really brave.” In the months since that flight, “She’s been like a sponge spiritually. She loves the Lord and can’t get enough of God’s Word. She says the Bible studies seem too short to her.”

Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:92, 103

From Prison to Presenting Christ

José Parada was a suicidal inmate with a 32-year sentence when he came to know Christ in 2005. As Daniel began visiting the prison weekly several years ago, the small Bible study group which José had begun grew exponentially. “With the help of Pastor Daniel and his encouragement, each Monday we began to win souls for the Lord,” related José. “Thanks be to God. Daniel brought Bibles, a projector for [Gospel-related] movies, and tracts. We began to reach mafia guys, hitmen, rapists, kidnappers, and murderers. Souls surrendered as they saw what God was doing in our lives.”

"We began to reach mafia guys, hitmen, rapists, kidnappers, and murderers. Souls surrendered as they saw what God was doing in our lives.”

José experienced opposition from his family for his commitment to Christ, but as his conduct changed, his sentence was repeatedly reduced. After serving 14 years and with eight to go, “I told the Lord, ‘I think I’m ready to be with my family and serve You outside,’” José recalled. “God moved His powerful hand, and He opened the doors. There were lots of struggles and obstacles,” but José was released early and reunited with his wife and children. Then, José continued, “My [Christian] brother Daniel [Jones] said, ‘Come work with me and the team at Rancho Maranatha.’ We daily minister the Word in different communities. I am thankful because I am learning new things every day and being fed with the Word of God. Now when I have a problem, I don’t run to the bar or to drug dealers; I run to bend my knees. The Lord is my only helper and the one who sustains me.”

As other prisoners watch, Daniel baptizes one of several men at the federal prison.

Strong Roots in Harsh Soil

Daniel and Ana’s daughter, Rochelle, is preparing to return to Sonora with her husband and sons to disciple local believers and manage short-term teams from the States. Besides the past nine unexpected years in Tennessee, she has spent most of her life in Mexico. “It’s a harsh environment for new believers to grow in,” commented Rochelle. “Being evangelical is considered turning on one’s own culture and family traditions, and people make fun of those who profess Christ. Many people, especially men and boys, don’t want to be caught studying the Word.” While visiting this year, she met an elderly man who recently committed to following Christ—after covertly attending the Bible study outside in his village for almost a year. “He often came drunk,” she related. “When he wasn’t drunk, he tried to listen in without being seen.”

“Being evangelical is considered turning on one’s own culture and family traditions, and people make fun of those who profess Christ.”

Eloísa Anaya, one of three adult sisters who have had several brothers killed in an ongoing drug-related feud, recently visited Rancho Maranatha. Beforehand, “Her mom and sisters instructed her to watch my dad closely,” Rochelle related. “Marital unfaithfulness is common, and they see him once a week when he flies to their village for a Bible study. So they figured his behavior must be an act. Eloísa asked my mom about my dad’s ‘other family,’ and we were confused. Mom replied, ‘Do you mean his parents? Siblings?’ Finally, she realized Eloísa meant other woman and children. She said, ‘Oh! We are it for him!’ Eloísa laughed and said that was impossible. It took some convincing till she believed it.”

“Everywhere we go in the world, we see God doing an incredible work, getting the church ready in these last days,” Dan related. “The Word is our only hope to stand in these incredible storms because they are going to get worse in these last days. But God’s Word is our anchor.” He cited Psalm 1:1-3, in which those who delight in God’s Word will be like trees near a river, healthy and bearing fruit.

Another woman Rochelle met in Sonora first heard the Gospel 30 years ago from a traveling group. However, Rochelle explained, “They left and no one came back for discipleship. Crying, she told me she’d believed in Christ but had been left alone as a believer. Then she’d experienced multiple tragedies through the years, including her sons’ murders and parents’ deaths. She said she felt stuck and never grew in Christ. My dad flying in with God’s Word is like a breath of fresh air to her; she now knows God hasn’t forgotten her.”

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