By Abe Villarreal
I am anxious and excited to run my first 5K this coming Labor Day weekend. For several weeks I’ve been preparing because I’m not a runner. Never was.
The event is in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a town I’ve never visited but one that has been on my radar for several months. When I recently discovered that my great-great-grandfather lived there for the last few years of his life, I became determined to learn more about my one and only New Mexico family connection.
The Reverend Maximo Villarreal lived from 1851 to 1920. He was born in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to probably modest means. Most everyone was born to very little in those times, in that country.
At some point, he entered the ministry, became a traveling Methodist minister, helping establish churches in Mexico, Texas, and finally New Mexico.
Maximo was married three times with at least one wife having died during childbirth. Today there is a collection of Protestant, Spanish-language books named after him, and housed at the University of Houston.
Maximo owned the books that were published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The titles include tracts and hymnals used by evangelical leaders to spread the Gospel throughout Mexico, a country that has been historically dominated by the Catholic religion.
There is not very much else I know about him. From what I can imagine he was a fascinating person.
Knowing about your family’s past can be empowering. Learning of how you ended up in the town where you live, why your parents and grandparents believed in their beliefs, it all came from somewhere.
Some of us descend from royalty. Others are children of slaves. I’m the great-great-grandson of a traveling Methodist preacher, whose primary goal was to convert unbelievers.
I’ve always wondered why, of all my brothers and immediate family, church and my belief in Jesus have been something close to my heart. Growing up, mom made sure we made it to church nearly every weekend. We dressed up and looked the part.
I remember the after-church potlucks and the Bible studies. The memories are some of my favorites from childhood. Today, I serve as a member of a church board of directors, and teaching pre-k Sunday school classes is something I look forward to all week long.
Maximo did pass something down to me nearly a century after he left us for his heavenly dwelling. He passed on a belief, a set of core values, and a message of hope that was passed on to him from his ancestors through many generations.
I want to thank him for what he has done and how many lives he affected by sharing the Gospel with several communities, and that’s why I’m getting ready for the 5K run.
Each day I’m practicing. From the moment I put on my headphones, to the time I finish the practice run through my neighborhood, I have one thing in mind. Soon, I’ll be walking the streets my great-great-grandfather considered his final mission field.
I’ll be staring at the faces of other great-great-grandchildren. The descendants of people in Alamogordo he may have brought to Christ. The 21st-century believers that the Reverand Maximo Villarreal helped create.
I want to imagine that my great-great-- lived by these words:
“I have fought the good faith, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
I’m off to the races.
Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.