The Tarahumara: from running scared to running free

By June 23, 2015
(Photo credit: Andi Ruth Ripley via Facebook)

For some people, running is a release; it’s how they clear their minds or relieve stress.
(Photo credit: Andi Ruth Ripley via Facebook)

Mexico (MNN) — For some people, running is a release; it’s how they clear their minds or relieve stress.

For the Tarahumara (TAH-ROO-MAHR-UH) people of Mexico, it’s an obligation.

PIONEERS missionaries are committing to a marathon process of earning the Tarahumara’s trust, in order to introduce them to Christ.

As they do, missionaries hope to see the Tarahumara run free in worship of Yahweh — not out of fear of an animistic god.

Understanding the Tarahumara

Understanding the Tarahumara’s past gives insight to the group’s reclusive tendencies and worldview. Enslaved by Spaniards in the 1600s, the Tarahumara have been fighting to avoid northern Mexico’s mainline populace ever since.

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Initially the Tarahumara cultivated the verdant plains of Northern Mexico, but after being displaced by the Spanish, they adapted to subsistence farming in the dry, rocky soil of the Sierra Madre.
(Photo, caption courtesy PIONEERS)

Missionary outreach to the tribe also began in the 1600’s; according to the Manataka American Indian Council, the Tarahumara’s worldview is a mix of animism and Roman Catholic Christianity.

PIONEERS’ Andres Herrera Vazquez says the Tarahumara believe God created them, and the devil created everyone else.

As a result, “They [the Tarahumara] are the ones who feed God, who keep Him alive and strong through their animal sacrifices and their dancing, and their running as well,” Vazquez explains.

Tarahumara lore claims the devil challenged God to a race between both creations. The results left the Tarahumara people poor, with the need to run for the rest of their days.

Learn more about the Tarahumara here.

Setting the Tarahumara free

PIONEERS began ministering to the Tarahumara in the early 2000s through medical care and education. As missionaries formed friendships with the Tarahumara and demonstrated Christ in word and deed, doors began opening.

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Alongside caring for the physical needs of the Tarahumara, the team is dedicated to sharing the Gospel through chronological oral Bible stories, as well as literacy-based curriculum that uses biblical stories to teach reading.
(Photo, caption courtesy PIONEERS)

“Little by little, some of them approached us and have been open to the Gospel,” says Vazquez.

Only a handful of Tarahumara believe the Gospel and want to learn the Truth about Christ in the remote mountain village where Vazquez and his team work. But in other locations, the Gospel is taking root, and the Body of Christ is growing.

“In the more ‘exposed’ area of the mountains, there’s a couple of churches that are purely Tarahumara; there are a few churches that are led by either missionaries or pastors who come from town,” shares Vazquez.

As Vazquez and fellow PIONEERS missionaries endure the course set before them and patiently building trust relationships with the Tarahumara, they need supporters to journey with them.


“What we believe is truly THE work is prayer,” says Vazquez, adding that their team often feels like the little boy with loaves and fishes in Matthew 14.

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With a lack of adequate healthcare and limited food resources, the Tarahumara face high rates of infant mortality and malnutrition, as well as treatable diseases such as tuberculosis and skin conditions.
(Photo, caption courtesy PIONEERS)

“You know, we’ve come up with our little things we can offer God, and it has to be Him who’ll take these and do miracles among the people, but that happens through prayer.”

  • Please pray for open hearts among the Tarahumara.
  • Pray for solid relationships to form between the Tarahumara and PIONEERS missionaries.
  • Pray that God will open the Tarahumara’s eyes to the Truth of Scripture.
  • Pray that PIONEERS missionaries will be encouraged to endure and not stop sharing Christ.

“Our biggest challenge is being able to make these trust relationships with the people,” says Vazquez.

“Being vulnerable is very difficult for them, yet we see the importance of being vulnerable in order to, you know, encourage one another, rebuke one another, love one another — all the ‘one anothers’ we see in the New Testament.”


By providing simple ceramic water filters for Tarahumara families, PIONEERS missionaries can show the love of Jesus in a very tangible way.

Their goal is to purchase at least 200 filters (which will provide roughly 1,000 people with clean, safe drinking water). Your gift of $23 will provide clean water for one family in need.


Serve the Lord alongside PIONEERS missionaries and meet the Tarahumara for yourself here.

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