Missionary to Mexico and among Mexican-Americans
Onderdonk was born in Mission Valley, Texas, in 1871. He received his higher education at Southwestern University and then joined the West Texas Conference. From the beginning of his ministerial career, he felt a call to Spanish-language ministry. He served congregations along the Rio Grande. In 1897, Board of Missions Secretary Walter Lambuth secured Onderdonk’s appointment to the English-speaking congregation (composed mainly of railroad builders) at San Luis Potosi.
Onderdonk’s command of the Spanish language was soon adequate for him to assume other duties in Mexico. He became presiding elder successively of the San Luis Potosi, Mexico City, and Guadalajara districts. Onderdonk was a man of imposing size who was dubbed “Pancho y media” (Frank-and-a-half) by his constituents. For mountain travel in Guadalajara, he could not find a horse capable of carrying him. He first mule was a lazy creature, so “I sold it and bought a grayish mule I dubbed Paloma Blanca. On this faithful animal I made my long trips. I remained four years in this glorious work that brought so much joy to my heart. My faithful wife accompanied me in many of these trips, traveling on her own horse.”
The revolution of 1914 forced the Onderdonks out of Mexico. He came back to Texas to find a new situation, for the revolution was forcing the emigration of thousands of Mexicans as well. For the next twenty years, Onderdonk traveled across south Texas as presiding elder and evangelist. He was particularly effective in leading Anglos toward a better acceptance of their Mexican-American neighbors. Onderdonk was a prolific writer, sending regular columns to the Texas Christian Advocate and numerous letters to the missions board. He died in 1936, deeply mourned by those whose language he had mastered and whose souls he had sought.
Taken from Robert W. Sledge, “Five Dollars and Myself”: The History of Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1845-1939. (New York: General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 2005), p. 326.