Trip #3

A Visit to Grupo Amistad Christiana de Tijuana

by Lambert Dolphin

Jaime Guerrero, (whose Prison Ministry in Mexico is well known to us at PBC and Discovery International), invited me to attend some of his prison conferences when I was last with him in Mexico City in March. Encouraged by the DI Board I wrote Jaime and volunteered. He invited me to Tijuana for meetings to be held there June 13-16. Mike Tracy and Erich Miller had hoped to go with me, but were not able because of other commitments, so I flew down to San Diego and was met by Randy Perez one of our PBC college students who is finishing studies at San Diego State. I phoned ahead to Mike Tracy's friend Eduardo Montez Hernandez in Tijuana who arranged hospitality for me in the home of Clemente and Elvira Solis who live this side of the border in Chula Vista. Clemente and his wife are the leaders of the Amistad de Tijuana Couples Class. They commute into Mexico daily to the restaurant they own there, Los Mandolines.

I soon learned that the Amistad congregation in Tijuana is about eight years old and numbers about 3000. About 25 to 50 people come to the Lord weekly in the Friday night or Sunday morning services. Their pastor Fermin (fair meen') Garcia, a stout and radiantly loving man about my age, told me they were not interested in filling the old Boxing Arena they have purchased, but in declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ to all the people in Tijuana (pop. 1.5 million, of which 300,000 are floating and in transit looking for work). Most of the congrecaion appears to be involved in the work of the ministry in one way or another and the conversations all seem to focus on how to reach out more effectively to the lost and disenfranchised.

Tijuana is noisey and congested. The spiritual warfare I felt while I was there was intense--producing fatigue and stress. It was as if the spirit of the city was one of clamor and agitation. In contrast, the Solis' home in Chula Vista was utterly tranquil, though crossing the border back into the U. S. can take up to three hours! I did not see much evidence of the prostitution or the cheap bars and gambling casinos I remember about Tijuana from 40 years ago when I lived in Chula Vista (though I am sure it is still there). If the Amistad Christians in Tijuana have even a few of their intercessory prayers answered the city will one day be a fully transformed place: lovely, prosperous and beautiful, with gardens and parks and children at play.

Ciro (Cyrus) Guitierrez, who served as my translator and interpreter a good part of the time I was in Tijuana, heads up a ministry to 25 local pastors. Amistad is attempting to bring some unity among Christians there as the existing churches have long been splintered and divided into small rival groups. Ciro said that many American pastors were coming each week to see the new work the Holy Spirit is doing in the Amistad movement in Mexico. Immediately Ciro told me the Christians in Mexico felt a debt to the Estados Unidos for originally sending the missionaries responsible for the new church in Mexico. He said they knew the U. S. was in terrible trouble morally and spiritually. He said they all knew that the church in America was nearly extinguished as far as any real life was concerned, but he acknowledged that many of our churches possessed knowledge of the Bible--and all the right doctrines. Then I learned they were earnestly praying for our revival. Ciro said they hoped to send missionaries our way in the near future. (Amistad de Tijuana has a three hour prayer meeting every day, 6 to 9 AM, at the church, and a 24 hour prayer meeting the first Saturday of each month).

About 60 workers from all over Mexico attended Jaime's Tijuana prison conference. The messages were all solid teaching and of outstanding content and quality. I decided to speak on Romans 1:18-32 so they could see the downhill spiral in our country during the past half-century. My remarks, which were not profound by our PBC standards, were most welcome...all week long I found out they were quoting what I said as if it were wonderfully new and welcome information sent from heaven for them.

This highlights the situation in the Amistad groups as I see it: They have thousands of new Christians, a few years, a few months, or a few weeks old in Christ, who genuinely love our Lord Jesus and have given themselves wholehearted to Him. They are soundly converted, but as yet do not know the Bible very well. They are eager to learn--and thus they hang on every word. I sensed that the whole assembly, including much of the planning and administration of the church, is directly the work of the Holy Spirit whose fullness if everywhere evident to the visitor. I have been in and around many pentecostal and charismatic churches in the U. S. and do believe much of their supposed vitality has been purely emotional hype. This is not my experience at the three Amistad groups I have thus far visited. The warmth and love and joy of the Spirit seeps in and refreshes everyone who hangs around a few days.

In general I believe the common situation in the U. S. is that the world and its values have slowly permeated the church, dulling our senses and quenching the Spirit. Gradually our spiritual awareness has declined and the lights have dimmed. Indeed the lampstand has already been removed from beyond many of our churches. Thus has come much apathy and indifference, collective self-centeredness and a general failure to take God seriously. I do not believe that one can often fault individuals for this situation in the U. S., however the net result of our spiritual decline is that the whole Body is sick and we in this country desperately need a national revival. I thought of Isaiah's words:

"Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil...If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.

"Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?' says the LORD; 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Chapter 1)

On Saturday a wonderful pastor, Sr. Patty Bello enlisted me to speak to her group of 20 "joung people" (ages 13 through 17) who are involved in drama productions on Mexican radio and TV stations. Since religion is prohibited in broadcasting in Mexico, they have learned to be clever and effective through these dramatic plays and skits. We all held hands prayed for I think an hour after which I taught them all I knew from the Bible about fathers and mothers and families. They kept asking me hard questions until the time ran out. At noon we all drove up to a high, steep hill to the studios and for an hour captured the Mexican airwaves with a skit and a seminar entitled "Encuentro De Generaciones: La Problematica De Ser Padre." Since the next day was Father's Day we had a great time discussing families in Mexico and the U. S., and how many people in the world believed that the Creator of the universe was a loving Father who intends the family to the basis of society! After our time on the radio all the boys and girls hugged and kissed me and waved until we were out of sight back down the hill.

On Friday evening and Sunday morning I joined in the Amistad services (which they call by the fitting title, "La Reunion de la Congrecaion.") The singing and clapping--and joyful dancing in the aisles--lasted a full forty minutes. After Jaime told his life story as the main Sunday morning message, 40 or 50 dear men, women and children came forward to receive Christ, many openly weeping. They were counselled, prayed with and warmly welcomed. I couldn't help but watch the reactions of a visiting American youth group while all this was going on. They seemed a bit shell-shocked at this visible evidence that God is still saving people out of this present evil age!

The Solis's filled all my spare time with wonderful meals, sightseeing and fellowship. Elvira had to run the restaurant on Sunday afternoon and their daughter Sarai (7), whose room I occupied, wanted to visit her friend in Tecate after church. So Clemente and I drove the hour drive to Tecate (pop. 200,000) where I enjoyed a great visit with the Amistad pastor there, Dr. Alfredo Jimenez and his wife Cristy. Their congregation has already about 100 families. The city is known for a preoccupation with the occult and a large cerveza brewery is the major industry, however the Christians in Tecate are aggressively moving ahead to change things by means of spiritual warfare. As expected they invited to minister there after Clemente had recounted (word for word it seemed) everything that had happened in Tijuana the previous three days. Alfredo, with typical Mexican hospitality, wanted me to be sure and understand that "Mi casa is su casa."

While I was in Tijuana I met some prison workers from Colima (near Mazatlan) who urged me to come and minister there. The pastor from Amistad de Hermosilla (1500 members) also asked if I could visit them. And a dear brother from La Paz came to great me on behalf of Taiki Castro, a Bible student I met in Mexico City in March. I hope God will allow me to visit some of these cities and to take with me a few of our fine PBC young Timothies so they can catch the vision and gain some experience in ministry.

Jaime sought every opportunity he could find to exhort me through whatever translator that happened to be standing around. On Sunday morning after a wonderful prayer time in Pastor Fermin's office, he said I was to tell DI to please do something about the notorious, infamous Tijuana jail where men, women and children are all thrown together in one room in filth, squalor, with unspeakable sexual immorality abounding there. He said to me, looking into my eyes, "You all at DI have the means and the ability to solve this situation, Please tell Carl and the brothers to undertake and to help us in this."

The warmth and graciousness of our Christian brothers and sisters South of the Border of course makes it a real pleasure to serve God among them. But what is more important to me is that God is evidently now doing a great work everywhere in Mexico. I even suggest this may be Mexico's finest hour. We have great opportunities to export to them at this time our Biblical knowledge and something of the wonderful teaching we have received by God's grace. I feel certain we can contribute if we are willing to move out, by faith. It is quite possible we have more to gain for ourselves by such on going involvement with them, than they will receive through us. I also thought again of the importance of our losing our lives in order to save them, of the need we have to give away what we can not keep in order to keep that which we can not lose.

Sermons by Ray C. Stedman in Spanish
Lambert Dolphin's Library