Trip #4

With the Prisoners in Baja California

by Lambert Dolphin

Through the support of Discovery International Carl Gallivan, Ernesto Leon and I were privileged to spend 6 days in Tijuana and Mexicali at the end of August, joining forces with Jaime Guerrero of the Amistad movement's spin-off prison ministry.

Jaime and Eduardo Montez Hernandez got lost for two hours at the San Diego airport the day of our arrival, however we finally connected with them in time for a dash to Tijuana where Jaime had two back-to-back leadership training sessions scheduled for a new group of Christian disciples who were willing to work in prisons and jails.

Assuming we would arrive tired and wishing to treat us royally, Jaime then installed us in the beautiful old Rosarito Beach Hotel. Our first day there was free for long prayer walks on the beach and some informal evangelism. It wasn't long before Ernesto was leading people to the Lord Jesus everywhere--hotel clerks, gas station attendants, street vendors. Such is the receptive climate in Mexico these days. We gave out lots of copies of My Search, even though we don't as yet have a Spanish edition.

After Jaime had wrapped up his current teaching assignment at Amistad de Tijuana, we headed East in Eduardo's loaned van on narrow, crowded and scary Highway 2 for Mexicali. We were met upon arrival by Arturo de la Paz who heads up the local Amistad Centro De Rehabilitacion De Mexicali, A. C. Arturo had arranged a number of meetings for us beginning with the main Mexicali jail (carcel).

We had expected to speak to a women's group at the carcel but instead we passed through three locked gates and a security check into the main courtyard of the men's section. The Mexicali jail is dirty and very crowded--housing more than 1400 inmates. About 100 men gathered around us for our presentations which began with some lively music and choruses. The inmates joined in and sang heartily. A good number of them were apparently already Christians. Carl and Jaime and Ernesto and I then all spoke to the men presenting the Lord Jesus Christ as the answer to their needs and struggles. The men seemed to hang on every word and many wanted to talk and pray with us afterwards. With Ernesto's help as interpreter I made friends with Atanacio Cuadras, 19, who had served one year of a four year sentence for attempted rape. His father was ill, he said, his family in Sinaloa had not sent him any support and he felt very hopeless about his entire life situation. However after a little encouragement from Jaime he prayed to invite Jesus Christ to be the Lord of his life. Ernesto and I arranged for a Bible to be sent to him along with a toothbrush and some necessities. Apart from the meager clothes they wear, most prisoners have nothing. It was evident to us that God was in the process of calling many of these men to be part of His church, in accordance with the Parable of the Great Banquet, Luke 14:15-24.

Friday evening I was the guest speaker at the Amistad youth meeting in Mexicali which was attended by more than 200 junior high and high school students. The program begin with the usual thirty minutes of singing, clapping and dancing in the aisles. Ernesto gave his personal testimony and then I presented a scientific scenario for the creation of the universe from Genesis 1 which was apparently very well received in spite of the language barrier and need for translation. Next door Carl talked to a group of Christian businessmen who immediately wanted to schedule a return visit for Carl to speak to business leaders in the city.

Saturday morning we all piled in Eduardo's blue van for a visit to a rehabilitation ranch for 28 former prisoners. These men, young and old, are housed in a tiny, cramped shack out in the desert next to a junk yard. Scrawny chickens and a goat or two wandered freely through the shed where we were speaking. The weather was blazing hot, well over 100. Clearly this ranch represented a big step up in life--compared to life in prison.

The men were all grateful for what they had and were adding on to the buildings a brick at a time as the earned money for cement or scrap building materials. Their daily tortillas and beans evidently showed up only when they needed to eat, but no one complained about their circumstances. Several men spoke clearly of their continuing gratitude for the grace of the Lord Jesus in their lives.

I thought of the Apostle Paul's words, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

Saturday afternoon Carl and Jaime with Arturo and assorted musicians took off for a long and hair-raising drive across the hot desert to San Luis Prison. In parallel, Ernesto and I joined some Amistad brothers for a visit to a Juvenile Detention facility outside Mexicali which houses 87 boys between the ages of 12 and 17.

In spite of my lack of Spanish I was able to interview quite a few of the boys in the courtyard for the first half hour or so. They were all very friendly and open. "I accidently killed a man." "I did some robberies." "I was caught sniffing glue." "For fighting at a party." And so on.

The Amistad leader told me we had fifteen minutes to speak to the boys after their afternoon meal. He said they would be inattentive and unruly and would not pay much attention. Yet as the time to speak drew near I felt so much love and compassion for these unfortunates that Ernesto and I prayed rather fervently for the power of God so that Jesus might somehow touch each one of them.

Standing to the side of the tables in the dining room I began by telling the boys I thought they were all fine young hombres and that I wanted to take them all home with me. This drew an immediate cheer and vigorous round of applause (naturally!)--so from that point on they paid attention. I told them I was very sorry they were in such unfortunate circumstances. I assured them jail was not necessarily going to last forever--that God was exceptionally compassionate and full of mercy. I told them that they were most fortunate that they had their whole lives before them and could get a fresh new start by asking Jesus to transform them that very day. The time was up by then so I stopped talking and was prepared to leave.

However, led by the Spirit, Ernesto then began speaking further of the Lord Jesus in fluent Spanish, identifying even further with these boys in their trials and difficulties. The next thing I knew Ernesto was leading them in the sinner's prayer so that they might receive Jesus. I was startled to look across the audience--the great majority of these boys were praying out loud along with Ernesto! Even the guards seemed deeply moved and approving. It was one of those wonderful occasions when the Holy Spirit was almost visible. Certainly He held the whole audience in His hand.

It was time to leave, and as we waved farewell there was another big round of applause and several clear shouts, "Come back!" For me personally this was a very moving experience--the boys were obviously tender in heart and teachable and not hardened like so many American young people in the same age group. Were it in my power to do so I really wanted to take these boys all home with me and be a father to them. Thankfully many of them now know a heavenly Father and will be receiving Arturo's ongoing help and Bible teaching. Let's pray for them!

That evening we were scheduled to tape a radio program in El Centro, but we arrived too late at the estacion and our program was cancelled. This allowed us to enjoy a Mexican dinner with very loud mariachi band and some delightful fellowship with Jaime and Arturo. Jaime is a fascinating and godly brother full of good humor and many stories of his own life in prison before he came to the Lord and subsequently met Carl in Columbia ten years ago.

Sunday morning Amistad de Mexicali convenes for two morning services, both packed to overflowing with more than 1500 members. The pastor told me the church was started 12 years ago by means of home Bible classes by workers from the mother church in Mexico City. Everyone, young and old, men and women, boys and girls had to shake hands with us an greet us with whatever words of English they knew--and always with big smiles.

The same fervent love and spiritual worship and gracious hospitality we have seen in Puebla and Mexico City and in Tijuana was here also, except there were not many visitors and evidently fewer converts week to week compared to other Amistad congregations. Probably this is temporary as they simply don't have room for more people and will shortly add a third morning service and after that require a new building. The music and worship were, as expected, upifting and edifying.

Jaime was the featured speaker for both services and his message was over an hour in length but attentively received as far as I could tell. Of course we couldn't leave town without receiving a big meal hosted by Arturo at a Chinese restaurant. Carl was reminded that he was expected back and I was told to expect an invitation to return from the University pastor who was out of town that weekend with a ministry team from the college youth of the church.

This was my first visit to prisons and jails in Mexico. It was far more rewarding for me personally than I had expected. Once again I was amazed at the openness of the Mexican people (at all walks of life) to the gospel. Surely this is Mexico's great hour--and we are most welcome to continue to participate vigorously in this time of great spiritual awakening and blessing South of the Border. I can't wait to go back as God permits.

September 4, 1991

References (Contributions are most welcome):

Arturo de la Paz V.
Centro de Rehabilitacion de Mexicali, A. C.
Av. Laureles 1001 1er Piso
Los Pinos, Mexicali, B. C. C. P. 21230, Mexico
Tel: 68-10-02

Amistad Cristiana de Mexicali, A. C.
Services Sunday mornings at 9 and 11:30 AM
Av. 1001 Laureles
Los Pinos, C. P. 21230, Mexicali, B. C. Mexico

Sr. Jaime Guerrero Rodriguez
Patronato De Asistencia Social A.C.
San Felipe #68 Col. Xoco, 03330 Mexico, D.F. , MEXICO
011+525+ 688 1518
011 525 688 0768 FAX

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