I love watching people who enjoy connecting a need with a resource — and even more I want to learn from them. A recent visit to southern California and the northwest corner of Mexico exposed us to an association team with more than a decade of experience finding resources for a specific need that could have easily fallen through the cracks. Mike Carlisle, director of missions for San Diego Southern Baptist Association (SDSBA), along with his wife and ministry support specialist Judy; church planting catalyst missionary Juvenal Gonzalez and his wife Maria; administrative assistants Darcie Hatch and Sarai Gonzalez; preschool ministries director Julie Choe; and communication specialist Julie McFadzean work long hours assisting member churches in various ministry efforts. Their job descriptions read much like what we find in Alabama and other states.
Hatch’s husband Walt and the Gonzalez’s children also find themselves actively involved in associational ministry efforts on any given day — again similar to what many families in ministry experience.
But the SDSBA team found itself in a unique position in 2006 — not only geographically but also with a ministry opportunity.
California is one of four states sitting on the southern border of the United States, which stretches roughly 1,500 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The three other bordering states are Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The northernmost part of Mexico bumps up against these states so the associations and state conventions are leading the missions and ministry efforts at and around the border.
The North American Mission Board’s work stops at the U.S. border and the International Mission Board work in that area of the world is focused on southern Mexico and into Central and South America.
When Carlisle recognized the unmet needs less than 25 miles from his focus area he recruited Gonzalez to plant churches and mentor pastors in Tijuana.
Again the original ministry efforts were pretty routine for what we know as Southern Baptists, but everything changed in early October 2016 when a caravan of several hundred Haitians captured the world’s attention by congregating in Tijuana in an attempt to enter the U.S.
Gonzalez noticed they were sleeping in the streets, hungry, dirty and in dangerous situations. Most only spoke Creole and French, the rare few spoke Spanish and none of them spoke English so the language barrier made it all worse.
“The situation was a difficult one but it certainly wasn’t the U.S. government’s responsibility,” Gonzalez said. “Even so we (the Church) still couldn’t let them suffer.”
Gonzalez saw a need and determined the Baptist churches in Tijuana could make a difference with the help of the SDSBA.
So together they developed their own disaster relief-type response to the crisis that walked up unexpectedly.
And what started out as a temporary assistance effort for one group quickly turned into an official ministry to all migrants arriving from other countries.
In the past three years five Baptist churches have repurposed their ministry focus to intentionally reach the undocumented strangers in their midst.
Several churches now provide sleeping quarters for migrants. Some have showers and restroomsand others have developed feeding programs.
In fact a large chunk of the 345,000 miles on Gonzalez’s 2003 charcoal gray Dodge Ram pickup truck has been made with his daily trips across the border to pick up rice and beans for the meals.
He wants to be a good steward so he makes one or two trips a day to pick up food and other supplies because the prices are better in the U.S., he said.
We were with Gonzalez less than 48 hours but in that time we saw his deep compassion and the constant assessing of needs and how to meet them.
His legacy of service will be obvious in the stories from the pastors he is mentoring, and a glimpse of his heart can be heard on this week’s TAB News podcast feature (www.tabonline.org/podcasts).
And our time with Gonzalez helped us realize there are church leaders and faith families across the border in Tijuana working tirelessly to help the unending stream of people from other countries showing up in Mexico with nothing and ending up with nowhere to go.
We were encouraged to see how much work is already underway not only to help care for the people’s physical needs but also to share Christ with them.
The church leaders aren’t spending their energy lobbying for the migrants to be allowed into the U.S. nor are they shooing them out of town. They are simply providing shelter, food and showers — and preaching Jesus — until the migrants move on to the next place or decide to settle in Mexico.
The Baptists serving in Mexico don’t need us to organize the work but they could use help with finances and volunteers.