The Amistad Guest House on San Felipe Street in Colonia Del Valle, Juarez District, is just across the street from the Amistad offices and schools. Amistad means "Fellowship" in Spanish---they operate as five separate "Civil Associations" rather than as a church, since "churches" can not own property in Mexico, and are regulated by the government. When we arrived at our comfortable three bedroom apartment, the refrigerator was fully stocked and a huge bowl of fresh fruit was on the table. Jose Antonio Orozco (25) had met us at the airport and saw us to the Guest House with a warm welcome. Jose Antonio is the principal of the Amistad Christian elementary school and also in charge of the part-time Bible college. He has been a Christian only a half a dozen years or so.
I was told that my teaching schedule was to be one hour of the daytime Bible class (150 students), Monday through Friday, and two hours of the evening students (250 in number), on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At 8 AM Monday I met our host Marco Barrientos (27) who is the Academic Director for the Bible college and apparently a key leader in the entire congregation as well. Marco has been a Christian about seven years and received two years of training at Christ for the Nations in Dallas. Marco and his wife Carla have one small child. He also runs a Christian music company part time.
In order to ascertain the level of knowledge of my students, I presented an overview of the Bible at my first lecture, showing the main themes of prophecy as related to Israel, the church and the nations. The students were very attentive, and Marco's translation was superb. At the end of the hour the questions were keen and perceptive indicating to me that many of these students already had a good working knowledge of the Bible, and that all were very eager to learn all I could teach them.
I forget to mention that the morning Bible class begins with a full 30 minutes of wonderful worship and praise led by five of the students. This is the best possible way I can think of to start off the morning with the Lord Jesus.
Marco took us to lunch where he told me that Dr. Perdillo---after hearing my first lecture---had scheduled me to speak to both Sunday morning services that weekend, and I learned that they had set up a Saturday seminar on Science and Biblical Creation for me as well. Marco joked that they wanted to squeeze all the juice out of the lemon while they had me there, to which I gladly consented. Scott and I then repaired to the Guest House that afternoon so I could put together four more hour-long lectures on prophecy and three on creation/evolution. Hopefully then I could start thinking ahead to the Sunday services when 8000 persons would be in attendance!
Amistad is the result of American missionary activity springing out of Christ for the Nations in Dallas, an American Charismatic group. Amistad is self-governed by Mexicans, however at the end of the week we met Wayne Myers who serves as their very wise and godly advisor to keep them in balance and focused onto the right things. Most of the congregation is under 30, and on the average 250 people become Christians every Sunday, so this is young and growing Book-of-Acts congregation---few have been Christians for more than a decade. During the week we did meet some very godly and mature elders and leaders. My earlier concerns that Amistad Christians might be too charismatic (and therefore prone to early emotional burnout) now seem to be unfounded. Either that, or what is more likely, our Lord has been answering our prayers for them. These dear people love the Lord Jesus with purity and whole hearts and many of them know the Bible well. They are certainly open to truth, eager to learn and grow, grateful to anyone who can teach them. No one raised a single point of doctrinal disagreement with me all week, yet they asked dozens of very difficult, advanced questions after my lectures indicating they were far from naive about Scripture. Most, of course, come from Roman Catholic backgrounds, and as is well known, the Roman Church in Mexico is in the dark ages.
The Mexican people are predominantly of Indian stock (descendants of Noah's son Ham), but of course the Spanish conquest (Japhethitic) has resulted in perhaps a 20% mixing of the European stock with the Indian blood. The Mexicans today are warm and considerate. Even strangers you pass on the streets greet you warmly and with courtesy. The graciousness of these dear people was very touching to us. Amistad is in a middle class neighborhood with fantastic new shopping malls, new cars on the streets and many signs of rapid economic growth after severe recession three years ago. All spoke highly of Presidente Salinas. The average wage in Mexico is 7 to 10 times below the U. S. average, and many laborers still earn only $2 per day. However Mexico City (23 million people!) is obviously now prospering. The air pollution and traffic are surely very serious. La Ciudad de Mexico has 8 fine Metro lines running everywhere. Jose Antonio gave us a thorough tour of the city after lunch on Thursday.
Amistad desires to penetrate the upper classes with the gospel, and they have established three or more other congregations in Mexico City---and I gather, also now in many other cities (such as Puebla, Pachuco, Tijuana, La Paz, and Chihuaha that I know of). There is some persecution of Christians especially in small towns. A number of evangelicals were murdered for their faith last year, mostly in rural areas. There is little opposition to the gospel in Mexico City at present. They have little if any "Christian" programming on TV, which we thought was probably a blessing granted them from God. Amistad has big outreach program to the poor and to street people. The poorer classes apparently come to Christ as fast as they can be reached with the good news. Amistad's young people raise their own support, then they pile in buses and evangelize all over the country at every opportunity. I was told they are well-trained in the gospel and lead many to Christ wherever they go. Amistad's thrust is clearly out in to the world in vigorous evangelism and concern for the poor and downtrodden. Surely this is a sign of a healthy church-pouring herself out for others, losing her life outwards into society as salt and light in order to find her own on-going salvation from the Lord.
As the week moved on we began to notice how the entire Amistad congregation is full of the Holy Spirit, not just as individuals but also collectively. (Of course they are focused on Jesus, not on the Spirit Himself, which is one way you know this is genuine spirituality and not fake). These wonderful saints truly love God. This is not hidden behind lip-service or layers of hypocrisy and double-mindedness we see so often at home. At home the Holy Spirit seems to be usually resisted, grieved, quenched, lied to, and mostly ignored. After we were in and around the Amistad Christians a few days our own lives seemed to fill with new life, even the Scriptures leapt off the page when we read them together during our daily prayer times. We could see things so much more clearly than we are used to. The conversations tended toward heavenly things, "gracious, seasoned with salt." Time slowed down but became subjectively richer and fuller. California's frantic lifestyles gave way to a sense of concern for the things that are everlasting.
There are only two sexes in Mexico and the family life is so whole and wholesome we felt very sad at the terrible brokenness of our families back home. We noted while dining at Sanborn's that Mexican families (whether Christian or not), apparently love one another! It was very refreshing to be around men who were kind, loving, hospitable, yet strong and confident in their leadership roles. The girls and women were lovely, modest, beautiful, and feminine. The Macho Mexican Male I remembered from two decades ago is gone. These are a people who know who they are and are proud of their cultural and national heritage.
We told them not to emulate Norte Americano values but to develop their own Christian identities from the Bible. Of course there is still divorce in the land. Many Mexican men abandon their families and start a second family when they are in their forties, we were told. Demonically-inspired MTV can be seen in the shopping mall shops, and the bookstores had our same kind of New Age magazines, en Espagnol.
The malls are filled with young people till late every night, they were all milling around and talking congenially to each other in safety and tranquility.
My Bible classes consisted of men and woman of college age and older. The day time students are more or less full-time Bible students, the evening class members work 8 hours a day but are even more diligent in their six hours a week of evening Bible school. For my prophecy classes I taught (1) Daniel 2 on the Times of Gentile World Dominion to the end of the age; (2) the Rapture and Tribulation periods, (3) the Man of Sin, and (4) the City of God vs. the City of Man. The students asked every conceivable question about time and eternity, the nature of the resurrection body, the Judgments, the Marriage Supper, the Angels, 666, Armageddon and all other subjects one would expect to deal with in a full semester at a pre-trib, pre-mill evangelical seminary!
On Saturday 100 people showed up at 9:00 AM for the advertised Seminar on Science and Creation. Within a short time the numbers had increased to more than 800-1000. (Mexican time is not too exact, except that the Sunday services do start on time). I gave three lectures: First an exposition of Genesis One, including the fall and the ruin of the Old Creation, then a talk on the Antediluvians, the Flood, God's government in sustaining the present creation, and the New Creation; followed by a message on the History of the Theory of Evolution (and all its ridiculous religious mythology which is contrary to any sound science). The questions occupied at least an hour of time and could have continued all day, however I had covered a good many representative questions by 1 PM so we adjourned for lunch and a siesta.
Amistad volunteers video- and audio- tapes all the sessions. Many came up after the various sessions to thank me for my lectures. Several indicated it was common for them to review the tapes of guest speakers carefully to make sure they learned everything the speaker shared. Apparently not much content was lost in translation. (A good many of these people know English, after we talked to them awhile they waxed more confident and became less shy). Marco and Jose Antonio were instant and skilled in translating my talks into Spanish and they did not balk at technical terms. My translators and I were operating in one Spirit which brought me a special sense of joy in serving them. Scott and I asked a number of people if my talks were too difficult or over their heads, but no one said they were. I attribute this to the healthy spiritual climate and the teachable hearts of these brothers and sisters who have a deep hunger to know more about God. The church leadership is growing up along with the people they lead to the Lord each week. Obviously they have different sets of problems to deal with than are encountered in our older established (Laodicean?) congregation where hardly anyone ever becomes a Christian anymore.
I was exhausted Saturday afternoon and terrified about speaking Sunday morning. The Lord had given me my Sunday teaching topic earlier in the week---"Entering God's Rest" (Hebrews 3 and 4, 1 Cor. 10:1-13). I slept poorly that night, tossing and turning in great apprehension, in spite of Scott's fervent prayers over me. I was up by 4 AM and the Lord soon gave me a set of notes for a message about the various stages of our spiritual pilgrimage from Egypt to Canaan (as in Major Ian Thomas', "The Saving Life of Christ"). All the Amistad elders laid hands on me and prayed over me prior to the service which was a considerable comfort! I am grateful that God promised that His strength would be made perfect in weakness, because I certainly knew more than ever how inadequate I was! But God is a great and terrible God, just as it says in Exodus.
Amistad services on Sunday commence with a full thirty minutes of uninterrupted singing, hand-clapping and joyful dancing in the aisles. The musicians sit on a high balcony to the left of the platform. Words are vu-graphed on the screen so even we could sing along with everybody else in Spanish. It is an exceptionally moving experience---others who have been there before will back me up on this! Dr. Perdillo made a few announcements and then I was on for a full 40 minutes. I launched forth with Marco translating (and preaching with fervor, rendering every one of my English sentences into obviously perfect Spanish). Speaking was effortless because of the abundant supply of the Spirit. I concluded with Matthew 11:28 ("Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..."). Then I sat down and let Marco close the service in Spanish. Seventy people came forward to receive the Lord the first service, and about 200 more after the second service. Marco led them in the sinner's prayer---many of these dear people (of all ages) were weeping as they experienced the forgiveness of their sins. Afterwards the entire assembly applauded these new brothers and sisters warmly as they all went off to a prayer chapel to be given follow-up literature to take home.
I felt more grateful to God for His mercy and grace than I had in a long time. These wonderful Mexican people were being added to the Body of Christ right before our eyes, they were now our brothers and sisters for all eternity. After the second service was over Dr. Perdillo (who had been more or less distant all week---though he came to each of my lectures, sat in the front row and took copious notes), came up and gave me a huge bear hug and many kisses, thanking me with profusely in clear English for our week of service to them. Evidently I had passed the test!
Marco indicated that Amistad wanted much more cooperation and interaction with PBC. It was clear to me that after this week their doors are wide open to us. I know they would welcome our help in sending them Bible teachers for a week at a time, for Pastors' Conferences, Couples' Conferences, Youth Retreats, Open Air Evangelism, or whatever. Mostly I think they need Bible teaching and expositions on various subjects. Twice during the week Jaime Guerrero took me aside to remind me that we (DI) are supposed to send someone to the next Prison Ministry Conference in Tijuana, B. C., May 21-27. Jaime also asked me when he could get me to come to the prisons with him. Then he asked me to give him blocks of dates I have free so they can schedule me for the Bible classes and preaching at Amistads all over Mexico, starting at La Paz, Chihuahua, and Tijuana, he said. God willing, I certainly want to take him up on this. Jaime wanted especially to be remembered to Rone Reetchie, Carl Hallivan, Dogue Hoings, Meek Tracee, and Aed Woodhole.
Tuesday night I was scheduled to speak to a home Bible class at residence of Sr. y Sra. Jorge Plata (he is a mechanical engineer working for the American firm of Dressler in the petroleum industry, and he is also a church leader). Normally forty people attend. That evening only two beleaguered men showed up, clearly this was the Lord's doing. One man was struggling with Christian ethics---he was a factory manager and knew of theft and dishonesty in the company he didn't know how to deal with. The other man was experiencing a good bit of hostility from his Catholic family. We all talked and wrestled together over the Scriptures for a good hour about these issues. Jorge said afterward that with so many new Christians in the church they all needed to learn how to apply their faith to daily-life situations.
Thursday night a dear widow, Hermana Joyce, was the hostess for my appearance at the oldest Amistad Home Group (12 years). About 40 dear people were there in spite of the holiday honoring Benito Juarez who liberalized religion in Mexico in 1857 weakening the stranglehold of the Catholic Church and allowing Protestants to come in. After music, we studied I Peter 2: 3-11 on the steps of growth that lead to wholeness and maturity in Christ. Roberto, 20, who came with his mother (she is a new Christian), prayed to receive the Lord afterwards. All the group prayed the sinner's pray out loud with Roberto. Joyce is a delightful exhuberant, spiritually mature woman who was led to the Lord, (kicking and fighting every step, she said), by the legendary Harold Bredeson, on a plane about 15 years ago. She fed me a big meal afterwards and ran off to her library to produce an underlined copy of "Jesus, Lord of Time and Space" given her by Carl Gallivan a year or so ago. Joyce leads a number of women's Bible groups during the week. It was an unforgettable evening. I told her I would greet Carl and send him back to visit them again.
I also attended the Saturday night youth meeting when Scott spoke. Scott expounded Romans One clearly---contrasting vividly the healthier Mexican culture with our own---which is now surely down in Verses 28-32. Fifteen students came forward to receive the Lord after Scott spoke. The meeting was fervent and fun, but marred afterwards when Jose Antonio decided to solicit all who wanted the "Second Baptism with Speaking in Tongues." This part of the meeting was awful---the Holy Spirit was instantly quenched and Scott felt betrayed because of this incursion of a Babylonian spirit of confusion. We felt very sad that our fine young brother Jose Antonio was not yet mature enough as a presiding leader to discern the Body and guard against this sort of falsehood. Scott was really bummed out, however we prayed together that night, asking God to bring this nonsense to an end at Amistad in the days to come. On Sunday the students Scott talked to entered into serious conversations with Scott about his talk. Scott felt better about his own teaching that it had not been snatched away by the enemy as he had feared. Sunday night Scott had an opportunity to establish a warm and lasting friendship with Jose Antonio so that they can, hopefully, discuss doctrinal issues on another occasion. In fact Scott had a great ministry all week, one-on-one with many, many people at Amistad. Language was no real barrier.
Wayne Myers and his wife Martha took Scott and me to lunch after the Sunday services while Dan ran off with his dozens of new friends in the youth group. Our lunch at Restraunte Chateau de la Palma was fit for royalty, but even more than the fine food we felt the spiritual experience was worthy of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Wayne travels all over the world speaking constantly. He filled us in regarding world missions and the state-of-the-nations and the church in a most enlightening manner. Wayne delighted us with dozens of one-liners and new jokes that even Ray Stedman would greatly envy. He is a humble modest man and quite clearly the anchor, pillar and rock of the Amistad movement. Wayne thought Amistad was now at a "dangerous" place in her history because all her property was paid for and she needed a greater vision for reaching out to the world. Amistad has already sent out missionaries to Spain, Israel and other nations.
We felt very honored to meet and spend time with these dear saints. Their beautiful home is furnished them rent-free by Amistad friends, and they also have a home in Dallas at Christ For The Nations. Scott and I felt relieved to discover that a man of Wayne's vision and maturity was behind the scenes at Amistad to see to it that the continued to stay on the right track in and not fall short of their inheritance in Christ.
Wayne Myers convinced Scott and me that the Spirit of God is moving in unprecedented ways around the world today. We realized we had largely been missing out on the action and that we had had little world vision imparted to us in recent years---probably because of the apathy and dryness at home where must everyone seems to be wallowing and floundering around in Silicon Valley materialism and numerous harlotries.
Scott and I wondered out loud to each other each morning as we read the Bible and prayed together before our daily activities. We began to fear returning home to a dying, decadent old church where there is so much apathy, indifference and disinterest in spiritual things in spite of all the efforts of the staff. I kept thinking that PBC was disappearing into a Black Hole at the very time in history when we ought to be a blazing, bright Lighthouse Beacon on the West Coast. It is our fault, we concluded, that the Bay Area is so bankrupt and anti-Christian these days. Scott and I prayed God would guard what we had learned and experienced in Mexico, and if possible we hoped we could bring something of their spiritual richness back with us as a sweet fragrance.
Sermons by Ray C. Stedman in Spanish
Lambert Dolphin's Library