Jaimé Guerrero sent me email earlier in the year outlining his ambitious plans for me to visit Mexico City once again under the auspices of the Prison Ministry and Amistad de Christiana. * A large group from Discovery International and Peninsula Bible Church had been with Jaimé in Mexico this past January and as the time approached for my trip, I was not able to find any free, available brothers to accompany me. I sent Jaimé email suggesting we postpone my visit. But when I learned that I had been scheduled to teach 10 classes on Creation at the Amistad Bible College, I realize my schedule was set in concrete so I flew down from San Francisco at once.
Alberto Acevello of the prison ministry met me Sunday evening at the airport and we drove 3 hours over the mountains to his beautiful home in Cocoyoc, where he and his wife Bianca live, near Jaimé's house. It was incredibly beautiful all the way. We climbed from Mexico City's 7100 feet over the mountains to the pass at 9100 feet, then dropped to 4500 feet into lush and green Cocoyoc. On the way, the lofty and recently-active volcano, snow-capped Mt. Popocapétl loomed on the left (17,900 feet).
We were up and on our way before dawn on Monday to take the fast toll road to Amistad's new Bible college down the street from the main congregation center on San Felipe Street in Colonia Xolco. Frank Banda, a dear brother from Mississippi who is the president of the college, greeted me and served as my translator for the Monday through Friday morning two-hours and 5 evening two hour lectures (during which we covered Genesis 1-11 in great detail). As usual the morning sessions were preceded by music and singing for at least half an hour. Frank is a wonderful new friend--a humble and unassuming man who has had much experience in Argentina and Mexico. (Incidentally, Frank expressed keen interest in joining Jaimé on his next visit to see us at PBC. He would certainly be a great speaker here on the ongoing great spiritual awakening in México and all the exciting developments in the many Amistad congregations).
Monday was a full day as Alberto kidnapped me for two hours in the afternoon for time with the prisoners in the main México City Oriente (East) prison. We were late in arriving and had some hassles with the authorities but they soon let us into the spacious grassy courts where all the prisoners freely mingle. (Had they wanted an aging American for a hostage it would have been no problem). About 100 men came to the meeting place at the appointed hour and soon their very loud music was flooding the entire prison complex. I was surprised at the volume of the vigorous singing on Chistian choruses by the men---their voices soared loud and clear above the already too-loud amplified instruments. The men were very warm and enthusiastic and gave me hugs after I spoke and wanted me to come back as soon as possible.
I learned that Amistad takes special care of the children of inmates and that the government allows spousal visits. At Christmas Jaimé brings individual gifts for each prisoner's children, and in January the prison ministry hosts a party for all the guards and their families! Within the prisons of Mexico flourishing Christian churches now meet, teach, worship and pray, thanks to Jaimé's dedication for many years!
I settled in for the week at the Amistad guest house back on San Felipe Street where Scott Grinis, Dan Borbon, and I had stayed on our previous visit, some years ago. Fresh fruit was on the table and the kitchen was well-stocked.
On Wednesday morning Frank told me that I had been selected to give the evening message to the Amistad mid-week service. After our evening Bible classes finished at 8 PM we arrived at the huge Amistad auditorium for the last 20 minutes of singing, dancing and clapping. I then spoke on Colossians emphasizing the role of Christ in the creation, sustenance and future of the universe.
...we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him...
It was an amazing thing to speak to 5000 people in English and watch the Spirit of God convey the meaning clearly through Frank to the congregation. Thankfully, much prayer by dear friends back home at PBC provided an abundant supply of the Spirit all week long and especially for this very large gathering.
What wonderful weather this great city of 22 million enjoys in the summer! The days are warm, and afternoon rain showers wash away smog and pollution leaving the air fresh and clear.
Tuesday afternoon a marvelous architect, Sr. Palemon Camu, took me to lunch. Palemon has given up a lucrative career to teach and lead on the staff of Amistad. We talked about the flood of foreign investment coming in to the country since NAFTA (1/1/94), the high unemployment rate (12-20%), and the usual corruption in government. But Palemon told me he was not worried for Mexico. 10 million of the nation's 100 million have become solidly converted to Christ in recent years and the mighty moving of the Holy Spirit has not slowed. God will bless Mexico, he said, it is the United States that is in dire trouble with God. (I agreed). We had such a good talk, we lunched again the following day this time including Palemon's son, Ramir, who has completed 5 of 9 semesters of university study in Business Administration and Computer Science and already has his own company. I asked Ramir how his country was changing. He said 60% of the population was under 30 and the younger generation was open and wanted real answers. They were less susceptible to cults than might be expected and their hopes were certainly built on a better economy, but more so on real spiritual life.
I remember well my visits to Mexico City with Ray Stedman and members of the Palo Alto Think and Pray Group in the '60's. We met at that time with Christian business men for discussions at that time which were reserved, low-key, very conservative, and my impression was that we really got nowhere. Modern Mexico is totally different! The younger generation is open, inquiring and most receptive to the Christian gospel.
On Saturday morning Sergio Hernandez, pastor of Amistad de Acoxpa, took me to a breakfast for the men of his church. I spoke on servant authority from the Gospel of Mark and warned the men about the common problems in U.S. churches when churches revert to a senior pastor model and top-down authority structure which emulates the world's way of organizing people in a hierarchy.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Afterward Sergio told me his congregation was four years old and had serious problems in leadership before he was asked to step in. He was able to set the church on the right foundation by using this very principle of church leadership and government. He was amazed that the Spirit had led me to teach on this passage, it was apparentrly exactly what his men needed to hear.
David Calderon Vasquez, my translator, a fine young University student in accounting, took me to lunch with the church youth leader Salvario Ordanes and his wife at a Sanborns in a dazzling new four-story mall that made our Silicon Valley malls back home look both dingy and small. (The economy in Mexico is still in bad shape and unrest among the very poor still continues, except that lately the United States is moving towards owning Mexico because of the big balance of payments). After lunch I met with the Amistad Acoxpa youth group (mostly ages 17-27). Their music had the usual vigor and then for an hour and a half we talked about Genesis and Creacionismo followed by quite a few young people lingering afterwards for questions.
The Sunday morning services of Amistad Acoxpa are held temporarily in the Brasil Copacabana nightclub and cinema. A clean-up crew puts the place in order on Saturday and the congregation of about 500 shows up for services on Sunday morning. The air smelled of stale smoke. The ceiling tiles were dirty with rainwater stains, the walls dark and dingy. The platform was covered with black plastic and torn black cloth and the bright lights by day did not dispel the gloom. But when the service started 10 young señoritas in ballet slippers and long print dresses danced and played tambourines while the "choir" and musicians led in 30 full minutes of singing beautiful Christian choruses accompanied by much hand clapping and praising God. The Holy Spirit came down and setlled among us and soon the fragrance and love of Christ was very evident throughout. ("Resurrection power works best in the place of death," Ray Stedman used to say) I was told to speak for a full hour, but David and I had finished speaking on Colossians in 50 minutes and we lingered on the street out front for some time talking to the people, many of whom wanted to be sure I was properly hugged.
Sergio was speaking that morning in Amistad de Choluca near Puebla so we went there for lunch, after services in Acoxpa, meeting Ramir Camu on the way. Our delicious carnitas and chili lunch was blessed by special music provided by Veracruz musicians playing their traditional favorites. At that point I left my heart in Mexico!
Sergio told me they hope to build a permanent building soon on an available lot in Xochimilco. That well-known suburb at the South end of Mexico City is cursed by a the terrible cult of the Niño Pa, ("baby boy father"). Townspeople sign up many years in advance and when their turn comes around the ugly idol is brought into a home for one day where it is bathed, clothed and "fed." The unfortunate householder host is supposed to receive a blessing, but he is also obligated that day to feed and provide hospitality for thousands of his neighbors. Should any person refuse a visit by the Niño Pa he is immediately ostracized in Xochimilco. This strange cult, obviously a mixture of ancient Indian pagan beliefs overlaid with some Catholic imagery is supported by the local Roman Catholic bishop. So Sergio expects trouble when Amistad moves into Xochimilco and begins to talk about who the real Father God is, and the real Lord Jesus Christ. A Christ perpetually hanging on a crucifix is powerless to save, and a God who is always a child can not help, so there is much work to be done in Mexico--everywhere.
Once more I was deeply impressed by the warmth and hospitality of the Mexican people everywhere we went. Their family values are enviable, though they insist divorce has now reached "scandalous" proportions. Amistad does not advertise. They have no access to radio or television and receive no attention from the media which is all to the good I think. Thousands keep coming to Christ year after year. Mexico City now has 8 Amistad daughter churches, and Amistad congregations are in nearly every important city of the country now. At Amistad Centro there are now three morning services, or close to 10,000 worshipers per day. Every few months the leadership asks 500 to 1000 to please leave and start a new congregation. Then (according to Palemon Camu), there is a slightly noticeable short-term dip in the Sunday morning attendance, but in a few weeks the assembly is back to full overflow conditions.
There is much we from The United States can do to help in Mexico. The splendid prison ministry is ready for all-day Bible teaching seminars in the prisons. Training pastors and leaders for new congregations is a major task. The people are hungry for a full knowledge of God. It is hard to imagine a better and more exicitng way to spend one's time!
* Creed of Amistad churches:
PROPOSITO: Conocer el mensaje, la filosofia y el pensamiento de Jesus de Nazaret, para establecer una relacion personal con dios, independientemente del credo religioso. Estudiar las escrituras como medio para conseguir la unidad en la familia, tan atacada por el Alcoholismo, la drogadiccion, la pornografia, El divorcio, la falta de comuncacion; y buscar la superacion personal, a traves de aplicar los altos valores morales y espirituales contenidos en la Biblia.
|Amistad Christiana Centro
Colegio de Patria Juaréz
San Felipe 72
Phone: 604 5272
Alberto y Biana Acevello
|Frank M. Banda|
San Felipe 138 Col. Xoco
Del Benito Juårez 03330
Phone 604 0500, 604 0449,
Faz 604 9235
|Sergio Hernandez Cortez
Amistad Christiana, A.C. de Acoxpa
Col. San Lorenzo Huipalco
Viaducto Tlalpan No. 25-BIS
C.P. 14370 Delegacion Tlalpan
phone 673 9850, 673 9922
Colo. Insurgents Cuicuilco
México City, DF
| David Calderon Vazquez|
Calle 2 No, 56
C.P. 04870, México, D.F.
phone 677 7388
July 29, 1997.
Sermons by Ray C. Stedman in Spanish
Lambert Dolphin's Library