Despite a steady news media stream of stories on drug cartel violence and killings in Mexico over the last few years, hundreds of Christians living in Southern California have maintained their dedication to weekend mission trips south of the border.
Their goal – to minister and provide basic necessities to the destitute in northern Baja.
However, Orange County resident Isabel Monje, who has been involved with Christian ministry and outreaches in Mexico for more than 22 years, said the media’s focus on the criminal element has lowered the number of groups and individuals taking trips south of the border during the last four years.
While some have scaled down or stopped their efforts, she has throttled up her outreach in the Baja area. Her organization, Transformación Mundial, along with other Christian groups, will host three vacation Bible studies for children in Rosarito and Tijuana this summer.
“I can see that the people are hungry, desperate for a change in their lives and in the country in general. They are open to the Gospel,” said Monje, who is often asked by pastors of churches located in some of the most desolate parts of Baja to give the Sunday message.
Monje, and her husband and ministry partner, John, were recently given the thumbs-up from the mayor of the city of Rosarito, located one hour south of Tijuana, to open a community and daycare center in town. The couple have been able to work with local officials and churches throughout their many visits to this area of Mexico. They’ve teamed with groups on both sides of the border to provide food, clothing, and other needs, including home construction.
“If we don’t do it, who else is going to do it?” Monje asked.
Strong Tower Ministries serves as a conduit for Christian groups and individuals to serve God’s kingdom in Baja, said the group’s co-leader, James Kirk-Johnson. The Orange County group partners with as many as 20 other organizations with the goal of providing for the needs of children and families in Mexico.
The amount of mission trips to Mexico began dwindling three years ago with a downturn in the economy, then a swine-flu epidemic, and the drug cartel war with the government, Kirk-Johnson said. Strong Tower Ministries, which recently helped deliver 8,000 pounds of food to the northern Baja area, is also not slowing down its efforts. The organization is in the process of building an international training center for teachers of deaf children on the property of Rancho Sordo Mudo, which is an orphanage and school for deaf children located east of Ensenada.
Kirk-Johnson, who has led hundreds of mission trips to Mexico every year since 2005, said he believes the church in America is critical to the “faith movement” and the needs of people living in the Baja area who are living in extreme poverty and under harsh and primitive conditions. He said Christians should have no fear in making a trip to serve the needy in Mexico and should “step out of their comfort zone.”
“If you believe that you serve a God that is the creator of the universe and loves you and protects you, why should that faith be any different when you are driving three hours south to reach out to children in need? The bottom line is this: We have never had people go on a trip who didn’t say they received more out of the trip than they gave,” Kirk-Johnson said.
Monje tells of the story of a married couple in Tijuana who were struggling with their marriage. The man was a heavy drinker and shirking his responsibilities as a husband and father.
“He heard the Gospel message I was giving one day, and he changed the way he did things,” Monje said. “He became a new husband to his wife and a new father to his children.
“People deserve to have another opportunity to make a difference with their lives with our help, especially the youth of Mexico, who have come from that same circle of misfortune as their parents. With education and the supplies they need, we can change an entire generation,” Monje said.
“One by one, we can see the transformation of the hearts of the people.”