Exactly nine years ago today (June 4th) Lois, David Jr. and I moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We were greeted by a blast of hot humid air as the airplane doors opened and we stepped down on to the tarmac. We proceeded through customs and immigration, where we were granted a maximum stay of 180 days. In no uncertain terms we were told that, as foreigners, we would not be allowed to do any religious proselytizing. No house, no car, no stocks or bonds, just four suitcases, very little money and God, was all we had. Outside, we were met by a handful of Christians. Brother Moses’home became our home for a few weeks, until we found a small apartment for rent. It was in the back room of that house that Lois first met a cockroach. We had put our hand to the plough. It was a large field and most of it had never been ploughed. Many obstacles would make the work ahead of us difficult, but the potential for God was overwhelming.
I had been here before for a brief visit six months previously, but for Lois and David Jr. it was all new. In January of 1988, brother David Smith of Vancouver, arranged that Mr. Douglas Reid, of Costa Rica, and I meet in Puerto Vallarta. We came to visit a widow who had trusted Christ while in Vancouver in 1987. The first gospel meeting we had was in her little house. Most of the people sat on the beds. The Two Roads chart we put up on the wall covered pictures and images of Catholic saints and virgins. Night by night we realized that God had been working in this area. By the end of three weeks, about eight had professed faith and a few, already saved, were very anxious to learn about a local assembly. I returned to my job and studies in Vancouver and brother Reid to his sphere of service. Then, the obvious question was, “Who will go?”
The following months proved crucial. The little group in Puerto Vallarta continued to meet everyday. God blessed their own preaching and others were reached and saved. Up in Canada, our souls were in turmoil. After two months, we talked to the responsible brethren in the Victoria Dr. assembly. Having come from Venezuela in my teens to Vancouver, I had great love for these men. We enjoyed mutual love and respect. And so, the day came when “they let us go.”
The immediate task at hand, upon arrival here, was to seek to pour these new believers into the mold of New Testament doctrine. Culture, customs and habits, though taken into consideration, could not be allowed to override what we believed to be clear principles found in the Word of God. Six obeyed the Lord in baptism in a large baptistery tank called the Pacific Ocean. Not without difficulty, believers bowed to the truth and we felt that many of them were ready to form an assembly. It was in a small living room, on the 22nd of January of 1989 that twelve of us and a few visitors remembered the Lord as He commanded, for the first time here in Puerto Vallarta.
The country of Mexico is a quarter of the size of the United States. The population is close to 100 million people. Mexico City alone has more than 20 million people. Over half of the country’s population is under the age of 20. Other than Spanish, there are 50 dialects.
Ninety-six per cent of the population claims to be Roman Catholic. There are ten thousand priests in active duty. The cults are extremely active, including a very aggressive sect “made in Mexico” called “The Church of the Light of the World.” Their so called prophet lives in Guadalajara and is worshiped by thousands here and in about 20 foreign countries as well.
Mexico’s president, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo, is affiliated to a party that has been in power for over 70 years. In recent years two major guerrilla groups, operating mainly in the south, have tried to interrupt the nation’s political stability. Three murders, still unsolved, of men in high places have eroded even more the people’s confidence in government. Corruption at all levels of government is common.
There is a very uneven distribution of wealth. The 40 richest families in the country earn in a year what another forty million people earn in the same year. Poverty is still a very real problem. Four million Mexicans survive on 50 US cents a day. Minimum wage is at about $3.75/day. The Free Trade Agreement with Canada and the United States has brought a measure of optimism in the economic scene on this side of the border at least! Many other reforms are also helping economic recovery. When we moved here, we waited for a phone hook-up for four years. When it did come it cost seven hundred dollars. Today there are several worldwide telecommunication companies in tough competition offering incredible rates and services.
In January of 1990 we bought a lot in Puerto Vallarta and began the construction of a hall. It is a two story building. The ground level can accommodate 250 people. The assembly today has 80 in fellowship, 30 men and 50 women, a Sunday School of 150 children and well attended gospel meetings. Our yearly conference, held in December, draws believers together from eight different states and we have often been blessed by visitors from other countries.
In 1991, Lois and other sisters began delivering used clothing and food in a very poor area called San Esteban. A woman in the neighborhood let us put up a little wood and cardboard hall on part of her property. There was no electrical power there at the time. For many of the meetings we used the headlights of the car to illuminate the Two Roads chart. Over 20 professed in that first series. Today, we have our own lot and a portable hall on it. We use the building for a children’s work and gospel meeting on Saturdays, and classes of English, reading and writing, crafts and sewing, on five other days of the week.
Towards the end of 1991 I met a rather wealthy family in Mexico City, at that time a 16 hour drive from here. The man invited me to stay in his home but his wife, a devout catholic, was very bitter towards me and opposed to the gospel. Several months later I was able to return and found that there was more interest. Meetings would start at about eleven at night and go on until one or two in the morning. About twelve professed faith in that early stage of the work there. In January of 1995, brother Paul and I rented a large building and, helped by Dr. Harrys Rodriguez, we had the joy of seeing many more trust the Savior. The same building is still being used to the present day. In 1996 our young single brother Harrys, returned from Venezuela fully commended to the Lord’s work by several assemblies in that country. He has settled in Mexico City, a very difficult sphere of service, and has started taking the gospel to several other surrounding cities and towns. We would love to see an assembly established there.
In 1992 I came in contact with a family in Zamora, a six hour drive from here. Five men had heard the gospel and believed the message while working in agricultural fields in the United States. One by one, their wives and other family members here in Mexico also heard the good news and trusted the Savior. Many times, alone, I would drive there just for the meeting and return the same night. Many stories could be told of God’s preserving care. Welcome help arrived in 1993, with the Paul Thiessen family coming to Mexico commended by the Portage La Prairie assembly in Manitoba. In December of 1994, brother Paul and I rented a building and had five weeks of fruitful gospel meetings. A few months later, meeting in a portable building, an assembly with eighteen in fellowship was established. The Thiessens live on the outskirts of the city of Zamora. A large lot has been purchased there and brother Paul has already started on the construction of a new hall.
In 1994 brother Moses, a leading brother in the Puerto Vallarta assembly, began visiting a family in a small town called Ixtapa, about a 30 minute drive from here. Meetings were held and 15 adults have professed faith and ten of them have been baptized. Earlier this year a very nice temporary hall was built on a lot on the street where almost all of these believers live.
Many believers have come from Canada and the States to help distribute Scripture texts printed by the Seed Sowers. Since 1993 they have made six expeditions, delivering a total of some 300,000 texts in places like Puerto Vallarta, Zamora, areas of Mexico City, Acimbaro and Tepic.
During eight weeks of meetings in early 1997, that followed the Tepic distribution, about twelve souls trusted Christ. Marcus and Alison Cain’ who arrived in the country a little less than a year ago, commended from the Halifax assembly in Nova Scotia, have taken on a lot of the responsibility of that work. They rent a building and an apartment in Tepic, though their home is still in Puerto Vallarta. Marcus became quite fluent in Spanish in a relatively short period of time and is able to help already in all aspects of the work.
Two more children (Diego and Rebeca) have been added to our family here in Mexico. Three of the four missionary families have been accepted on a more permanent basis, with full permission to do gospel work. We deeply appreciate the help from many believers who have come for short or long periods of time to help in the construction of halls and in other aspects of the work. We look back over these short years and say “What hath God wrought!” (Num. 23:23).
Nevertheless, we are stirred to think of vast areas, countless cities, towns and villages where we have yet to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Is there someone reading this article that, if called and fitted by God, would be willing to lay aside earthly ties in order to serve God in this country? For, on the one hand, “how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” but also, “how shall they preach except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14,15).