A new work in the gospel is like launching out into the deep, letting your nets down, and wondering in your soul just what might come up. You do it, not because you like throwing nets and hauling them in again. You do it because you love the fish and you love the Master Who told you to throw in the nets. And, fishing season will soon be over, all too quickly.
Our new fishing hole in the northwestern tip of the state of Sonora is wedged between two international borders and four state borders, about three and a half hours southwest of Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a relatively small, flat city, (way over-populated with dogs), called San Luís Río Colorado. It’s dusty, dry and very, very hot. Oddly enough, however, there are fish here! For the past year we’ve been letting down the nets and every now and then the Lord has been sending a few fish our way. The nets have not broken, and our small boat has not yet been filled. We have not religiously counted them and are likely far from 153, but we have had some fishing partners draw alongside in their boats to help. Maybe that’s one of the reasons fishing is so much fun; it’s the enjoyed fellowship and shared love among like-minded fishermen and women.
San Luís Río Colorado (SLRC) in Mexico has a sister city in the United States (just across the border), that goes by the name of San Luis, Arizona. Although a well-defended border separates them, their daily lives are intricately intertwined with thousands of pedestrians and vehicles crossing at all hours of the day and night. The border that separates them may be political, but it is in no way cultural. The population is quickly growing and the connections between the two are strong and numerous.
SLRC sits in the middle of a scorching desert, arguably the hottest region on the North American continent, where summer temperatures routinely reach and even surpass 120°F (50°C). There is no natural beauty or attraction to this city. There are no rivers (dry riverbeds yes, but rivers, no), no lakes, no mountains. It is nothing but a barren wasteland of sand, sand, and more sand, coupled with a frighteningly large population of dogs, both behind fences and roaming the streets. And yet the 150,000+ population is projected by some governmental agencies to reach 600,000 by the year 2025 as more and more people pour into this city.
Some come viewing it as a temporary stopping place en route to the ultimate destination, the United States and the American Dream. Many others arrive here after having had their dreams fade away or torn away in a deportation hearing. With family still living on the American side of the border, they set up home here hoping to one day return, or at least be closer to those they love. Still others arrive here to participate in the dangerous but lucrative trade of drug trafficking. Illegal drugs are delivered throughout the region; warehoused in private residences and commercial enterprises; and smuggled across the border to the waiting American consumer. A single pound of Methamphetamine worth $14,000 US in SLRC will fetch $25,000 just 200 yards away on the other side of a double international fence. Get it further north, and the profit margins just increase. As such there is no end to the growth, nor the sorrow, neither of which show any signs of slowing.
“God looked down from heaven upon the children of men …” and yet God so loved the world. That world includes SLRC, and during Christmas week of 2010, the vast majority of SLRC homes received a John 3:16 text in a plastic bag hung on their front door, or their gate post, or wherever else it could be inserted. The best gospel contacts are those of the Mark 5:19 nature. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them.” This is just what happened in SLRC. A lady saved in Hermosillo wanted someone to go to SLRC and bring the gospel to her family. After much prayer and much asking, the door opened for John Dennison to plan a small distribution of Seed Sowers. I was cordially invited to help in the ensuing gospel meetings for the proverbial three or four weeks. We had no idea how many fish a dusty desert town could produce!
During almost four months the gospel was preached seven nights a week in a small rented hall in the center of town. The posters on the street poles and the invitations in the homes brought out many, many folk. Some came and tested the spiritual waters. Some came and never came back. Some came and were stirred. And some came and were saved. One by one, fish were being caught in the great gospel net. In the third week of meetings two men were saved, and two others in the fourth week. A man saved over 20 years earlier was restored to God, and eventually his wife as well. In February a lady with saved family in another state of Mexico was saved and her daughter received help that confirmed her in her salvation from just a few months before. God was evidently working. Souls were attending; sometimes there were only 10 or 12; at other times 25 or 30. But, God was undeniably working in SLRC, and we knew a big question had to be faced.
In traditional fishing the fisherman takes the fish home. In new work gospel fishing, the fisherman stays with his fish. Fortunately, our God is never taken by surprise, and He was already organizing affairs back in Pachuca, Hidalgo, and Mexico City that would endue our hearts with a sense of peace concerning a possible move. Before long the “possible” was eliminated, and the Harvey family packed their bags and loaded their trailer … and set off for SLRC. After all, who wouldn’t want to fish full-time in the desert!?
The ensuing months brought much juggling of schedules. John and I received much appreciated help from Marcus Cain, Milton Jaime, John Clingen, and Timothy Woodford. Other brethren from far and near made visits while passing through or as they were able, and Daniel Barbour came and spent the summer here helping in many ways. The need was met and the work prospered. Leading up to, and following baptisms in the month of May, a slight shift was made in the focus of the meetings, and while the gospel continued to be preached, a stronger emphasis on teaching began. This mix of preaching and teaching continues to the present day, and the growth in the lives of some has been cause for much thanksgiving. The believers show their unity and their desire to be together. It’s a work of God in the soul.
Unfortunately, there are some who have not continued on well. Gospel work involves a tremendous investment of every resource imaginable. Much time, treasure, and many tears are sown in the lives of precious souls, but while we have freedom to make our own decisions as believers, there is no freedom to choose our own consequences. Despite repeated attempts to help, guide, and counsel some who were evidently sowing unwisely, the day of reaping could not be avoided. Some that were once happily meeting with the new believers are no longer there. It could be called the third “go” of the gospel. “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel” is number one. “Go home and tell your friends” is number two. And the third is the sad question from the Lord to His own disciples in John 6:67, “Will ye also go away?” Sadly, some do. But the call still rings out clearly, “Whosoever will may come.” And thank God they have, and are.
With one year behind us we trace the kind hand of our God in His goodness and His blessing. How wonderful it is to know that He is the Captain of the good old gospel ship, and we are just along for the ride! We seek to obey the great commandment and like Peter of old go from catching fish to caring for sheep. We know not what tomorrow may hold for SLRC, but your prayers are valued as the small group of believers, brethren and sisters, young and old, some married and some not, carry on as we seek to establish a testimony for God amidst the darkness and perversity of a dry, spiritual desert. We look to God as to the establishment of a lampstand in this small corner of the globe, and we sail on with our nets in the water, and our eye on the Captain.
Come and visit us if you can and don’t forget your fishing rod. While there may be 70,000 stray dogs on the streets of SLRC, there are even more fish!