By Debbie Klima, Associate Pastor, Vineyard Community Church, Virginia Beach, VA
Nineteen years ago our church family, VCC Virginia Beach, first dipped our toes in the water of missions. Our congregation was 4-5 years old at the time, when Pastor Fred Collom, a long-time Vineyard guy from the Wimber era, who had a vision to see the Kingdom of God roll through Mazatlan, Mexico came as a guest speaker to VCC. Fred laid an invitation at our feet to join him in his work, and we felt like God was also offering us that invitation, “Will you move outside of your own neighborhood and go to the nations?”
When we said “yes,” VCC tipped into a new era of growth and discipleship. So off we went on our first look-see trip, our little team of four people from Virginia Beach to Mazatlan. Both are resort cities, beach towns encased in sprawling suburbs, but the similarities stopped there. Poverty had been trying for generations to eat the people of Mazatlan alive; those who tried to escape the economic depression of the colonials* the drug gangs preyed on. *(Colonials are desperately poverty-stricken shack neighborhoods in Mazatlan. Westerners may be aware of some cultures’ aversions to this word “colonial” so we don’t use it lightly. But colonials is what the neighborhoods are called locally within their own culture.)
The look-see was quite eye-opening! But we got hooked - hooked on what God wanted to do in this city of Mazatlan. We returned to reconnect with Fred with a larger team the next year.
In the years that followed, we could see clearly that God had a 360-degree purpose for sending our congregation to Mexico. It was not just to help them. God was just as interested in us. We both mattered to Him! We both had deficits in our hearts, and he did not want to leave either one of us in the condition we were in. As Vineyard Missions changed formats, we changed with it, and grew. We are part of the Mexico Partnership of U.S. churches led by John and Sue Marsden working all over Mexico, though we concentrate our congregation’s efforts in the city of Mazatlan.
It used to be that drug gangs prowled the Mazatlan area to find unwanted, rejected, and hopeless people to drag into their violence. And realistically they still do, but now our teams of thirty people every year join with local Vineyards to prowl the area for the same rejected and hopeless people, but oh how wanted they are! Wanted and loved by Jesus and us!
We began to see healing, purpose, and growth in those we served in Mexico and in those we had brought along on the team! Christina Wilke is an example that comes to mind. She is a nurse in her 30s who started coming to our church, and someone invited her to go along on one of the trips to Mazatlan. She started just by going. Now, 4 or 5 years later, Christina has come alongside me as a volunteer to help organize missions as a leader.
Another story that comes to mind is of a young girl we met named Lydia who lived in the Tolerant Zone of Mazatlan. (A tolerant zone is where prostitution etc. is legal as long as it is kept within the designated zone.) We helped plant the Madero Church there when Lydia was about 8 years old. She lived with her abuela (grandmother) because her mother had abandoned her to work in the Tolerant Zone. Lydia was one of several young people who started attending the church and eating at the feeding center. Lydia was one of those loving children who stand close and snuggle up to you. Such a sweet spirit. She remembered us from year to year, as we also remembered her. Fast forward, now Lydia is about 18, and she loves Jesus and is helping serve in the Madero Church feeding center and the children’s outreach ministry. Lydia chose to place her hope in Jesus in the midst of very adverse circumstances.
Lydia’s choice reminds me of a young boy, Louis Antonio. We met him where he lived as an outcast on Stone Island (where in the 1920s people with tuberculosis and other diseases were sent away from society). Louis took to us so kindly when we began the church plant there years ago. He had been ostracized because of a severe case of cradle cap that would not clear up well into his childhood, and he loved being around us and hugged us a lot. One time when we were leaving he was gut-crying and chased our vehicle down the dusty road on his bicycle for half a mile before he collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. We went back and picked him up and loved on him some more. He was so hungry for love. Recently, on a trip I saw him standing under a tree, all grown up. I called his name, and when he turned around it took a long time, but he recognized me. I hugged him and cried. He continues to be lost, and we heard sad rumors of the work he is currently doing. But we continue to love him and hope that Louis Antonio will surrender to Jesus’ love and plan for him.
Changes at Home
In 19 years, 350 short term missionaries from our local Vineyard church have gone south. Each of those people have been impacted by serving for nine days on the mission field in Mazatlan. The changes in life-perspective and thinking that our people brought home with them have made a difference in our home congregation.
For first timers, we equip and train those interested in serving in Mexico for six months to prepare them to open their hearts to share the gospel, feed the poor, bring medical aid to these souls that God loves so deeply. Each year when the team comes home, they share their experiences with the congregation. Practically speaking, we’ve found this works best by inviting the entire congregation to a taco bar lunch after the third service, so the whole church can share in the excitement of all God did in Mexico and in the team. These short-term missionaries share how God touched them deeply, gave them a word, freed them from a bondage, or gave them purpose and vision. So many stories! After the team settles back in at home, it is not unusual to find them continuing their ministry work in one of our weekend services, whether in hospitality, the nursery, or in some cases even becoming leaders or pastors.
Raising Up the Next Generation
Ten years ago, we began taking our youth to serve in Mazatlan every other year. Their lives have been greatly impacted which has also impacted our congregation. Some of those former youth now lead and pastor. We have sent six interns to Mazatlan to assist (for 3 months) with the local church there, and one long-term missionary (2.5 years).
Seeing individuals find growth and freedom continuously stirs my passion for this calling God has given us! We have grown and matured as a congregation.
What We Celebrate at our Annual Taco Bar Lunch.
We celebrate the salvations, the children fed, the relationships built and renewed. We tell people how they can get involved next year. How they can be part of the larger purposes of God in the earth. We connect our entire congregation to all the lives that have been touched in Mexico over these 19 years, the children we have watched accept Christ, stay to grow up and then serve in the local feeding center/churches themselves.
VCC is in relationship with the Vineyards of Mazatlan because so many people in the congregation have gone themselves. Our friends in Mazatlan once told us, “We feel we are not alone in our quest for Christ and freedom.” VCC team members have shared in weddings, quinceaneras (15th birthday celebration), and even funerals with the people of Mazatlan. This invitation into their lives is one of the much loved benefits of remaining steadfast in the calling the Lord has given us to the Mexico Partnership in the Mazatlan area. We have seen many people fed, receive medical attention, and find hope and freedom through these short-term missionaries sharing their their lives, their time, talents, and resources in Mazatlan.
Results We’re Observing
Rome was not built in a day, and neither can centuries of poverty be undone in a few decades. VCC is in Mazatlan for the long haul. Slowly, slowly, slowly our friends are becoming more independent. It is hard to plant churches because the pastors have to work hard just to feed their family every day. But we are seeing differences. And they are planting! In the greater Mazatlan area some 16 plants are growing out of the main church, even if they don’t meet on Sunday or don’t have an official pastor or are a currently a small regular Bible study group. They are meeting together and inviting others.
Solid relationships have been built over years. In the last couple of years, we got to financially assist in building a feeding center in a impoverished area in Mazatlan, where the building is also used to teach children, men, and women about Jesus! They get fed physically and spiritually by local indigenous Vineyard pastors and leaders who live in the colonial with them!
When redemption begins to overtake lives in an area, the whole area begin to lift. Some people we know have been able to progress out of the colonials; they are going to school and even to university. Some of the children who had never been out of their own colonial, got to go and see an aquarium.
My prayer is for each person on each of our teams to touch another person with the love and hope of Jesus Christ!! They will be changed and those they touch will be changed! And it is happening consistently. This is why VCC invests our time short term missions! Yes, it is for the people of Mazatlan, but it is also for the people of Virginia Beach. When God brings redemption and lift into individuals, it brings about redemption and lift in cities too.
Here is a video of our latest mission trip trip to Mazatlan, Mexico 2018!