When Proyecto Amistad began, it was located in Piedras Negras a piece up river from Nuevo Laredo where originally there was a ministry called Laredos Unidos. In 2006 the two ministries were united into one. Yesterday (Wednesday, May 2) we visited Piedras Negras where we saw the buildings that once were the center of activity for Proyecto Amistad and we visited families who were involved with the ministry or aided by it.
In the early days of the ministry Jesse Gonzalez was the director of Amistad and the pastor of the mission in Piedras Negras. The project had health, children's, family, and technical education ministries that the people who flocked to the border needed to survive and perhaps find a way to earn a living. The factories did not provide enough work for all the people who came. Since most came from agricultural regions, few had skills for living in an urban industrial city. Amistad sought to provide for their needs and for their futures. In Nuevo Laredo, Laredo Unidos was doing similar things.
The mission in Piedras Negras was astoundingly successful. The work of Jesse and mission volunteers from the U.S. the church developed strong and exciting programs. In Nuevo Laredo, new churches were founded but not with such astounding success, but with steady progress.
Then things began to change after the turn of the century. The government began meeting more and more of the needs of the people. Corporations began paying for the health and pension plans of Mexico and schools were improving. The ministry could see that it needed to redirect its resources and the Presbytery was asking that Amistad do more to start new churches in other parts of Mexico.
A disconcerting phenomenon was the the church in Piedras Negras was slowly disentegrating, having suffered through a number of pastors after the departure of Jesse Gonzalez to be the Co-cordinator of Presbyterian Border Ministry, the coordinating agency for PBM ministries. Today only a few families meet with an elderly pastor to carry on, hoping that the Presbytery can sell the old church property and then send them a young energetic pastor.
We visited Leandro and Mari Esparta, who live near the church and former community center of Proyecto Amistad. They have hopes their church will be revived. Mari shared that when they first got involved with the church she went sporadically, but then as the children became more and more involved, she began to go more often and then became a Christian and joined the church. Leandro expressed no interest and even objected to their spending too much time at the church. Mari prayed for the family to be united in faith and eventually Leandro also became a Christian and a leader of the church. Their son is now studying in seminary.
Next we visited a family that lived on the flood plain of the Cohuila River. One day not long after Roberto Medina and his family moved to Piedras Negras to become the director of Amistad, there was a terrible storm in the mountains that resulted in the river flooding. The flood collapsed dam after dam creating an ever growing wall of water headed to Piedras Negras where it destroyed homes. (The home of Sandra and Pablo is at least 30 feet above the river an indication of the size of the flood.) Their home and all their belongings were lost. Others lost not only their homes but family members. Roberto went to work to help the people rebuild. One home was that of Sandra and Pablo who now have built a family park on their land next to the river. (See Photos). They show thanksgiving for the work the church has done to help them restore their life and today live in relative prosperity.
The family photos shows Angelina, Sandra (the mother), Jose, Erica with Pablito, Carina (in pink tee shirt) and her husband Yvan, Pablo, Jr. They exhibited intelligence, great humor and a spirit of love and hospitality.