I left Tucson early in the morning in cool weather with the expectation that by the time I got to Yuma it would be hot. Not so! In fact, I was plenty cool all day and stopped as I was assending the mountains on the California border and added clothing. Just after getting into California, I took a detour I planned based on a route I found on Motorcycle Rides. It took me through some farmland, desert and more desert, the Ocotillo Recreation Area where four wheelers and off road motorcycles are permitted to ride the desert. For the longest time, I could not figure out where the name came from because there were no Occotillo Plants in the desert. Then suddenly there was a whole grove of them for many acres.
I crossed a mountain pass to enter a fairly green and beautiful valley and then back south toward I-8 on California S-2. It's neat drive and if you ever want to find the neatest routes try out Motorcycle Rides which has an incredible online mapping system. Every state is represented.
I got to the home of Lee and Juanita Van Hamm who were kind enough to take in a stranger. I had gotten their contact info from Presbyterian PEace Fellowship and e-mailed them with hopes they'd take me in. They did and were wonderful hosts. We have much in common. Lee and Juanita read a book written by friends of mine and retired mission workers in Central America, Gloria and Ross Kinsler, named "Jubillee Economics". Their group in Chicago decided to form and organization for reflecting on and trying to build their lives around the ideas of Jubilee Economics. They were also very interested in my project and knew a few of my contacts.
I met up with Bob Battenfiled who was my main contact for Pueblos Hermanos, had dinner, and then I interviewed him and obtained more contact info for others I was to interview. Bob is an elder and a long time participant not only in Pueblos Hermanos but also with Baja Mission which predates Presbyterian Border Ministry and Pueblos Hermanos. It is primarily a fund raising program to provide funding for church planting in the Baja.
On Sunday AM I went to church at the Spanish service held on the campus of Solana Beach PC. The pastor, Juan-Daniel Espitia was in the Baja building houses. The service was great. They asked me to introduce myself and why I was there. They seemed quite interested in what I was up to especially since a bus load of Solana Beach members had left to go to Rosarito, Baja to help build houses with Juan-Daniel and others.
I spent the after noon traveling down the beaches to Chula Vista where I was to attend the Spanish service. I had contacted Nicassio Rojas Ramirez and his wife Marta. Ncassio is an elder studying to be a Commissioned Lay Pastor at San Francisco Seminary. He is now leading this new ministry at Chula Vista. Prior to that he had been an active elder in his church in Tijuana and in Pueblos Hermanos. Marta has been the Health Nurse for Pueblos Hermanos from its inception leading health programs and developing public health promoters. She worked originally along side Dr. Pazos (see Nogales).
The next day was Memorial Day but not a holiday in Mexico, however none of my contacts was able to see me that day. Lee and Junaita included me in their Memorial Day with their daughter and grandson who is about the age of my grandson Patrick.
Tuesday, I spent most of the day trying to organize information I already had, write articels for the Presbyterian News Service, and get my motorcylce serviced. Fortunately, there was a Suzuki dealership a few blocks away from where I was staying.
Wednesday, I met up with Enrique Romero who has been the Mexican Cordinator of Pueblos Hermanos since its fourth year. He showed me to all the churches in Tijuana that Pueblos Hermanos helped establish. The Baja now has churches scattered all the way to Cabo San Lucas. According to Google Maps a trip to Cabo San Lucas from Tijuana is 984 miles or 22 hours. Most persons from the U.S. think of the Baja as quite small. Needless to say it is quite longer than the state of Florida and in many palces as wide.
I discovered that Enrique has an unfaltering faith in Jesus. We met on the Mexico side of the border where we ate at McDonalds, the first time for me in so long I cannot remember the last time I ate at a McDonalds. He explained to me that he wanted to ride the motorcycle with me. I was surprised and we talked about how for him to give directions and all. Not having a helmet for him made me quite uncomfortable, but he seemed fine. I also did not bother to tell him he was the first passenger I ever carried on my motorcycle. Everything went fine and we even did some things like going up very steep hills and down them without a problem. He was a great passenger. I was glad I had done some riding in steep and curvy terrain before taking a passenger.
At the first church where we stopped I interviewed Enrique and the pastor of the church who is also President of the Presbytery, Francisco. This was the first interview in which I heard positive response to the decision of the Mexican Presbyterians to break relations with the PCUSA over ordination issues. However, Enrique is known as very conservative in the Mexican church which is extremely conservative in ours. Nevertheless we had a very agreeable conversation.
We next went to the Dios Hablo Hoy church where I believe I first met Enrique about 20 years ago when he was the pastor. Unfortunately, the pastor was away so we could only see the sanctuary.
We then went to a church in a very poor community with a very nice sanctuary and other facilities. One important aspect of the church is the courtyard. (See Photo). The community sees it as a gathering place for children and youth. During the summer, there are many Bible School events and other activites for children.
The Mexican church has a conflict of conscience. Their stated position is that all they want to do is to plant new churches, yet the needs of the people in the churches and the community around such as a place to gather, a place to celebrate, a place of sanctuary, and a place to receive medical advice and other social support demands a response which is why Marta is still seen as an important part of the ministry of the Presbytery and Pueblos Hermanos.
The final church was a huge facility that was built by a Korean church. I could not get straight whether it was a church from the U.S. or directly from Korea. The building is an example of paternalistic or imperialistic mission. The Koreans did not ask the Presbytery what they needed most. They decided, built the facility, and then gave it to the Presbytery with their goals and design for ministry. Fortunately, the pastor and congregation have been able to use it, but much of the goals of the Koreans go unmet.
Pueblos Hermanos has already transitioned in its ministry to a stronger relation with the Presbytery of San Diego, one of the most conservative presbyteries in the PCUSA which makes them good partners. A few days after my departure, the two presbyteres were holding their first ever joint meeting.
Thursday morning I went to Solana Beach to interview Juan-Daniel who was the first Mexican Coordinator of Pueblos Hermanos when he was a lay person. He had had quite a career doing ministry around the world with an evangelistic group that trained people on a ship to do the work and then sent them ashore in various countries. As a result he is multi-lingual. He then received ordination to ministry and began serving as pastor of his present parish. He speaks nearly perfect English with only a slight accent. He shared at length his experience and understanding of the early days of Pueblos Hermanos.
Following that interview, I went to Pasadena to meet up with Dave and Susan Thomas who had been U.S. coordinators at Compañeros en Misión and then the PCUSA Liaison to Mexico. They graciously put me up and then spent about three hours sharing their experiences in Border Ministry and then their understanding of the break between the PCUSA and the Mexican Presbyterians. I am working on an article of Presby News Service on that.