Children attend Bible study at the school in the dump. Photo courtesy: Lyn Smith
Have you ever heard of Zihuatanejo, Mexico? It is located on the southwestern coast of Mexico and is a small fishing village beneath lush mountains. In and among this beauty lies immense poverty, the likes of which we had never seen.
My daughter, Stafford and I became acquainted with the area and ministry through Randy and Lynn Pike, parishioners of Christ the King, Santa Rosa Beach.
Two years ago, Randy and Lynn introduced our parish to Pastor John and Betty Sullivan from the Zihuatenejo Christian Fellowship in Mexico. The ministry and mission they offer is very simple --to share and spread the love of Jesus Christ. Shortly after John and Betty’s visit to our church, my daughter and I began thinking of the possibility of joining the Pike's for their next visit to Zihuatenejo. This November that hope came to fruition. Upon our arrival in Zihuatenejo, the apparent beauty of the vast, green landscapes was breathtaking, yet with a closer look, the poverty became overwhelmingly evident and heartbreaking. The locals were welcoming and friendly, but there seemed to be a true longing for a better life.
The Zihuatanejo Christian Fellowship does many things in and around their community. Pastor John applies his talents to lead non-denominational Sunday morning services. Their mission’s church is a space offered to them by the owner of the building. They have hopes of purchasing a permanent facility for their church and missions.
One of their ministries includes visiting the elderly. A "Nursing Home" that we visited had multiple needs. Only two meals a day are provided; the meals are leftovers from surrounding hotels. This particular facility recently obtained a part-time nurse. The nurse was hired by an individual who saw the need and acted, however, the nurse only works until 6 pm. At that time she leaves for the evening, locks the gates, and the residents are left alone for the night.
Also on the staff at the Christian Fellowship is a young Mexican native, Christian Cruz. He is an American educated, energetic individual who speaks English and Spanish fluently and leads the Mexican church service on Sunday evenings. The Mexican facet of the Zihuatanejo Christian Fellowship has rapidly grown, so much that they are in need of a larger facility. Through stewardship and fund raising, $60,000 has been collected and a piece of property has been purchased to build a new church. During the week, Christian works with underprivileged young people through "Soccer for Christ," a program he initiated. He is an inspirational coach, mentor and friend to these young people. The children look up to him, see him as a friend and seek him out for advice. Christian coaches three to four times a week at a municipal field, with their games being played on Saturdays. Through his efforts, soccer uniforms have been donated for all children. Additionally, he provides pastoral care to the elderly and others in need.
Betty teaches Bible studies to the youth in communities outside of the city. She travels into the mountains, bringing her CD player and youth Bibles. She gives Bibles to children who show a genuine interest. Betty is much like the Pied Piper; children come to listen, sing, and learn about Jesus. She travels to four or five different areas, three days a week, with the number of children varying in each area and each week. She is an excellent, individual example of a disciple. She is presently training a young lady to help with this outreach to the children, but there is great need for a sustainable program.
A significant outreach of the Zihuatanejo Christian Fellowship is the "dump", where hundreds of men, women, and children literally live in, and on, trash, garbage and refuse. Many of their homes are not even sheds, but tarps being held by bamboo sticks and propped up on piles of trash. The adults living in this community work all day sifting through the garbage from all of the surrounding areas; they are sifting to find anything of value or of use to them for their family’s survival. Many of the teens in this dump community are already parents and are uneducated, with little hope for the future. On our visit to the dump, we met people who live there. Experiencing their living conditions, we began to wrestle with how we might offer some kind of support.
Betty travels weekly up the mountain to teach bible lessons at a school in the dump. The school, built on the dump site by a group of volunteers from Canada, consists of four small sheds, three classrooms, one toilet on their playground within a small concrete room and one eating area. Three teachers and a cook are paid minimal wages by Zihua Christian Ministry, which is funded by small organizations, individuals, and parishioners of the Zihuatanejo Christian Fellowship. There are about forty children being served at this school in the dump. The children are not required to attend school, but that is their culture. However, the school is an opportunity for the children to receive one healthy meal. As we met the elementary children at the school, we felt as though we were seeing Jesus’ face.
As a result of our trip, we are feeling a strong call to respond in a significant way by making people aware of the desperate needs of our neighbors in Zihua, Mexico, and by exploring avenues for expanding the existing ministries. Other than the Roman Catholic church, there is no evidence of any other church in the area. A more collaborative effort to assist this ministry would provide greater resources which are desperately needed.
If there are any questions, please feel free to contact me at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.