Archive for January, 2010

2010, A LANDMARK YEAR – CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF THE CHURCH IN ENSENADA

Posted in Mission Updates 2010 on January 27, 2010 by filerofish

It has been 115 years since the Restoration Movement sent its first missionary to Mexico. In 1895, Brother M. L. Hoblit was sent to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua by the Christian Women’s Board of Missions. That work later relocated to the progressive city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, where the Disciples established and organized their first church with 18 members. Names like A. G. Alderman, Thomas Westrup (the “father” of Mexican hymnology) and his son Enrique T. Westrup, Pablo and Lonnie Pacheco (father and son), are just some of the names associated with that effort.

The infamous Comity Agreement in 1919 brought many worthy endeavors to a screeching halt, at least until the dust settled and the various foreign and national workers were able to regroup and re-organize. Limited time and space impedes me from writing about the many other heroic personalities that endured unspeakable hardships or gave up their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. Severe persecution was common then, and it still is in certain areas of the country. As Mexico celebrates its 200th anniversary as an independent nation (1810-2010), conditions for so many believers throughout the country are still less than ideal, especially in places like Chiapas and Oaxaca. Let’s continue to pray for our brothers and sisters that live there.

This year also marks the 52nd anniversary of the work on behalf of the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in Baja California (1958), and the 50th anniversary of their arrival in Ensenada (1960). Oh, the memories! This has been a life-long journey for many of us who were in on the very beginning of the ministry here.

Before my family came to Baja California, my parents Jerry and Deloris Watkinson had been serving in Hermosillo, Sonora since 1955. Gerald Bowlin had established a preaching school there in 1950, and Alejandro Julián was the director when Dad served in a teaching capacity there. That’s where he met Epifanio Gutierrez, who would later spearhead the new outreach in Ensenada (1960). The Watkinsons joined him one year later and soon they were working diligently together to establish the first congregation in the Colonia Empleados section of town.

Population back then was less than 30 thousand, a far cry from the over half a million the live here now. The Roman Catholic faith has always been predominant anywhere one goes in Mexico, but the local parishes were dependent on the Tijuana diocese for leadership. Evangelical and Protestant churches were few, and easily identifiable. The JWs were barely getting started, and the Mormon and SDA congregants were limited to one or two churches each.

Since Ensenada is one of the largest municipalities in the world in terms of land mass, the vast southern rural region was thinly populated and virtually virgin territory in regard to the gospel. The first formal church meetings where held in the home of Epifanio Gutierrez on Avenida Obregon, between 15th and 16th street. Our family lived one block away on the corner of Obregon and 17th street. By God’s grace, a plot of ground was secured just three blocks away in the Colonia Empleados, and construction soon began on the first building that now serves as the fellowship hall. My father designed the main nave using some pretty novel concepts for that period. Unfortunately, no one paid much attention to the design and proceeded to build as they saw fit. Only the roof bares a close resemblance to the plans. Do you suppose that there is a spiritual lesson to be learned in all of this?

During this period, Dad and a fellow missionary by the name of Lorene Martin took it upon themselves to begin producing children’s teaching materials in Spanish, a sorely needed tool for ministry and outreach, especially for Vacation Bible School. Gordon Clifford also contributed to the growth of this venture. For years, VBS workbooks and teachers’ guides were printed and distributed far and wide.

In the mid sixties, Dad saw the need for a children’s home for orphans and neglected children. He was able to negotiate an agreement with the Ejido authorities in a nearby village for the indefinite use of several acres of ground for this very purpose. With the help of fellow missionary Carlos Ciangura, Rancho de los Niños soon became a reality, and many hurting and abused children found refuge and comfort through this worthy project. The home became a separate mission in the early eighties.

After leaving the first church, brother Epifanio Gutierrez opened up a new church in colonia Piedras Negras, that later was relocated to Colonia Lomitas. After Epifanio died from a brain tumor in 1976, that church suffered from lack of good leadership. There is no surviving work there now. Sergio Alvarado continued to preside over the Colonia Empleados church, and between him and Ciangura they were instrumental and helping a church get started in Colonia Revolucion. Sergio’s wife passed away suddenly from unknown causes, so he had to return to be with his family in Coahuila. Charles and his family had to return to the States, so the church there came under the leadership of a local worker who had very little Bible knowledge. It has had its ups and downs over the years.

Other works were started in several southern villages like Ejido Erendira, San Vicente, and Ejido Bonfil. Antonio Flores and Tomas Guerrero were God’s instruments and getting those congregations going.

In 1988, Miriam and I began the Colonia Jalisco church on the southeastern side of town. Three other small groups have also been started more recently by other nationals, but they are still in their initial stages. Those of us who belong to the remaining remnant of the first original Empleados congregation would like to celebrate this momentous landmark occasion by inviting everyone to a three-day event in which we will be featuring conferences, song-fests, special music, an exhibit, slide shows, food and fellowship. The location and dates have not been set yet, but since there is a lot of work that will be going into the planning stages I expect that the earliest possible date will be in late July or early August.

I am currently trying to secure the Colonia Empleados church building for the event, but that’s waiting confirmation. Please keep this project in fervent prayer. Ask God to heal the wounds and roots of bitterness that have grown among the local brethren over the years, so that a way can be made to open up a brand new chapter for the Lord’s work in Ensenada. Please pray for my strength as well. I have been under a huge amount of pressure since my Dad’s passing, and I have reached a point where it is taking a huge toll on my health.

UPDATE ON THE HOUSE SITUATION: As reported earlier, we have been able to pay half of the $60,000 dollars on the house next-door the Colonia Jalisco church building, but we still have $30,000 to go. The deadline for the second payment has come and gone, but according to the purchase contract we will be paying a 2% monthly interest rate for the remainder until we can get it paid off. That means that we will have accumulated over $8,000 in interests alone before the end of 2010. The sooner we get it paid, the better off we will be. It’s the best that we could do under the circumstances. Nevertheless, we are trusting in God to pull us through somehow.

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