Some believe that Tijuana, Mexico, is the most-evangelized city in the world. However, during a recent trip to TJ, I realized that while many people know ABOUT Jesus, far fewer people actually KNOW Jesus.
Last Saturday I took a group of students to TJ (watch video). We partnered with Spectrum Ministries as we helped facilitate a hygiene clinic for kids where we washed feet, painted nails, washed hair, played games, distributed shoes and clothing, and handed out food. With our limited and broken Spanish, we invested quality time with the residents in a short 4-hour window.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)
In addition to practical ways of showing the love of Jesus to the TJ residents, Paul, one of the Spectrum staff members, shared an interactive gospel message about how God’s Word is a lamp to our feet. The kids loved his message and were fully engaged to hearing the words from the Santa Biblia which he referenced frequently.
Julian, another Spectrum staff member, explained his own story of his life being radically changed by Jesus. He shared with me how he was homeless at the age of 5 and was taken in and adopted by Spectrum. He now works with as many kids as he can to introduce them to the hope that Jesus has provided for him.
Matt, the Director of Spectrum Ministries, shared his own story with the kids and adults revealing the impact Jesus has made in his own life that caused him to relocate his young family of 6 from Michigan to Mexico in 2013.
A kind and gentle local woman appeared at the work site toward the end of our time there. She brought a plastic bag full of warm bean burritos and a tub of her own fresh salsa. When I asked her how much she was charging for the burritos, she replied, “Gratis”. I was shocked to hear that she was offering the burritos to volunteers for free, especially considering the likelihood that she lives on around $60 per week like most of the other families in the area.
I asked the staff if I should pay her for a burrito anyways, but I learned the story about why the burritos were free. Apparently the woman had been diagnosed with cancer a few years back, and Spectrum had come alongside her during the difficult time and provided prayer and financial support to help her through it. The woman is now 100% cancer-free, and she so grateful that she now shows up with a bag of full burritos and her homemade salsa each time Spectrum and volunteers come to her neighborhood.
I am confident there are countless more stories about how the love of Jesus has impacted the residents of the 5 different barrios Spectrum serves.
By serving the residents, meeting their practical needs, showing them love and acceptance, teaching them truth from the Bible, and sharing personal stories of how Jesus how the power to change lives, I would expect the result of the day’s efforts would be an increased desire among many residents to move from merely knowing ABOUT Jesus toward personally KNOWING Jesus.
After we finished our time in the barrio, we made our way in the white-knuckle traffic to “Taco Row”. To envision “Taco Row”, think of a food court on the side of a street featuring separate taco shops that each offer slightly different versions of the same tacos.
There’s a menu on the wall of each vendor with a list of about 40+ different types of tacos you can order: carne asada, chorizo, pollo, and dozens of other options that may or may not include the intestines I saw sizzling on the wood fire grill.
Each taco has a different price next to it listed in pesos. The average cost per taco was about 18 pesos, so with the current exchange rate of 17-1, each taco costs about $1 US.
You take a seat on a bar stool facing the cooks and the grill and state your order and they make it up for you on the spot. I wasn’t surprised to see that none of the guys cooking were wearing gloves as they handled the tortillas and raw meat, but I was surprised to see the giant Costco bottle of hand sanitizer at the edge of the bar made available to customers who apparently trust the cleanliness of the cooks’ hands more than their own.
You order whatever tacos you wish and keep track of what you order along the way. When you can’t stuff yourself with any more carne asada, there’s no waiter and no bill. You simply hand over the cash you think you owe to any of the cooks and they’ll get you whatever change you tell them. There’s so many customers being served at once that there’s really no way for the cooks to know how many tacos you have eaten, but I guess the honor system works well for their business model.
Our entire group of 10 ate to our hearts’ content for about $25 US. We piled back into the cars and drove toward the US border.
We got in line at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and based on how far back we were from border patrol, I knew it would take a while before we actually crossed back into San Diego. I didn’t realize that “a while” would eventually equate to a 4-hour wait, but apparently that’s typical.
During our 4-hour crawl to show off our mint-condition passports, the street vendors walked up and down between the lanes pushing rolling carts of nearly every sellable item you can think of. Ceramic turtles, Spiderman statues, screenprinted t-shirts of Anna and Elsa that were photocopied and distorted, churros, kites, and yes, puppies. Real live puppies.
The most-popular item sold by street vendors? Jesus.
Jesus paintings. Jesus on a wooden cross. Jesus and His disciples in the last supper. Jesus statues. Jesus’ hands. It’s as if He was omnipresent. 🙂
Seeing the vendors pushing Jesus as a commodity and having just left the barrio where people are seemingly connecting with Jesus, it made me wonder:
How many of the people in Tijuana actually KNOW Jesus?
So many of them obviously know ABOUT Jesus, but how many of them KNOW Jesus?
We engaged a few vendors in conversations about Jesus. They were eager to talk and quick to discuss Jesus once they realized we were part of a church group.
Maybe I was a bit skeptical, but I did catch myself wondering how much they truly wanted to discuss Jesus and how much they knew from their honed sales techniques that discussing Jesus with church kids may increase their likelihood of a sale.
If the latter was true… it worked. Our kids bought tons of souvenirs. A few of them bought one item and traded it out multiple times with other vendors before they were content with their purchase.
Watching the street vendors sell Jesus reminded me of a story from the Bible. (Yes, the thought of Jesus overthrowing the money changers’ tables at the temple crossed my mind.)
But the other story that stuck out to me is when Jesus chose to heal a blind man in John 9.
In a nutshell, Jesus came across a man who had been born blind. In one of His most famous miracles, Jesus spit into the dirt, picked up the mud, rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to go wash off the mud.
The blind man did as he’s told, and voilà, he was healed!
Word started to get out that Jesus had healed the blind man on the Sabbath, so of course the Pharisees were ticked off and accused Jesus of sinning because He “worked” on the Sabbath.
As they investigated the alleged crime, they went to the healed man and asked him what had happened. He initially said, “The man they call Jesus healed me!” They grilled him some more, and he guessed that the man who had healed him was “a prophet”.
As they continued to interrogate him trying to prove that Jesus had sinned by working, the healed man finally blurted this out:
“Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25)
The Pharisees may have been able to question whether Jesus had broken the law, but there was no questioning the personal story the healed man had experienced.
Up to this point, the man had known a little ABOUT Jesus. However, after he had been healed, he actually KNEW Jesus because he had experienced Jesus for himself. He obviously didn’t know if He was a prophet or a teacher or a kind man, but what he did know was that Jesus had changed his life.
The Pharisees struggled with the healed man’s story, I presume because they hadn’t personally experienced Jesus themselves in such a life-altering way.
Many people continue to struggle with Jesus today. While others may doubt Him, what they cannot do is deny your own story about how you have personally experienced Jesus.
Scriptures say that everyone will someday give an account for Jesus. Your story of a life-altering experience will cause some people to wrestle with the possibility that maybe Jesus wasn’t just a prophet or a teacher or kind man, but maybe something more. This struggle challenges people to determine what they personally believe about Jesus.
When your own story isn’t just knowing ABOUT Jesus, but includes an experience about how you came to KNOW Jesus, you challenge others to evaluate who Jesus is.
My encourage for you: eliminate the word “about” from your story. Don’t be like the street vendors who know all “about” Jesus. Choose to be like the blind man and be willing to share how you personally KNOW Jesus. Choose to be like Paul, Julian, Matt, and the woman from the barrio who all have undeniable personal stories of how Jesus has changed their own lives.
Once you realize how Jesus has impacted your own story, then share it.
As my group in Tijuana interacted with the street vendors in line at the border, we decided to change things up for some of the other drivers who were also waiting. Rather than attempting to sell things like the street vendors, we made a sign that said “FREE HUGS” on it and walked from car to car holding up our sign.
Some people looked the other way, probably fearful that we were trying to mug them or trying to sell them something. But a few people—including some of the street vendors—chose to take us up on our offer.
One woman was visibly angry that I was offering hugs. She yelled out her window, “What are you doing?!” I replied back as gently as I could, “I’m spreading love.” Her angry face melted into a slight smile.
To view a recap video of our trip to Tijuana, click the picture below.
Question: How and when did you go from knowing ABOUT Jesus to KNOWING Jesus. Share your experience in the comment section below.
Want to help love people in Tijuana?
If you want to help Spectrum Ministries show the love of Jesus to those living in poverty in Mexico, you can support in several different ways:
- Donate new or lightly used clothing
- Donate new and unopened toys
- Donate funds that will be used to support the local missionaries, food and materials for building houses
For more information on Spectrum Ministries, click here.