SCORPIO CANYON, Tijuana, Mexico – When Gustavo Banda opened his little church in Mexico, he had no idea it would become a refuge. Sitting near the border, tens of thousands of migrants stop there as part of their quest for freedom in America.
Six miles west of Tijuana and a short distance from the US-Mexico border, lies one of the poorest neighborhoods in this city.
Pastor Gustavo Banda of the Ambassadors of Jesus Church told CBN News: “This area is on the outskirts of town. Not everyone knows that. Not everyone wants to come here either.”
It’s easy to see why. There are no paved roads. The hill is littered with garbage. There is no sewage system here. And crime is rampant.
“When we moved here, there were only cows, horses, chickens and people with a lot of needs,” Banda said.
In 2011, Banda and his wife, Zaida Guillén, moved to Cañón de Alacrán, or Scorpion Canyon, after hearing the Lord in a dream. “It was a clear mandate from God to move here even though there was absolutely nothing in this place,” he recalled.
Teachers by trade, the Mexican couple were touched by the overwhelming needs of the community. Most of the people here were poor subsistence farmers.
“God made me dream that I had to build a church. We worked for eight months, day and night. We knew God was going to do something special, but no one had a clue what was really going to happen. pass, “he explained. .
That year, the Templo Embajadores de Jesús, or the Church of the Ambassadors of Jesus, was born in the heart of the Scorpion Canyon.
Banda held services on Sunday, then traveled the rugged roads the rest of the week, going from house to house, meeting physical and spiritual needs.
“We shared the love of Jesus with them. It was God’s mandate that we must go to the poor,” he said.
In 2016, that focus changed dramatically when thousands of Haitians, fleeing poverty and subsequent natural disasters, began to push their dangerous 7,000-mile path to the US-Mexico border.
Many landed on the doorstep of the church, less than 30 minutes from the San Ysidro border. “In a few months, 22,000 Haitians had arrived in the city of Tijuana”, he recalled.
The church becomes a refuge. “I didn’t know, and I never imagined that there would be so many people in the church,” he said.
Since then, Banda has opened the doors of his church to migrants from all parts of the world.
“It started with migrants from Haiti, Africa, Pakistan and the Middle East. Today we have mainly people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia and some from Mexico, ”he said. “It’s hard to say, but we estimate that about 35,000 people passed through the church easily.”
On the day of CBN News’ visit, 1,200 were residing in the church.
“We feed them 3 times a day. We try to help them with all their needs,” he said. “At night, the whole church becomes a big giant dormitory where everyone sets their beds on the floor, and sometimes there isn’t even a place to walk on the floor.”
Redin Castillo from Honduras has been here for four months. He says gangs killed his father and threatened to take his life as well. He said, “Thank goodness I’m no longer in danger. They no longer send me threatening messages like they used to.
Jaqueline Ortiz, 24, from Guatemala is here with her two daughters. She said, “I’m so grateful to God because if these church doors weren’t open, I don’t know where I would be. I’m not hungry here, my daughters aren’t hungry, we have a warm place, we have a home, and all thanks to God and the people who help us. ”
Most migrants stay here for an average of six months before attempting to legally cross the border.
Church volunteers run a school for the children, oversee computer training, and provide other skills that will help migrants prepare for their new lives in America.
Churches in the area and NGOs are also providing food and other essential supplies.
“The most important thing that migrants know when they arrive here is that there is hope and although they have left their families behind, all of us who are here have become their families,” he said. he declared.
On Sundays, everyone gets up to bed and dresses for a lively church service.
“I know I only have a short time with them, so my job is to get them to know as much as possible about Jesus, baptize them, and send them to the United States believing in Jesus!” he explained.
Pastor Gustavo founded the church in 2011 without suspecting that it would house thousands of migrants from around the world. So today, 10 years later, a new structure is being set up which will be the future home for migrants.
He had once wanted to be a missionary in Haiti. No more.
“I even started to learn their language a bit, but when I wanted to go to Haiti, Haiti came to me. And after Haiti arrived, all the other nations started coming here, ”Banda said. “I don’t have the numbers, but for years we have baptized so many and many more come to Jesus and it is my calling now.”
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