“Hey man, whatever you want, I can get it for you. Anything you want, just ask me,” the man said confidently as he approached us. We had just stepped into an alley across from the most notorious strip club in Tijuana, and came to a place where two alleyways intersect. There is a dark, unnamed club on the corner of the intersection, having just a piece of cloth hanging over the door, with “No minors allowed” written in Espanol overhead. I turned down this particular alley on purpose because last week they were displaying young pre-teen girls outside of this club. I wanted to see it again to prove to myself that I wasn’t imagining things.
We had been walking and inviting people to the street church service around the blocks of the infamous Zona Norte (North Zone), where literally hundreds of prostitutes work the streets. There are strip clubs and bars on literally every street. The prostitution here is rampant. Everything from women, to men, to gay, to young boys and girls are on sale. In that environment, you would be safe to assume that drugs and alcohol are also a major problem. The alleys are dark places where anything goes. Murders between rival gangs and drug dealers are everyday occurrences. We are told that men regularly OD and die in these streets. It isn’t hard to believe when you walk past unresponsive men lying in their own waste, with syringes still hanging from their arms.
Last week, when we walked through this alley, there were a half dozen young girls outside the club, dressed in ways young girls never should, giving the men suggestive looks. There are rooms for rent above the club, and men are stationed above and below. After giving them each some printed materials and inviting them to church, we walked on in stunned silence. Did we really just see what we thought we saw? If so, what can we do about it? We talked it over with the locals and there isn’t much doubt whats going on there. It is just how things are around here. The problem is so extensive and so well coordinated, the police don’t even bother to do anything. There are occasional sting operations where they rescue some kids and make some arrests, but for the most part this practice is generally accepted as normal and unstoppable. The thought of it is enough to fill the normal person with rage, but at the same time its a pretty helpless feeling when you know that when it comes right down to it, there just isn’t anything you can do about it.
So when this young man came strutting towards us, expecting to make some sort of deal, he was surprised when I told him that I didnt want anything, but I was the one who had something he needed. He became loud and animated and asked me to “bring whatever I got.” I wasnt sure by his body language if he was getting defensive and ready to fight or if he was just a loud person, so I slid my sunglasses off to look him in the eye, and began to tell him we were Christian missionaries inviting him to a service with free food.
“Oh, gloria a Dios!” he exclaimed, and rode off on his bicycle.
There were no girls present today. We walked several blocks, passing the street vendors and taxi drivers, stopping occasionally to invite people who looked like they weren’t doing anything to come to the service. Just about all of them thanked us and headed towards the church corner. We prayed with many of those who couldn’t make it.
This is how the pastors who have been conducting the street ministry have been rounding up the people on a daily basis. The service starts at 4:00, so at 3:30 they spread out and invite the local people to come hear the word of God, and receive some food, clothing, or whatever other donations they have that day. At 4:00 the service opens with a song or two, followed by a message from one of the pastors about the saving work of Jesus Christ. Then there is a public call to repentance, to which there seems to be plenty of response, and then the distribution of food.
They seem to have a different crowd every day, although there are some faces present at almost every service. But all these people are just as hungry for God as they are for the food. You can see it on their faces as they sing and listen to the message of God’s forgiveness.
Our role here is pretty much a supportive one to the pastors who have been doing this for a while, and will continue long after we move out of Tijuana. We go, help recruit more people to come and listen, talk to them afterwards, pray with them, etc.
But I have to tell you its hard to see some of the things you see down here. People are suffering on these streets. Prodigals on every corner. People with untreated physical ailments that we can’t imagine. Open drug use, prostitution, refuse and human waste everywhere. The stench of urine and garbage permeates the entire area. People living in the most pitiful conditions. Its a hard place to do ministry, but its one of the most needed!
Please pray for the people of Tijuana. For the pastors working in Zona Norte. Its not a glamorous job. Actually its pretty thankless and unnoticed. Pray that they continue to have genuine love and compassion for the people they serve. Pray that the word of God goes forth from them with power, conviction, clarity and authority, and that it takes root and bears fruit in the lives of those who hear it. Pray for their safety.