San Diego is spectacular.  Sunshine, low humidity, gleaming buildings, water everywhere and gorgeous beaches. You may have been there. And about 20 miles away is the Mexican border. The San Diego airport is about as far from the border as the Atlanta airport is to Smoke Rise. Crossing the border into Mexico is relatively easy. A quick check by police and you’re on your way.

But the contrast between San Diego and Tijuana is remarkable. Tijuana hits you right between the eyes – dusty streets, beat-up vehicles, crazy traffic everywhere, rundown buildings, and heart-wrenching poverty.  When you stop for a few minutes however, and look at the people, their faces are remarkable. The faces of the children are great- always smiling; always thrilled to see you and hoping to spend some time with you. The adults are smiling too, but behind their smiles it’s evident that they are tired and worn from a lifetime of struggle and hopelessness.

Behind the obvious things, you discover that, for the most part, they lead lives of despair. Although there is a relatively affluent upper class, the great majority of the people in this city of two million, are incredibly poor. There is no free education, no support for housing or healthcare. Most people live in cardboard shacks with no water or electricity. Many homes are filled with drugs, alcohol, and violence. In the middle of this, a ministry called Centro Shalom brings the Good News to hundreds of these folks every week. Smoke Rise has supported this ministry for almost 20 years and it continues to thrive. Centro Shalom began as a ministry to children and has now grown to become a busy church as well as a place of refuge for those in need. Every visit we make to the church in the Alamar community brings a reminder of God’s commandment that we go and serve.

Tijuana is a tough place to for us to see, but a much tougher place for them to live. A week of your time in Tijuana can bring a smile to one of those faces and possibly help bring hope to a soul in despair.

-Roy Vreland

Roy is the Mission Partnership Leader for Tijuana

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