He knew from his experience the effectiveness of working alongside families to provide them with adequate housing because he received a home from Amor 14 years ago.
His wife Alma said that the groups who built her house not only provided a shelter for her and her children, but an oasis for the youth in their neighborhood.
“I was happy to have my house because my children would have their own room so they could invite their friends. Instead of them going out with people that I didn’t know, they had a safe place to do homework. It brought me closer to them and their friends and it became an opportunity to witness to their friends.
Many of their friends had problems at home. Our family didn’t have much money, but their friends were able to see the strength we found through our faith in Christ. They were looking for adults who would understand them and could help them find direction.”
Pastor Juan Briseño's three children standing in front of their Amor House (They've added a decorative window and a couple of rooms).
Pastor Juan didn’t grow up in the faith but believes that serving God has been the natural answer to his being redeemed.
Since I was nine years old I was involved in the world of drugs. By the time I was a 20, I was working at a plumbing company that in reality was a front for drug dealers. I was in way over my head and I didn’t know it, until I accepted an opportunity with Jesus. I wasn’t really searching for it, but it happened. It was October 15th, 1988 at 1:00 p.m.
I had gone to a Christian Youth retreat, chasing after a girl I was deeply infatuated with. I was the only one there that wasn’t a Christian. She would tell me: ‘you don’t really like me, what you like about me is the Jesus I have inside me, once you receive Jesus for yourself you won’t like me anymore.’ I was so sick that I would answer to her ‘well, let me hug that Jesus of yours then.’
But she was right; during a time dedicated for meditation I walked to a desolate place and prayed to God that I was ready for him to change me. I was not really sold on the idea, but I was willing to try. I immediately noticed that the thirst I had for cocaine and women left me. I gave Jesus an opportunity to change my life and he did.
Two days later I went back to the store where we were fronting drugs and told them that I was done with everything. I will never forget what the boss told me: ‘Only because you are in Christ will I let you leave,’ He had a brother who had given his life to Jesus and believed that I too was a changed man.
From that moment on, Pastor Juan became involved in his church, determined to learn more and grow in his faith.
“I always had a missionary spirit. I got into several arguments with the pastor at the church because they didn’t allow children to attend the sermons. There was a culture of exclusion towards children. I was told, ‘you have to wait for them to grow up; right now they can’t understand.’ So they would just put the children in a room to be entertained.”
Eventually, the pastor at his church saw that Pastor Juan had a heart and a talent to reach out to children and teenagers. He sent him to Bible School and put him in charge of a small church in El Pipila. It was the beginning of a church exclusively for children and teenagers.
Pastor Juan’s church has depended on the generosity of strangers and God’s provision and multiplication for his ministry. Seeing how he has been able to support his wife and three children on so little is nothing short of a miracle. For him and his wife miracles are simply part of living under God provision in their missionary life.
Back then, he received a salary of $160 a month. They remember the days when, like Elijah, the powdered milk for their children would not run out and how a canister of dry beans seemed never to end.
When he first began ministering in prisons, he met another missionary named Mario. Mario began giving him a bill of $20 whenever they shook hands. The first time Pastor Juan was very grateful. He saw it as a sign that God was showing him favor and blessing his ministry. After all, when he got home, that $20 was the exact amount what he needed to purchase the milk and diapers that had just run out. It went on like this for a couple of months. Each time Mario’s gift would cover an exact need: the gas he needed to go visit an inmate family, food for a needy neighbor, emergency repairs in his home. However, with time, he became embarrassed receiving this money, so he began avoiding Mario at any cost until one day Mario caught up to him.
“I couldn’t hide anymore the reasons why I had been avoiding him and what he told me gave me chills because I knew he was right, ‘Juan you don’t have to deny yourself that which God gives you, for He told me to give it to you and I’m only obeying.’”
Today, Pastor Juan’s salary has not increased much, but with the monthly donation from the Amor food bank, and a side job helping charities fill out their legal papers, they can provide for themselves and at least nine other families each month.
Although Pastor Juan Briseño is Pentecostal, his ministry is non-denominational. “I don’t want to limit my ministry, particularly in jails where baptism by full submersion is not possible.” Prison ministry is his vocation and endures it with a passion and devotion.
I like to say that I’ve been a prisoner for 8 years. I’ve devoted 25 years of my life to weekly visits to the local jails and annual mission trips to Islas Marias. I was called into this ministry immediately when I was saved. It was a Sunday that I received Jesus; on Tuesday morning quit my illicit job and that same evening my pastor asked me if I wanted to join him. I did.
From that moment I felt responsible for people in the most desperate conditions. I now tell converted inmates: ‘We caused many people to lose their way, they got lost and their lives are ruined; now we have to go get them back.’ That’s what keeps me in the ministry.
One time, I came home to find a man we had been helping crying on the sidewalk. He had been in jail for a long time and my wife and I were allowing him to stay at our house. When I approached him, he said, ‘I don’t understand how you can leave me alone with your children and your wife after all you know about my past.’ I told him that I knew, but I also knew that he was a new person.
I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He’s now one of the people who are always there whenever we need help in the church. We helped him with food for a while, but he was able to find work now and he’s happy.
Most of the people I’ve ever helped through the food bank are those who have been recently released from prison. They have a hard time finding work and making their lives whole again.
Amor Ministries can now give them a dignified home. What once was a dream of mine; with Amor it has become a reality. I might not have much, but God has given me the opportunity to help the community. Whenever we reach a family, they’ll usually ask, ‘In exchange for what’ or ‘why are you giving us a house?’ I simply tell them, ‘Because God loves you.’