Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Pastor Armando Ponce and his wife Adriana during a busy morning at the breakfast hall they lead Monday through Friday for needy children and elderly people in the community of Maclovio Rojas. Everyday for two hours, they feed children and nurture their souls.
The hall is one of three missions that their church Iglesia de Cristo Arca de Salvación, located in the community Francisco Villa, supports.
“We serve orphans or those whose parents are trapped in a circle of addiction. For six years we also had a recovery program, but it has since been moved and now we are focusing on reaching the children before they fall prey of drugs and addictions.” Pastor Adolfo said.
The breakfast hall opens at 7:00 a.m. But many children arrive as early as 6:00 a.m. The place is an oasis of all sorts. It’s an area where they get the love and care missing at home.
A team of volunteers provides a warm meal of chicken or beef with vegetables and a side of milk. The children are responsible for cleaning up after themselves and washing their dishes.
For some children it will be the only meal they’ll have for the day. Occasionally they also help elderly people who have been abandoned by their families.
“God has provided everything we’ve needed. Other ministries our church supports are an eye clinic, VBS, and rehabilitation seminaries.” Pastor Armando said.
Pastor Armando partnership with Amor goes back 28 years ago.
“Pastor Angel invited me to join the Ministry Planning Board and I’m very grateful for this. When we first arrived to Tijuana we struggled to reach the community who didn’t want to hear about God. The homes were not only a way to provide for needy families but also a way to open doors so to speak to people in the community who God wanted us to reach.”
The support that Pastor Armando receives via the Food Bank is used as an emergency fund for needy families in extreme circumstances --families in need within the church, widows, orphans, and people who have lost their job due layoffs or illness.
The Call to Tijuana
Pastor Armando was born and raised in Mexico City. He was a youth pastor in Xochimilco when he was called to go to Tijuana to plant a church. He was the fourth pastor the church asked.
“The first pastor said he would only go to Tijuana if he was to be paid in dollars. The second pastor requested a car. The third pastor came to Tijuana but after the first rainy season he left scared of mudslides and worried about the lack of infrastructure.
Infamous for the red light district and as the place where prohibition era mobsters like Al Capone thrived, Tijuana was considered the Sodom and Gomorrah of Mexico, thus the least attractive place to live, especially before the factories arrived.”
However Pastor Armando responded to the call and arrived with his wife and their 10-month-old baby at the small church in Francisco Villa. When they first arrived Pastor Armando says it was extremely trying. At first no one wanted to listen to the two evangelists talking about the word of God.
“I began reaching other communities outside Ejido Francisco Villa. I gave them rides aboard my old truck to come to church.”
Two years later, Pastor Angel offered him the opportunity to work alongside Amor. At the time, pastor Angel was Amor’s only partner in Mexico. He liked the idea of helping people who were immigrating from the rest of the country after the arrival of factories.
Today, Iglesia de Cristo Arca de Salvation has over 100 members.
Our focus was simply to have people to hear the word of God. The Lord has looked after my family, the church and community.”
Pastor Armando and Adriana have four children:
Elimelech (God is my King) - He studied music, communications and is an elementary school teacher.
Abigail (God is my Joy) - She is a designer.
Damaris (Gentle) - A psychologist
Gabriela (God is my Strength)- She is in a vocational school studying to become a chef. Next year, she hopes to go to College where she plans to study cuisine or criminology.
All of them volunteer at the different missions of the church.
Pastor Armando's Testimony of Faith:
Pastor Armando was raised in a home torned by domestic violence.
“We grew up in misery, physical and spiritual poverty.” Pastor Armando said.
During la Semana de la Juventud --an annual evangelical event in Mexico—his father was invited to attend the forums. On the last day, the Holy Spirit invaded his heart and changed him.
“The change was so radical that anyone who knew him could give witness that nothing short of a miracle had occurred. My whole family was transformed and we saw prosperity, happiness and love in our house for the first time.
My relationship with my father changed. I saw how he nurtured his relationship with my mother and my siblings. God cured my heart too from all the pain my father inflicted in me and our relationship flourished. My father became my best friend and greatest ally for 20 years before he died.”
The transformation led him to attend seminary school, which he financed with his job as an auto-repair mechanic. The torch in his Spirit kept him awake at night until he obeyed, selling his shop and dedicating himself full-time to evangelical work in a church in Xochimilco in Mexico City. One day, he was asked to move his young family to Tijuana, thousands of miles and centuries away from the vibrant city he grew up.
“We arrived to Tijuana with the intention to stay only for a couple of months until the person they were training to take a full position would come. But two months turned into a year, two years a lifetime. For the first 12 years, we lived off my work as a mechanic; we didn’t receive any money in tithes or offerings. “