I’ve known Victor and Sugey Mendez since I was a little girl, maybe 8 years old. And back then life was different. We lived in California and attended a church literally two blocks away from our house. Down the street from the church was the only public high school in our town. My dad was a teacher there, as well as the varsity boys’ basketball coach. Victor was one of my dad’s students and as he got to know Victor a little more he realized he was a troubled kid. He was into some bad things, wasn’t making the right choices and that resulted in choosing the wrong path for his life. Eventually, my dad started to have a more in-depth relationship with Victor and once he graduated high school, my dad was able to transform it into a personal relationship and friendship.
Some time passed and Victor married Sugey. My dad shared the good news with both of them. We began to get to know them more and more and we became like family. My parents are all of their three boys’ godparents, so yeah were pretty much related, lol. Once they had their first son, Brandon, he became our underlying “little brother.” Our relationship with the Mendez’ only continued to grow and about four years later, they had another son named Christopher. In spite of all this, Victor and Sugey started to feel convicted of lying while living in the U.S. They were not here legally and realized they needed to set a good example for their sons. They decided as a family to move back to Mexico. And that’s what they did. Packed everything up and took their lives to their hometown of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. Brandon was 5 years old and Chris was 1. So they basically grew up in Mexico.
Ever since they moved we kept in contact and always tried our best to see them when we could. Once Brandon got a little older they started to send him over to California during the summers for two to three weeks at a time. He would spend most of his time with me and we started to form a relationship. Back then, Brandon did not know any English. The summers he came to visit we would talk to him in English the whole time so he could grasp it and eventually speak it as well. He ended up coming to live with my parents for year in high school and within that year he learned so much English. Practically fluent when he returned to Mexico.
Start of Church Plant
Fast forward… so many things have changed but one thing stayed the same, and that is our relationship with the Mendez family. We are still very close to them. And for the past year, they have had it in their hearts to establish a safe and healthy church for people to congregate and worship the Lord. Victor brought this to my dad’s attention and they began talking about a possibility of a service right there in Culiacán, Sinaloa. My dad also felt that this could be an amazing opportunity to reach souls in Mexico, especially in Culiacan, Sinaloa, and him and Victor saw eye to eye with everything. He brought this dream to the team at Houston’s First and they were on board as well! The Lord is sovereign and has made this such an easy situation for all of us. We planned a trip, a church planting venture, to go to Culiacán and begin the first steps of a church launch.
Day 1 & Day 2
March 13th, 2017 we flew out to Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico! My family and I and my dad’s associate Douglas Hernandez and his son Dougie were the ones who went. We were so ecstatic and ready to serve and figure out all the logistics. Our hearts were open, full, willing, and ready to serve as we boarded the plane. Our travel day was long, tiring and draining, and as soon as we arrived to our hotel, we hit the sheets so we could be ready to tackle our first day, on Tuesday. Tuesday morning, we woke up, ate a delicious breakfast at the hotel, and then we went to rent some instruments and necessary resources for the service. We finished the night off with a service at the hall they had rented. We showed them how a service would look and the things they would need to do to assemble it.
Along with Victor and Sugey’s family was another family that they had grown very close to and were also ready to be a part of the leadership team for the church launch. Ramón and Gregoria Gomez have hearts of pure humility and servitude. They are a sweet couple with three children, Gloria, Ramoncito, and Noemi. All three children are cute and talented in their own way. We were so glad to get to know them and build a relationship with them.
Towards the end of the day on Wednesday, we planned to have a practice service. We wanted them to see how a service went and the things that were done so they could mock it and do it on their own later. We set up all the equipment and got together with the kids to see who could sing, who could play guitar, who could play bass and who could play a cajón. Douglas trained Brandon how to work all the sound equipment and he caught on fast! Quimi and I got together with Gloria and her little sister Noemi to hear them sing and see where they were vocally. Dougie and Aaron helped with guitar and bass training. Ramoncito already had a little background in guitar and knew quite a few chords. Chris was new to all instruments, he learned a little guitar but in the end gravitated towards playing the cajón. He did well! It was fun to see how these kids instantly showed hard work through their actions. We taught them in one day and the next day, believe it or not, they were playing a whole worship song! It was pretty incredible. After we practiced for a little bit, we did the practice service. We went through the service the way we do it in Houston and we explained everything as we went along. It was a great night.
Before I forget to mention… we fell in love with this restaurant they have in Culiacán called Panamá. It is amazing. They have a huge menu with delicious, to die for foods and drinks that will keep your taste buds wanting more. We went to eat there our first day, second day, third day and fourth day!!! Seriously, the perfect restaurant with great service and even better food. Did I say it was located right across the street from our hotel? Well yeah, it was, and definitely easier to access on any given day. Usually, when someone goes to visit Mexico the goal or the “you have to do this” thing is to eat tacos, all the insanely scrumptious tacos you could eat. Well, on this trip we did not eat very many tacos, quite different than a usual excursion to Mexico, but Panamá was worth it.
Day 4: to the rancho!
On Thursday morning, we were off to visit Victor and Sugey’s real home in their ranch called Vida Campesina. They lived in Vida Campesina when they first moved back to Mexico. Victor has his own brick business called “La Roca,” the rock. He started this business around the same time they moved back. At first, it was a little rough to begin to build the company, but with the help of German friend named Charlie, Victor was able to learn everything about bricks and how to make his business grow.
Victor now has 13 employees, their whole plant is located on the same property of their house with all of the construction appliances and materials they need to keep the business going. The company is really thriving and growing, and we are so thankful that the Lord provided this for their family. I loved the time we spent at the rancho. It was so fun to be in the more rural part and to see where Brandon and Christopher and Caleb grew up.Sidenote…They had another kid about five years ago, Caleb. He is super talkative, fun, loving, and adventurous. He totally caught me by surprise this past time I got to see him. I hadn’t seen him in maybe three, almost four years. He grew so much and his vocabulary and language usage floored me. I could not believe how much energy he had. He is very smart and loves to get to know people any chance he gets. He definitely was one of the highlights of my trip, we became very close. Everywhere I went, he wanted to be right there next to me. I could not get enough of him!Now back to the rancho. While we were there, we learned a little bit more about Victor’s business and we were able to meet both Victor and Sugey’s parents that also live in Vida Campesina. We, of course, ate all the good food including, tamales, fruit parfaits, and fresh fried fish! It was delightful. We met a few more family members of theirs and also went to the beach nearby, Playa Ceuta. It was beautiful, warm, and pleasant. We spent about an hour there and walked the shore while picking up rocks and seashells as little memories. It was so nice to have a little break in our day and get to see more of their little rancho, Vida Campesina.In the evening we planned to meet with the kids again to get a little more practice time in. Everyone had arrived at the rancho and after we had dinner, we began to go over the song they were going to play at the official service we planned to have on Friday. These kids surprised us. They picked up the instruments and singing very quickly. They learned a whole song in just two days! Their hard work and determination showed me that even though they are young – in high school and junior high – their hearts are in a good place of service and willingness. None of them gave us a hard time about anything. They had great attitudes! It was a sweet time.
Friday, after spending the night at the rancho, we woke up bright and early to drive back to the city. Once we arrived, we had some free time until the official church service at 5 pm. Naturally, we walked over to Panamá to have our last meal (well last meal at Panamá that is) and it was yet again, unbelievably amazing. Haha. We were obsessed.
It was finally time for our official church service. We arrived around 4 pm to the hall they rented for the service and we began to set up all the music and sound equipment. Douglas had trained Brandon on how to plug in, use the soundboard, and how to arrange everything so he had him set it all up to practice and see if he did it right. We went over the song the kids were going to lead and made sure everyone felt good.
The service started promptly at 5:15pm… haha Mexican time lol. Our worship team led four songs at the top and then we had the kids come lead theirs right before the sermon. In Houston, we overdub Pastor Gregg’s messages with a week delay. So we brought about thirty messages with us to leave there in Culiacán for them to start with at their first services. We finished the service with a song for the response time to the message, and an upbeat all time favorite jam, Si Tuvieras Fé. The little kids loved doing the hand movements! Once the service ended, we finally had some tacos! They did not disappoint! Very yummy and such a great way to end our last day in Culiacan. The entire trip was very productive. I loved being able to see Victor and Sugey again. Our time spent with them will always be treasured. We were able to plant some seeds and show Victor, Ramón, and the rest of the leaders how a service should look. They felt comfortable by the end of the trip and we could tell that they are ready for the next steps in launching this campus. We are so excited to continue to keep in contact with Victor and Ramón’s families to continue supporting them as they make big changes in their lives. Can’t wait till we can return to Culiacán!