Sometimes we equate freedom with free choice, but not all free choices lead to freedom. Some, in fact, lead to bondage. One ministry that Ventura Missionary recently connected with in Mexico is making a difference in a dark place, where people's choices have brought bondage and trauma to all involved. This ministry is inserting God's truth and love in order to bring freedom to the captives. God's Word says, "I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free." (Psalm 119:32 NASB)
A fortress has intruded the Zona Norte (North Zone), Red Light District of Tijuana where life is restricted and distorted by a cartel that reaps the profits of horrific commodities - drugs, human trafficking, disinformation, money. As North America's largest Red Light District, it is a place marked by bright lights, blasting sirens and music, and 20+ brothels, some towering ten stories high. It is a place where cartel-controlled police can direct you to high-end heroin and low-end cocaine. The strongholds over the Red Light District of Tijuana are oppressive.
On a recent Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Home Build, a small portion of the VMC team accompanied by YWAM staff, chose to add a visit to the seedy area. They drove the YWAM vehicle for security, because it's known in the community. A mindless, babbling woman marked their arrival. The police warned them that they had entered a "hot area" and were not safe. One of the VMC participants remembers, "Then our headlights went out and we were in complete darkness...We were scared. And we prayed." The trip was intense, but it crystallized the challenges facing YWAM''s Zone Kids Ministry. He continues, "You are attracted to the Christ in the staff members leading this ministry...and you want to come along side. They are doing God's work in one of the worst places on earth."
The ministry leaders have a strong connection to our church after greeting, supporting and toiling for years beside our YWAM Home Build Teams. In fact, five years ago, when one of our VMC team members cut his hand, it was Zone Kids Ministry that took him to the hospital. And it was then the ministry leader shared the horror of witnessing a six year-old victim in the district, and how that event sparked a passion to bring God's love in Zona Norte through Zone Kids Ministry.
Every Tuesday night for the past six years, the Zone Kids team has gone into the area to lay a foundation for peace, to lead a prayer walk within Zona Norte and later meet with community families in a park. In its infancy, Zone Kids started as a VBS program for local children. In the last year, Zone Kids has added further training and discipleship for both children and parents. They are giving kids opportunities to study science, to play guitar and learn about photography, all while teaching them about the Lord and providing opportunities to serve their community. Moms are learning parenting skills, practical skills such as sewing, and also about the Bible. The grace of God's words has been put into action.
One of the Zone Kids leaders understands the magnificence of that kind of grace and how it changes your perspective and sets you free. He, too, grew up destitute and marginalized. His childhood home was a Home Build. And the blessing of that home and the prayers of those who provided it, are foundational to his becoming a YWAM Homes of Hope staff member and initiating Zone Kids Ministry.
Another VMC member expresses, "We live in shelter here (America). There (Tijuana's Red Light District), everything you know is twisted - sketchy, oppressive, dark - the police are not there to help you." She concludes, "It's a place where kids understand the best thing you can grow up to be is a Cartel member."
Zone Kids leaders and staff have set out to change that "understanding." When they first began Zone Kids, the children were young, primarily six year-olds. Now these kids are 12, and they have insights their mothers and fathers never had...were never allowed or encouraged to have. These kids already know a different way of life.
And there are more victories - Six years ago Zone Kids reached a mere handful of children, but last Easter, hundreds of families came to the park for fun and worship. And parents of children in Zone Kids have allowed them to attend a special four-day camp with YWAM. And amidst the mired buildings, there is one tagged with paintings of Jesus and biblical pictures.
So how does Zone Kids hope to secure a future for freedom? The hope is to continue God's mighty work, rising above spiritual battles through prayer. They pray for a warehouse or building where God's instruction can be taught daily. They pray for guidance, someone to "run the numbers," and assist with a business plan. Once that building is provided, Zone Kids hopes to teach computer skills. They know that in order to change the community, God's love must be brought inside the zone - in a safe environment - and then kids will have the freedom to dream big "outside of the zone" dreams.