The first time I drove through Guadalupe was about twenty years ago when I was looking for the farmers market. I was shocked to find what looked like a poor, rural Mexican village. I thought that Guadalupe was a place to avoid, or at the very least, pass through quickly!
As I settled into Phoenix, I married, had two kids, and accepted Jesus at a local church. My wife Cindy and I started doing some work as part of our church’s outreach in 2002 in a children’s reading program. The ministry was located in Guadalupe. In hindsight, this was simply a step toward God and His transformational power over me. The words Paul said 2000 years ago still ring true:
Romans 12:2 (NIV) “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In 1904, refugees of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, who fled Mexico in the late 1800s to escape persecution, founded Guadalupe. The town shares some undesired traits with other tribal areas across the United States. The per capita income here is half the Arizona average, and less than 50% of the children graduate from high school*.
My wife Cindy and I started to get to know many children and their parents, including Marina Gonzales. Marina wanted to help improve the lives of families in Guadalupe also, but she did not know where to start. Unbeknownst to us, God had gifted us with a person of peace – someone who would open the door for the Gospel to be shared in Guadalupe.
In 2009, God broke into my life in a way that I never could have imagined. I had advanced in my career and was content as a general manager of a worldwide operation. One day God asked, “What do you think I care more about – your leading an organization that provides hundreds of millions of dollars of value each year to this company or your helping one person come closer to Me?” After a wrestle worthy of Jacob, I left the company.
In 2010, free from the corporation, we started fully engaging a strategy called “Neighborhood Transformation,” known in some circles as “Asset Based Community Development.” We do not tell people what they need to do. We learn about their hopes and we help them discover what God has already given them to accomplish those dreams. We support, but only as the community voices a concern and as they commit assets to support the desire. A group of parents in Guadalupe are taking a stand against low high school graduation rates by operating a tutoring program for about 50 kids. We work with these families and on other projects such as a Mom’s Club, GED training, and community beautification. All of this helps them see that because they are made in the image of God, they can make a difference. They were made to co-create and made to steward their community. Twenty years ago, I saw the people of Guadalupe as poor and inconsequential; now I see that God made them in his image, and loves them.
This summer I was privileged to be able to share the Gospel with a dozen or so teens from Guadalupe. The kids enjoyed it and are asking for more. As you read this article, my prayer is that you would seek a local neighborhood and then seek a person of peace to help you; a brother or sister in Christ whom God has prepared to join you in sharing the Gospel. I trust He will provide everything you need to tell His story.
Arizona Neighborhood Transformation
*Source – 2010 United States Census