Testimony from Guadalajara, MexicoAmérica Latina
Rich and Jenni DeMartino were AGWM church planters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for 10 years. In 2015, God called the DeMartinos to move to Guadalajara, Mexico, to minister to upper-class medical students from around the world. As the DeMartinos ministered to university students, they planted a house church, moving to a larger home two years later to better suit the growing congregation. The encouragement and joy they faced was brought to a halt in 2020 as COVID restrictions forced evangelical and Catholic Churches to close for three months.
“When we were finally allowed to re-open, our small congregation dwindled down to four to six people on Sunday mornings,” said Jenni. “All the medical students had returned to their homes.”
As the DeMartinos were flooded with discouragement and confusion about how to manage their ministry, Rich began to pray. The DeMartinos, because of their age, faced more intense COVID restrictions, prohibiting them from going into public spaces. Little did they know, these restrictions would lead to an immense ministry opportunity.
Guadalajara is a large city and cornucopia to people traveling North from South and Central America. Sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances, travelers end up stuck in Guadalajara without employment or documentation. Drug addiction and alcoholism is another pressing issue in Guadalajara.
“People are on every street corner, washing windshields for a few pesos, or just begging for help,” said Jenni.
This compelled the DeMartinos to action and they began creating care bags for the homeless. Because of COVID restrictions, Rich and Jenni got personal care items such as toothpaste and soap and food like sandwich items, fruit, and water delivered to their home through a grocery service. They then assembled care bags, each containing a gospel tract. Loading up their Speed the Light vehicle, the DeMartinos traveled through the streets of Guadalajara, searching for anyone who appeared to need a care bag.
“We encountered mothers carrying babies, with two or three more children tugging on their skirts, alcoholics passed out cold on the sidewalk, and young people with accents from Central America begging to wash your windshield,” said Jenni. “One young man started to jump up and down with joy after receiving one of our bags. It wasn’t much but it seemed to bring joy and hope to the lives we were able to touch.”
Soon Rich and Jenni’s work sparked the interest of other local ministry leaders, like Pastor Alfredo of Jesus Worship Center. Alfredo, after spending his youth on the streets of Guadalajara, started a soup kitchen with his wife, Shulamita. Alfredo and Shulamita began partnering with the DeMartinos. Pastor Alfredo and his daughter delivered care packages to a park in downtown Guadalajara, known for its homeless population.
Every Saturday, the DeMartinos and Pastor Alfredo provide over 200 people in need with a meal and a proclamation of the simple gospel.
“The people are very grateful and always ask us for prayer. We are always deeply moved by these people and the stories they share,” said Jenni. “Many have received Jesus into their hearts and lives.”
As COVID cases continued to fall, and the congregation of the church grew again, the DeMartinos found a temporary space near the park in Guadalajara. However, they sought a permanent space for both Jesus Worship Center and Pastor Alfredo’s soup kitchen.
Rich and Jenni began asking their supporters to help them raise funds for a permanent space. Finding property in the inner city of Guadalajara is a difficult task due to the increased price because of the location.
After much searching, the DeMartinos found a three-story building of which the ground floor was already operating as a church for a different congregation. The building, located in one of the spiritually darkest areas of the city, shares the sidewalk with prostitutes and the homeless.
“We still didn’t have all the funds but decided to take a step of faith and make an offer, which the owners accepted,” said Jenni. “The devil is real, and he did everything he could think of to stop us from getting this building, to the very last moment. But there is victory in Jesus!”
On August 4th, 2023, the Assemblies of God of Mexico signed for the first-ever property owned in inner city Guadalajara.
The DeMartinos are certain this church will be a beacon of light in the heart of darkness. They are committed to preaching the gospel to the lost in the city until Jesus returns. Rich and Jenni are filled with gratitude for all who made this possible.
“The Jesus Worship Center finally has a permanent home, where [we] will be able to minister to these precious people who have been abandoned and forgotten by so many,” said Jenni.
The DeMartinos ask for continued prayer for Pastor Alfredo, Shulamita, and their congregation, knowing the journey will be difficult as they walk in God’s will.