It’s hot outside, and the dust and wind have made quite a mess of the college students and their rugged surroundings. There aren’t any showers on site, and luxury is defined as an eight-person tent. Yet, this voluntary experience, triggered by the desire to spread God’s love, draws hundreds of students annually. For more than 50 years, Azusa Pacific University offers its students and church groups ministry opportunities to serve in Mexicali, Mexico. This year saw approximately 750 Azusa Pacific students participate in the Mexico Outreach event.
With each trip, Mexico Outreach deepens existing relationships and mobilizes local leaders to impact their community. Matt Browning, Ed.D., associate vice president of internationalization, attributes the success of Mexico Outreach to God. “At the end of the day, there is something bigger at work than any of us. God ordained this ministry, and through Him real transformation takes place.”
Through meaningful ministry and moving participants outside their comfort zones, Mexico Outreach continues to receive and mobilize volunteers. “Throughout its history, the core mission of Mexico Outreach remains unchanged,” said Browning. “We work to motivate young adults to become culturally competent and challenge them to think beyond their borders.”
APU’s Mexico Outreach program began in 1960, when founder and then-APU professor Carolyn Koons participated in the short–term missions movement to Mexico. Soon after, churches began asking her to take them with her when she went south of the border. In 1970, five churches traveled with Koons to Mexico, and Mexico Outreach was born. By 1980, 3,200 people from Canada and the United States had participated, and by the 1990s, that number grew to 9,000.
Mexico Outreach partners with churches in Mexicali and other local organizations, such as orphanages, rehabilitation centers, and women’s shelters. “By returning multiple times a year, a long–term relationship develops in a short–term setting,” said Bob McCorkle, senior coordinator of marketing and publishing for Mexico Outreach.
The newest Mexico Outreach project known as Outside the Bowl supports feeding programs throughout Mexicali. This effort serves as a factory that assists local ministries by providing meals for those groups to distribute at a substantially lower cost. Browning describes the project as “one of the ways Mexico Outreach can give tools to local pastors and leaders. Pastors come and get food and give it back to their local mission as a way to connect with the poor and those in need.”
Mexico Outreach’s volunteer opportunities extend beyond APU students. The majority of volunteers come from local, regional, national, and even international churches and youth groups that partner with APU to serve in Mexicali. Each school year provides four brigades, which each consist of a two–day trip. Every Thanksgiving, university students participate in a five–day trip to Mexicali. This year, Mexico Outreach held one spring break option for APU students, and four Easter trips consisting entirely of outside groups and Mexico Outreach staff. Additionally, APU students and church groups participate in two summer trips every year.
“This year’s change to a new spring break schedule presented Mexico Outreach with an opportunity to rely on local partners for Easter weekend instead of APU students,” said Eddy Calderwood, director of Mexico Outreach. “We now depend more deeply on our friends from the Mexican church who will help staff and fill positions.”
The legacy of APU’s Mexico Outreach has positively impacted generations of APU students. “There’s decades of stories of the spiritual formation and transformation of students,” said Ron Aramburo, senior coordinator of North American partnerships. “We go to bring change, and yet, our lives are transformed. In fact, many who have served this ministry are now serving across the world.” Additionally, Browning sees many high school students serving in Mexicali with their church respond to APU’s focus on service. “This motivates them to see what life at APU is all about.”
In the future, the Mexico Outreach team intends to explore new ways to meet local needs, while continuing to excite Americans to work in Mexico. “We are just scratching the surface,” said Aramburo. “There is so much God wants to do in and through us, and that is what excites me about coming to work everyday.”