You don’t find Rancho el Camino without a bit of determination. Driving away from the beautiful beaches of La Paz, Mexico, you take the highway to the outskirts of town and turn sharply onto a dusty, bumpy, gravel road. But as you draw closer, you may just sense what has attracted so many people before you.
People say they feel something different at the ranch. Some are moved to tears. Others demand to know what causes the strange sensation.
Over the years, TEAM missionaries Pete and Emily Johnson have come to see the ranch as a “thin space.” It’s a place where God and heaven simply feel closer.
“I would not believe it unless I’d seen it over and over again,” Pete says, “where people are just, they’re honestly moved to tears.”
A Teen’s First Encounter
When Chuchuy first encountered Rancho el Camino, he couldn’t begin to tell you what God’s presence felt like. He and his friends would roam the streets at night, in his words, “making a mess.”
“Chuchuy is one of … many reasons why the ranch exists: working with the children and youth who live on the backside of La Paz who, for many reasons, have dropped out of school,” Pete says.
The kids come from impoverished communities where even the best parents struggle to provide. Too many have parents who are neglectful or outright abusive.
Rancho el Camino was created to be a safe place. It provides tutoring, equestrian classes, kids’ clubs and other outreaches — all geared toward making disciples who know and serve God.
The staff is a mix of American missionaries and local believers. But it was the foreigners who first intrigued Chuchuy.
“I know that gringos just come for tourism, to spend a few months here in La Paz. … And I was wondering why there are gringos in this neighborhood,” Chuchuy says.
He decided to find out by going to an event, and then another, and another.
Chuchuy wasn’t used to following rules, but the staff showed him loving patience and firm discipline. Many of the local staff knew firsthand what challenges Chuchuy faced as a young person in La Paz.
As the staff discipled him, Chuchuy began to change. Recently, he chose to be baptized as a follower of Christ.
The Place Where All Can Serve
As with many TEAM outreaches, the staff at Rancho el Camino see salvation as a beginning — not the end.
“Whether you are 8 or 80, everyone is made to serve God and to participate with Him,” says Pete, Rancho el Camino’s co-director.
Long-term discipleship is built into everything the ranch staff do. While teaching classes, leading work groups and tutoring students, they’re also starting spiritual conversations, praying with kids and sharing from the Bible.
As those kids grow older, many of them develop their own hearts to seek God and serve others. Some have even joined the ranch staff and hope to become missionaries themselves.
Rancho el Camino’s reach goes beyond youth ministry, though.
“We like to … get to know every single family on an individual basis and hear from them, what their passions are, what their giftings are, what their needs are,” ranch co-director Emily says.
The staff build relationships with the children’s parents. They hold adult classes at local community centers. They lead Bible studies at people’s homes. And when disaster strikes, they organize relief.
Do you have a heart for missions in Mexico? Discover how you can serve today!
Knowing God, the ‘Best Gift’
Gabby connected with Rancho el Camino after a hurricane destroyed much of her neighborhood. At the time, she thought Christians were just a bunch of fanatics. But when ranch staff started an emergency food kitchen, Gabby volunteered.
“I was surprised by the help they gave us,” Gabby says. “I was so excited to serve the people there and to even walk and bring food to 80 children at the primary school.”
As Gabby served with believers, she began to understand God’s love. She joined a Bible study for the volunteers. Then she gave her life to Christ.
“Knowing God and then living in Him is the best gift I have ever received,” Gabby says now.
Today, Gabby directs Rancho el Camino’s education programming. Emily says Gabby has a special gift for connecting with teenagers. And because she’s a local mom herself, she knows how to assure other moms that the ranch is a safe, life-giving place.
Continued Ministry During COVID-19
When COVID-19 hit Mexico, Gabby and other Rancho el Camino staff got to work making emergency food packets.
Many local people are day-laborers, cleaning houses, working in the local trash dump, and doing other jobs that don’t allow for saving money. Without daily work, their families go hungry. At least one couple had to send their kids away, to a family that could feed them through the pandemic.
Rancho el Camino staff worked to identify the families with the most need and coordinate with other ministries to make sure their relief efforts didn’t overlap.
“Every week, the list of those applying for help grows, and we hope to help as many as we can in these targeted areas,” Pete said.
Despite the great need, however, the staff maintained a key focus: leading people to Jesus Christ. On each delivery, ranch staff took time to pray with families, share Scripture and encourage them to get to know the ranch after the crisis ends.
Something Greater Than Wealth
When you drive away from Rancho el Camino, down that dusty road, you’ll come back to the highway. Across the highway, you’ll find a landscape of tiny, tin-roofed homes and generational poverty.
You’ll likely begin praying for the people’s physical needs without even realizing it.
But the longer Emily and Pete Johnson serve God in La Paz, the more deeply they believe that material wealth isn’t the grand solution to their community’s needs. Programs and relief projects may draw people in. But ultimately, the staff at Rancho el Camino hope to provide something much greater.
After Chuchuy gave his life to Christ, he says, “I felt a presence in me that I didn’t even know who it was or what it was. And it was God who had filled me with the Holy Spirit.”
Today, Chuchuy has dreams of finishing school and serving God with all his heart.
Many people come to Rancho el Camino and feel God’s presence for the first time. But the staff pray that it doesn’t end there. They pray that people will come to know Jesus themselves and that they will feel His presence inside them — wherever they go.
Are you ready to serve? We are looking for disciple makers and church planters to share Christ with the people of Mexico. TEAM missionaries understand that ministry isn’t just about meeting physical needs — it’s about helping encounter the Living God so that they can be saved and transformed forever. If this sounds like you, we’d love talk with you about missions in Mexico! Check out opportunities to serve!