In the summer of 1949 there was an effort by people in the First Baptist
Church of Williamston, Michigan to establish an afternoon Sunday School in south
Handy Twp. of Ingham County. As part of spreading the word about the
Sunday School, two men from the church were
driving near Stockbridge one Saturday and happened upon a couple of
Mexican migrant workers walking along the road. They offered them a
ride to their camp, and this "chance" meeting led to the Williamston men
holding gospel meetings in the camp. These meetings shortly led to the
salvation of a Mexican by the name of Antonio "Tony" Gomez. About 29
years old, he had abandoned his wife and two children in Torreon,
Coahuila, Mexico with the intention of never going back. Once saved,
however, he immediately evidenced a love for the Lord and it was not hard
to convince him that he must go back to Mexico and win his wife and loved
ones to the Lord. Having come from a Roman Catholic background, his wife
Carmen was very much opposed to his new-found religion, and it took about
a year to win her to Christ.
Tony, of course, had to earn a living, but in the time he could spare he felt driven to win others to Jesus Christ. In short order he became an evangelist, reading his Bible and travelling on horseback to tell others the Good News. The people back in Williamston gave him encouragement, prayer support, Spanish Bibles to distribute and some monetary support. Over time, the whole endeavor grew, the monetary support increased and his supporters were able to provide him with a pick-up truck. Tony's first church was in LaVictoria and Tony built the adobe block sanctuary himself. He would use the pick-up to transport persons to church, sometimes as a hearse, always to spread the gospel.
Over time, more churches were established, Tony's work grew to where he had a jail ministry and a radio broadcast. He was persecuted, and letters to the folk back in Michigan told of harrowing experiences.
In 1961 the Spanish American Mission was founded as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, primarily to make it easier for people to funnel support to Tony.
As Tony's ministry grew, so did his family, and among his several children was Antonio Gomez Fraire, born in 1951. (As you may be aware, the Mexicans sometimes use their mother's surname after their father's. Thus, Antonio Gomez, Sr. was "Antonio Gomez Rosas" and his son was "Antonio Gomez Friare.")
The ministry flourished, several churches were established, and Tony, Sr. became known as "The Apostle Paul of Old Mexico." During this time, the Spanish American Mission existed primarily to provide support to the elder Tony.
Tony, Sr. went to be with his Lord in 1980 at the age of 59. For reasons only the Lord knows, he died an excruciating death. He could not be lifted in bed without bones breaking in the process. Among his last words were instructions to his son Tony, "Go preach."
Tony Gomez Jr. and his wife Beatriz
This was a crucial point in time for the ministry in Mexico, for it could
have failed and floundered with the passing of Tony, Sr. But the younger
Tony picked up the mantle left behind by his father and continued the
work, stressing door to door witnessing as church congregations grew and
others were started. The work of the mission continued to be confined
mostly to the support of the younger Tony.
A turning point came in January 1995 when mission president
Doug Bytwerk organized a group of 23 men who travelled by bus the 2,000
miles to Torreon to spend a week building a concrete block building in
Nazareno, a town about 15 or 18 miles south of Torreon. This was to be a
dining hall and all purpose building for a church pastored by Antonio
Gomez Fraire and Leonardo Avila Garcia.
Leonardo, crippled by polio, was adopted by the elder Tony
at age 8 at the request of his dying mother. Leonardo became the second
pastor to receive support from the mission. This mission building trip
was so successful that 10 more such trips have taken place every January
since. Church buildings have been built in areas quite removed from
Torreon. A total of 139 different men have participated in those building
trips, some on every one.
Probably the building programs have been the most instrumental in attracting such other assisting organizations as the Fellowship of Christian Farmers and some other churches. Participants in recent years have not only come from central and western Michigan but from as far away as Iowa and Oregon.
In 1996 the ministry came full circle when a group in west Michigan, near the village of Grant, enlisted the aid of the mission to start an hispanic church for the large migrant population in that area. In time, a Mexican pastor, Isidro "Pepe" Morales, pastor of one of the churches the mission supported in Mexico, was given a call to come to Michigan as a missionary pastor. That church is now flourishing and while the work is self-supporting now, funds pass in and out of the Mission.
The most ambitious January building project was the construction of a two-story building across the street from our main church in the Torreon suburb of Gomez Palacio. Taking four "Januarys" to complete, this structure now houses a school for the developmentally handicapped, administered by the Gomez Palacio church, with a teaching staff partly supported by the mission. The governmental authorities have already stated that this school is one of the best of its kind in the area. The building was constructed with a dual purpose, the second being to provide quarters for a Bible institute to train Mexican pastors. In the spring of 2005 we had our first week-long session at which a number of our pastors came in from outlying areas to be taught the Word of God.
Today, the mission supports, in part, ten Mexican pastors, plus providing full support for Tony Gomez. Besides the pastors, we have recently taken on some support for seven teachers in the school, plus the school administrator. We are trying to increase support for these people currently. Currently, we consider some 26 churches in Mexico as results of that one migrant worker who trusted Jesus as Saviour. All this ONLY TO THE HONOR AND GLORY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Our quarterly newsletter goes to 17 states and has a distribution of about 350.
Pastor ANTONIO GOMEZ FRAIRE