Mike Spitz and Becky Pacheco-Spitz could not have grown up in more different worlds — he’s an English-speaking surfer kid from San Diego and she is a Spanish-speaking pastor’s daughter and granddaughter of an ‘itinerant evangelist’ in Baja California, Mexico.
But despite their differences in background, the recently married couple is seeking to bring those worlds together.
“Sometimes I get surprised how all of this came together in our lives, and it is a reminder to me of how God can bring people together to do things for his kingdom — way beyond what we can imagine,” Mike said. “I think that we as a church need to be more open to that — do we really believe that it is possible?”
For Becky, a life that revolves around ministry comes naturally. The daughter of a minister and granddaughter of an evangelist, she spent the first 18 years of her life going to church four days a week.
“That’s a lot of church services,” she said, acknowledging that there was a point during her college years when she had to decide she would continue the family tradition.
Thanks to some friends who worked with her father’s church, Becky had the opportunity to go to college in the United States, an experience that offered lonely and difficult challenges. During a visit home to Baja, she met Mike, who was also going through a time of discernment after high school. He found himself spending more time south of the U.S./Mexico border, visiting friends and youth leaders who had left Rancho Bernardo Presbyterian Church to work at an orphanage not far from Santa Anita. It was there that he met Becky.
Soon after, Mike and Becky began planning a future together — one that didn’t necessarily include a return to Mexico.
But God had other plans. The two have now been married close to two years, run a non-profit called Vida Outreach Ministries and live a stone’s throw from Becky’s father’s church.
Most recently they have opened a community center as an outreach of the church. The community center offers English classes to youth, sewing classes for women, computer and printer services for rent and space to hang out and drink coffee.
“I always had this desire to help other kids go to school, since when I was younger somebody helped me go to school,” Becky said. “Our focus with the community center is to help make it not so hard to stay in school — to have a place for the teenagers to do their homework and use the computers, but also to help them have a place where they can have fun. A lot of poor people don’t have many opportunities to have fun.”
Though it is an obvious outreach of the local church, the community center is intentionally in a separate building and a separate area so it can be a perceived as a space where all are welcomed.
For Mike, his involvement with ministry in Mexico has brought its own transformation.
Though Mike is an American, his marriage to a Mexican woman provides him with a different lens through which to view his work here. Because Northern Baja is so close to the border with the United States, it is often the destination for U.S.-based short-term mission projects.
“We often overlook, as Americans, that there are Mexican pastors and missionaries who are already working in many of these communities,” Mike said. Part of what makes Vida Outreach Ministries unique is that it is the local church reaching out to local people.
“The way we do mission — the way we work in the community — is with the assumption that as God is transforming us as the church and healing us, that is so that we can go out and be in the community sharing that transformation and healing,” Mike said. “There is an openness here — people are not afraid of their faith and they assume that it will transform their lives,”
The work does have some U.S. support, though. Mike’s home church, San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo Presbyterian, has come alongside the bilingual, cross-cultural couple in their ministry.
“I’m so excited to have the support of the presbytery and my church,” Mike said. “They are recognizing what we are doing and see it as valuable and are willing to support us in that.
“They are seeing the value of not just, ‘Let’s plant a church and hold services,’ or ‘Let’s send a mission team for a weekend,’ but ‘Let’s branch out into more relational ministry in the community,’” he said.
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.