Azusa Pacific’s Mexicali Outreach:

An Amazing Ministry

(and an album that came out of that experience)

For many participants in the Mexicali Outreach, it was the first chance they had to get to know people from another culture and another language.

The Mexicali Outreach

The release of the new Por Eso Es Que Canto bilingual praise CD is the perfect time to tell a bit of how that album came to be, and to spotlight a wonderful ministry.  The Mexicali Outreach, run by Azusa Pacific University, but involving churches from all over the place, put teams of young people in communities large and small along the Mexican side of the border.  

For about a week at a time, the teams held day camps for kids, and revival meetings in the evenings, and basically surrounded themselves with the wonderful people of la frontera (the border region). Carolyn Koons, the head of the program, helped thousands of believers on this side of the border to be exposed to the concept of worldwide ministry, cross-cultural witnessing, and intercultural fellowship.

Music, Fellowship, and Ministry Across Borders

This article spotlights some of the experiences of the teams I was on, using some of the photos I took on the many outreaches I was a part of in the mid-1970’s.  I was privileged to be a team leader after my second or third trip, and led a lot of great young people, many of whom have gone on to significant ministries across the globe.  

As a musician, I quickly learned to love the music of the Mexican believers, and several examples of the songs I collected (thanks to a little cassette deck I brought along) are dotted through this article. Thanks to the fact that we were often sent to serve in the same villages for several outreaches, I got the chance to make some lasting friendships.  I am still in contact with several of my Mexicali friends from those days.

Along for the Ride: Photos of an Outreach Trip

(Featuring the Villages of Nueva Esperanza and Lopez Mateos)

The teams load up at Azusa Pacific, stop past Indio to fix the tire on a trailer, and gather the following morning for worship before heading out to the villages.

The young people hurry from their homes and gather in front of our bus, ready for the day’s activities.

In the morning, we have day camp and Bible stories.  Then the team goes out and invites the older kids to a softball game or a concert in a nearby field. (Larry Wagner on guitar, me on banjo, others playing congas or getting ready to give a testimony)

I stand with a lay leader and local pastor beside their church.  I found the Mexican believers to be among the most fervent and dedicated I have ever met. Incidentally, my given name, Timothy, translates to Timoteo, which the English speaking members of my teams immediately morphed into Tomato! On the other hand, Timothy sounded like tomate (tomato) to the Spanish speaking folks, so I had those names for most of my Mexicali Outreach career!

Songs of the Mexican Believers:

I got more than nicknames from my brothers and sisters in Mexico.  Thanks to my cheap little cassette player, I also recorded some of their worship songs.  Here are two of the songs I collected.  You can hear one of the lady team members (who knew the song) singing harmony on the first song.  Recorded in a church in Nueva Esperanza, a suburb of Mexicali, around 1974.

Complete song: Que Lindo es Mi Cristo (Later recorded by Marcos Witt)

Complete song: Ojalá (The young singers said it was originally from Cuba)

On our last day, the team poses for a group photo (with lots of little helpers!)  This group had the two best translators I ever worked with, Rachel Pereda and David Johnson  (the two on the far right).  Both would later participate with me on the Por Eso Es Que Canto album. I am second from left, pointing at the guy using my camera and trying to help him figure it out.

Back at Azusa Pacific: Tim Frantz and Art Ortiz add layers to the basic tracks I laid down of “Una Linda Canción” (which was one of the songs I learned from my 1974 recordings in Nueva Esperanza)

Complete song: Una Linda Canción  

Timothy Smith with harmonies and narration by Art Ortiz (right) and second guitar and bass by Tim Frantz (left).  Both were in the professional audition group Truth after college, Tim went on to back up the Gaithers for awhile, and Art was the road manager for Truth.  I knew them when!  This song was left off the CD because it really needed one more take to be just right, so it’s included here.

This detail from a Bible story time in Lopez Mateos shows song words in the background.  The one on the easel, “Ser Como Cristo” was well-known across Mexico.  Our version came about after a jam session around the campfire back at our base camp.  It became a very popular song at Camp Woody in Alaska when I introduced our version up there.  

This bonus track from the CD features vocals by me and extra instrumentation (lead 12 string plus bass) by Tim Frantz.  The quality is poor, but it cooks!

Sound sample from the CD: Ser Como Cristo (bonus track)

A Long-Forgotten Recording Session

The pinnacle of my involvement with Mexicali Outreach was when several of my colleagues and teammates from various mission trips teamed up with me to form “RTD” (from our initials, and borrowing the name from a local bus line): Rachel, Tim and Denise. Rachel Pereda had been a fellow teammate and team translator on several outreaches, and was a frequent alto soloist with the Bel Canto choir at APU.  Denise Daniel was a bilingual fellow student who had a marvelous soprano voice. I was a rather oddball struggling Spanish student (whose real forte was English and Biblical Lit) who had lots of song leading and guitar playing experience from my years at Camp Woody in Alaska.  

We were joined by the multi-talented Tim Frantz, who could play any style guitar and bass at studio musician level (but we never got to use his beautiful cello).  Our executive director, who put together a tour of churches on both sides of the border, was Dave Johnson, who by this time was one of the directors of the Mexicali Outreach.  He and I (mostly he) translated several of the songs from my Alaska repertoire into Spanish.  

The other musicians and I were able to put together a full album of songs, recorded in half-track stereo at the “Spaghetti Works” studio at Azusa Pacific. A couple of tracks were recycled from a solo project I had made with Tim Frantz the year before.  We gave the mono, high speed-duplicated cassette copies away to friends on both sides of the border, and were pleased that we could share our music in that way.  We graduated from college, went our separate ways, and the album was mostly forgotten.

The album photo of Rachel Pereda, Denise Daniel, and Timothy Smith (RTD or RTTD) with Tim Frantz on the right. Taken in a little church somewhere in northwestern Mexico in the fall of 1975.  I added digital color to the original.

The “RTD” Sound Develops: (in concert in Mexico, then later in the studio)

Sound sample from the CD: RTD live in Mexico singing Ven a Él (bonus track)

Sound sample from the CD: Cristo es la Roca (learned from the singing group called “Los Latinos” - this is my favorite track on the CD!)

The Album, Resurrected

Recently, I was contacted on Facebook by someone who had received one of those original fuzzy-sounding cassettes, and had used it with a bilingual ministry on the other side of the country.  He thanked me for the songs, and mentioned “Dame mas Sabiduría” in particular, which I had collected in Mexico and translated into English. Shortly after that kind message from Facebook, I was digging around in the garage looking for something else, and opened a box, and there were the three half-track stereo master tapes of our project, the entire Por Eso Es Que Canto album.

Three songs translated into Spanish by Dave Johnson (with Tim’s help):

Sound sample from the CD: Por Eso Es Que Canto (title track)

Sound sample from the CD: Aqui Viene Aquel

Sound sample from the CD: I’ve Been Sealed

After my experiences working with the old master tapes of the Wilson McKinley, I didn’t know what to expect. But the tapes were in splendid shape, and with a minimal amount of editing, I was able to release the album you see available here.  I was very pleased that the believing (and bilingual) colleagues at Montclair High School, where I teach, not only liked the demo CD’s I gave them, but encouraged me to make the album available. Since there are “new” songs that came from my Alaskan song list, and since it’s basically in the timeless format of vocals and acoustic guitars, most of the album doesn’t really sound like it’s almost four decades old.  Listen to the samples sprinkled throughout this article and hear for yourself.  If you like what you hear, order the CD, and I’ll make one for you.  

Three songs collected in Mexico:

Sound sample from the CD: El Ciélo y la Tierra

Sound sample from the CD: Mi Alabanza es para Él

Sound sample from the CD: Dame mas Sabiduría

Songs Like the Kingdom

The song selections on the featured album of this article are almost a sermon in themselves.  The sources speak of the vastness of God’s family and the endless variety in the Kingdom of God.  

The title track was written by a young man in the Navy, who hailed from Arkansas, and wrote the English version in Kodiak, Alaska.  The next track was originally from Alaska’s first Christian Rock band.  Both of those songs were translated by a missionary kid from Ecuador, helped by another MK from Alaska. The next song was collected in a small church east of Mexicali, sung by a young pastor into my cheap cassette player.  

One track comes from one of the first Contemporary Christian Spanish-speaking groups, “Los Latinos.”  Another is an old American hymn with a new tune courtesy of the “Wilson McKinley,” a Jesus People Rock Band from Spokane, Washington. And Ser Como Cristo started as a little English chorus with a folk tune, was translated by someone into Spanish, and got its cool guitar breaks from a bunch of California college kids relaxing around a campfire after a day of ministry.

What an interesting stew this album is!  The true “melting pot” of history is the Kingdom of God, and yet all the original ingredients are still there, just adding to the joyful mixture.  It kind of makes me look forward to Heaven.

A Song Like the Kingdom:

RTD sings the words to an old American hymn called “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, which had been translated into Spanish and sung for years throughout Latin America, but we sang it with a tune written by the Wilson McKinley, a “Jesus People” rock band from Spokane, Washington. (Quite a stew!)  I went on to produce the Wilson McKinley’s CD reissues (link).

Sound sample from the CD: ¿Cómo Podre Estar Triste?

God’s Songs Anyway!

A couple of years after graduating from college, I took several mission trips to Hermosillo, Sonora with Duane and Margaret Grasman, college friends who developed a significant ministry in Latin America with Operation Mobilization.  In one small church, I sang Por Eso Es Que Canto and told the believers there the story behind the song, what it had meant to the man who wrote it in Alaska, and how Dave and I had translated it.  

Afterwards, one of the young musicians came up and said, “That’s our song.  It’s from Mexico.  I learned it from a guy from Mexicali.”  I had to smile, because of course, these were always God’s songs, and we just have the privilege to share them.

To get to the CD Music Page (and to order this great album) click on the album image below:

A Reunion in 2011

When I finished restoring the album and creating the finished CD in 2011, I sent a copy to Dave Johnson, who had “friended” me on Facebook a few months before.  He sent back an appreciative note, and also sent me Denise’s address (since her church helps to support his ministry). Denise sent me a note saying that when she got the CD, she danced around her house singing along with the album. She also sent me Rachel’s address. So to make a long story short, the next time Dave was in Southern California, we arranged a reunion (at In-N-Out Burger, at Dave’s request, since they don’t have them where he lives).

It was a wonderful time of getting reacquainted. It was also a blessing to hang out with folks who had meant so much to me in my college days. But it was especially great to see how God is still moving in all of our lives. It was perfect timing to get their enthusiastic support in my effort to make the CD available to everyone.  

So check out the sound samples, order the CD, and keep singing for Jesus!

— In Him, Timothy (Timoteo) Smith, Tanignak Productions, November, 2011

Click on the Logo Above for a 2-minute .mp3 Sample of the CD

L to R: Denise Agron, Dave Johnson, Tim Smith, Debbie Smith, Rachel Ramos

“RTD” Reunion L to R: Rachel Ramos, Denise Agron, Tim Smith, October, 2011 is most famous as the web home of the Wilson McKinley Jesus Rock Band. Tanignak Productions has released two albums of this pioneering Jesus Rock band’s classic tracks.  To find sound samples, my article which tells the band’s story, and CD ordering information, click on the band’s logo below.

For more about Jesus Music, Camp Woody, or historical articles of Kodiak Island and village life, including many more historic photos, please follow the links in the photos below.

To Find Out More About, Click HERE

To Visit My “About Me” Page, Click HERE

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