An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
Mitchell had felt drawn towards Nogales, Arizona, for some time. It was a city that sat on the edge of the untapped harvest field of Mexico. He was only waiting for a man to feel a similar burden. Jack Harris rose to the challenge.
Harris left for Nogales with high expectations. It would prove to be one of the greatest doors to open to the fellowship, but one of the most costly, personally, for Harris.
Driving into Nogales is like driving into another world. The K Mart parking lot looks like a junkyard, with trash blowing everywhere. Not because the city doesn't care how it looks, but because hundreds of Mexicans come across the border to buy clothes and appliances that they have to unpack before returning home to avoid the duty.
From the small hills where the city stands, you can look across the fence into a world that at first contact isn't inviting; a world of need and hunger. Even on the American side Spanish is spoken more often than English. The air of the city is often filled with a haze, not from factories but the small fires used to heat and cook with across thc border. Harris never forgot the first evening he looked up to see giant birds flying in to land in the huge Eucalyptus trees in town. He checked up on them and was shocked to discover they were giant buzzards. For him the beauty of the city would always be marred by the memory of that revelation. It was like the Devil laughing at him every time he saw them fly into town.
Driving across the border is always a shock. Another spiritual force rules. Crucifixes are everywhere, hanging on buildings, from car mirrors and around necks, but they have no meaning, even for the people that wear them. The streets are crowded, the smells assault the nose, and in a moment the caucasian goes from a majority to a minority. A minority that the police don't always protect and that's catered to for its money, but not always respected or even liked. Yet, with all the problems, Harris was being drawn here by Providence.
Before Jack came to Nogales, events had begun to pull the Prescott church to send a man here. One Saturday night at the end of a music scene in Prescott a young man came to the altar who left everyone bewildered. Cruz Guerrero was obviously under real conviction, but he couldn't speak any English. Finally one of the girls who had taken High School Spanish was able to pray Cruz Guerrero through to salvation.
He was a wetback who had done like millions of others and left Mexico to find a new future. In Mexico his future was bleak. Jobs were impossible to find, and worse yet Cruz had a police record for stealing cattle.
Cruz tried to fit into the Prescott church.
Terry had prayed with him, and she took the job of translating Mitchell's sermons for him. Cruz stayed around for three months, but finally the truth came out; he didn't understand a thing that Terry was translating. In frustration he decided to leave. Terry went to Brother Mitchell and told him what Cruz was about to do. She explained that he was really saved and felt a call to go back to Mexico to preach, but he felt like he was wasting his time in Prescott. Mitchell sent Terry back to Cruz with a message, "Stay around. I'm going to send a man to Nogales and Cruz can go with him." This small act of confidence changed his life. No one else had ever had any hope for him.
In order to stay in Nogales and help Jack, Cruz had to get papers to be in the States legally. Jack took him across the border to Nogales, Mexico to try and get papers. Cruz explained how he needed a special letter to live in Nogales, but hadn't said anything about how he planned on getting it. The fact was that Cruz had never lived in the city and had to find someone who would lie for him.
Jack didn't speak a word of Spanish, and Cruz didn't speak any English. They spent the day inventing a new sign language. The situation was funny, but it was also a beautiful testimony of God's ability to turn anything to good. Jack found himself sitting out in the car while Cruz was up at a Baptist church asking for the letter. Time was passing while Bill Walworth was talking to Cruz, and Jack got impatient and went out to see what was taking so long. He was surprised to find that Bill spoke English.
Bill asked Jack, "Are you a Christian?"
"I'm his pastor," said Harris.
"Well, neither of you look like Christians," Walworth stated, "and furthermore, this guy is trying to bribe me so that he can get a passport."
It was a joke. Jack tried to straighten things out, but soon realized that Cruz wasn't going to be able to get back across the border. He had to go back to Prescott, so he left Cruz in a hotel with enough money to last a week.
Just before Cruz left Walworth he told him, "If you don't give me the letter I'll have to stay here. It will be your fault." With that, he left his address. Walworth began to get convicted during the next week, and took Cruz to his own home.
Walworth was the son of Baptist missionaries who were over several churches in Mexico. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his lite. He'd gone to Baylor University, but had run into trouble when it got out that he spoke in tongues. Cruz didn't know a lot, but he did know that he and Bill needed to do like they did in Prescott and get out on the streets and witness. Bill got excited, and his parents soon kicked them out of the house for being too radical. Jack returned to Nogales to warn Cruz to stay away from "that Baptist" only to find that his congregation had doubled and he now had an interpreter.
Now all they needed was a building. When Jack had come to Nogales he thought he had a church tied down. The Prescott congregation had purchased a building from another group, but they had slipped in a clause allowing them to stay in their old building until the new one was finished. When Jack arrived to start pastoring he found that the other church had no intention of leaving, and legally there was nothing that could be done about it. Harris had Bible studies in his home, but it wasn't the same as pastoring.
He kept feeling drawn towards the Mexican side of the border, and finally, in desperation, he got permission from Mitchell to get a building in Mexico. At the time, conditions in Mexico were turning Nogales into a boom town. Border businesses seemed to be the answer to Americans' need for cheap labor, and the jobs were drawing people by the thousands. Nogales was a city that was cooking day and night. Harris got a small building and started his first pastorate in a land where he couldn't speak a word of the language, but God had a plan.
It didn't take long to fill the little storefront they had rented. Sunday nights were always exciting. If things got slow the pastor could always cast devils out of one man who manifested every Sunday night.
It was a church that would never do things in a small way. As the number of converts grew, Jack felt that it was time for a baptismal service. They didn't have a tank, but good old "Yankee ingenuity" came to the rescue. They bought a 3 foot tall steel and plastic swimming pool from K Mart. The men set it up in that small building and it stretched from wall to wall. Unfortunately, in their zeal they had neglected to read the instructions while setting it up.
Everything was going along fine until one sister that weighed 220 pounds was put under water. As they dunked her, the rip tide hit the sides and the whole pool instantly disintegrated. The baptizers looked up just in time to see the horror register on everyone's faces in that packed building. A three foot wall of water went roaring off the platform to perform the first mass baptism in the history of the fellowship. Ladies screamed and leaped up on chairs. The water swept Bibles and everything else towards the back door. Passers by were shocked to see the door come crashing open as water and people were swept out into the street. Never saying quit, they took the few who still had dry spots on them and had them lay down while they sloshed them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Mitchell believed in the indigenous church. He felt that every church needed to be able to support itself. If a church was to have dignity it couldn't be supported from outside forever. He was more than willing to hclp a church get started, but eventually it must stand on its own.
This put Harris in a difficult situation. As he drove around Nogales, Sonora, the poverty screamed at him. Families were crammed into one room, with no heat or water. How could he ask these people to give? He wanted to take all the money he had and give it to them. As he drove, though, the Lord spoke to him. "The only way this nation can be blessed is if they learn to give." The scripture came to him, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." God reminded him that this prophecy applied to a nation and only the liberality of God's people could bless Mexico. Harris began to preach on money.
To the Nogales church this was shocking. They had hoped that he had come with some kind of welfare program, but instead, he was asking them to give. Cruz had married Terry, the girl who had been his translator in Prescott. She was a great help at this time. Even though she and Cruz were living on only $10 a week, she had learned the value of giving during her three years in Prescott. She helped to share it with others. At first when Jack preached on money it would cause the service to tighten up horribly, but he kept pressing it and the church broke through into liberality.
Soon, a miracle began to happen. People began to get good jobs and the church began to pay its own way. The foundation was laid that would enable the Nogales church not only to send out churches all over Mexico, but to send them into the world. Not with money from others, but from its own churches.
A militant spirit of evangelism is another secret to the power of the churches in Mexico. This wasn't easy to establish. The fact is that the whole church in Mexico is illegal. To open a church you have to buy property, deed it to the government and then hold your services there and nowhere else. Harris broke all the rules.
They took the portable PA and went out on the streets preaching. When riding the buses they often stopped just long enough in the front to give their testimony. The Federales threatened, but there was no stopping them. Before long, the pimps were finding their business affected as the prostitutes and the customers began to get saved.
It is obvious from the experience in Mexico that the gospel will work anywhere if it is given a chance. The secret is to trust the Bible and follow its pattern and not man's.
That doesn't mean that there were no problems. After a short time the church on the American side opened up for Harris. He put Cruz in charge South of the border and helped as much as he could. It was only a few months until Harris got inspired to send Cruz down to Obregon to start a second church. It seemed to follow Paul's pattern but it was a decision that would be regretted. Cruz didn't have the experience to build a work. Out of this and some similar experiences in the States, it was decided that no man would be sent out who hadn't been saved for at least three years.
The fellowship saw that there were three things that couldn't be skipped. One of these was time. These men weren't prepared for the battle, and all that happened is they set in a city dying. If it took three years for Jesus to prepare the disciples, it Was decided that the fellowship would wait at least three years to send out workers after they were saved.
In addition, there was the need of involvement. A man had to have an opportunity to stretch his wings. They couldn't just start with a background of no practical experience and be successful. Jesus started the twelve with small asks and enlarged on that foundation.
A final requirement was atmosphere. Truth isn't so much taught as caught. When a man is in revival there is an impartation of that same spirit, and this isn't something that can be picked up in a book or from just a few weeks of contact.
Crowds came out in Mexico to see almost anything. People milled around with no money and nowhere to go. It was decided to try a crusade to impact Nogales. Jack Harris rented the bull ring for several nights. Argemero Feguerro, an evangelist who had worked with Morris Cerullo in South America, was invited to be the speaker. He spoke Spanish and had an outstanding miracle ministry. The church plastered the city with posters and rented cars with P.A.'s built on top to announce the crusade meetings.
The crusades results were beyond the dreams of those that planned it. Several thousand attended each night and when the altar call was given the people didn't take the time to go through the doorways; they just streamed over the eight foot restraining wall to fill the stadium floor. After praying for them to get saved, Argemero would ask them to lay their hands on whatever part of their body was sick and believe God to heal it. Hundreds streamed forward to testify of miracles that had happened.
It was obvious that a tremendous impact was being made and Jack beggcd Argemero to stay longer. Argemero had a better idea. The next night he announced that he was leaving, but that everyone was to come and bring the lame, the blind and the deaf because evangelist Jack Harris would be there preaching. Jack was both thrilled and terrified as Argemero told him he could do the same thing that he did.
The next night Jack stood in that stadium of people, scared to death that nothing would happen when he prayed. It was encouraging to see the people stream forward to get saved, but would they be healed? He was almost afraid to ask for testimonies and then was humbled as person after person stood to tell of God's miraculous work in their life.
He told Mitchell that he wanted to travel around Mexico preaching crusades, but Mitchell said, "No." He wasn't going to just scatter the seed. He knew that the key was the church and there was no reason to have a crusade until a church was started. Jack went back to the hard task of pastoring, but every few months another crusade would be held. First in Nogales, then in Obregon, finally growing to a point where he would often be found traveling around the world preaching and seeing people healed in addition to his many pastoral responsibilities.
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