A Brief History of MGM International and the Evangelical ChurchBy Dr. Richard L. Mercado
The history of MGM International begins with the story of its founder, Leonardo S. Mercado. Leonardo’s father, Gumecindo Mercado, emigrated with his family from Mexico City to northern Arizona during the Mexican Revolution. The family was traveling by railway pushcart toward El Paso, Texas. During one rest stop, they stumbled on a man who had been left for dead alongside the railroad tracks. Gumecindo insisted they do what they could to help the wounded man, and, despite some objections that adding him to the pushcart would jeopardize the onward journey, they lifted him to the cart along with all their baggage and renewed their travel toward the United States. Sometime later they were suddenly ambushed by a marauding group of Pancho Villa's bandits. Just as those raiders were deciding what valuables to take with them and how to dispose of their captives, the stranger who had been befriended by the Mercados spoke up. “¡No! ¡No les hagan daño!” “No, don’t harm these good people. I was lying helpless by the tracks many miles back. These strangers picked me up. They've saved my life. Now you spare them.” As it turned out, Pancho Villa’s henchmen knew the wounded man, and, for the sake of their friendship, the bandits rode off, leaving the Mercados and their new friend to resume their migration northward.
Arriving finally at Williams, Arizona, the Mercado family settled into their new environment with young Leonardo serving as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church. In time, a young Anglo neighbor boy who befriended Leonardo began inviting him to visit his Methodist Sunday School. Despite Leonardo's objections and insistence that he couldn't go there, that neighbor pal kept on, week by week, persisting in inviting him. Finally Leonardo went, he heard the gospel of salvation, and he received Christ as his very own personal Savior. That was the beginning of the spiritual pilgrimage that would eventually lead him to the Spanish-American Theological Seminary of Los Angeles, California, where somewhere around 1923 or 1924 he became one of the school’s first graduates.
While still a seminary student, one day Leonardo and his father were walking down one of the main streets of San Pedro when they heard the strains of a gospel song. Following the sound of the music, they arrived at an old-fashioned gospel street meeting and there was an earnest and attractive young lady playing the little portable organ. Leonardo whispered to his father, “Dad, I'm going to marry that young lady."
The young lady was Hazel Hawley, the firstborn daughter of Herbert A. and Gertrude Hawley. As the Mercado family was migrating north from Mexico City to Arizona, the Hawleys were migrating south and west from New England to Anaheim, California. Young Hazel graduated from high school and began to study at Biola, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. One day, under the chapel preaching of Biola President Dr. R. A. Torrey, Hazel came under spiritual conviction of her need of personal salvation, she trusted Christ and passed from death to life. The Lord of the Harvest led her to study Spanish and to give herself to missionary service among the Mexican people of San Pedro, California.
God led the newlywed couple to serve the Lord in soul winning, discipling, and church leadership with the Northern Baptist Convention. The Mercados were assigned to the Phoenix, Arizona, field where Leonardo was to serve as pastor of the First Mexican Baptist Church of Phoenix and director of “El Centro Cristiano” (The Christian Center)—a kind of spiritual/social hub for reaching and teaching souls and meeting people’s social as well as spiritual needs. The Mercados served for several years in that capacity, but increasingly both Leonardo and Hazel became concerned about the inordinate amount of time and effort that some of the denominational leadership were insisting they give to the so-called social implications of the gospel, instead of what they felt was their primary calling: evangelism, discipling, and church planting. Even as early as the late ‘20s, Leonardo and his companion were very concerned about the modernistic direction of the convention. The day came when Hazel told her husband that she was prepared, if necessary, to cook tamales and help peddle them down the streets of the city if they could only be free to serve the Lord with the soulwinning burden and emphasis they both shared as the primary passion of their ministry.
Founding of La Iglesia Evangélica Mexicana and the Mexican GospelMission
Pastor Mercado announced to the church that he and his family were leaving, and he gave them some of the biblical and doctrinal reasons for their departure. A few of those dear people were likeminded, and begged him to come back and begin a new independent church. When the Mercados returned from California, they gathered together the “puñado” (handful) of committed brethren and begin meeting in the front room of deacon Carrillo’s humble home on Jefferson Street near the edge of downtown Phoenix.
Traditionally, the church and the mission, which sprang from those humble beginnings and in the midst of the traumas, trials, and tribulations of the Great Depression, have both celebrated their anniversaries on Thanksgiving Day, since it was precisely on the evening of Thanksgiving Day in the year 1930 that the little flock organized as a fledgling church, La Iglesia Evangélica Mexicana, a ministry of the Mexican Gospel Mission.
The only surviving soul of those who met together in those first weeks and months is Dr. Dick Mercado who, as a baby born on March 23, 1930, was present in most of those early services. In God's great grace and good pleasure, the day came when Dickie grew up, received God's call to serve with the church and the mission, and in 1970 succeeded the founder as senior pastor of the church, as well as general director of the mission, now known as MGM International.
How faithfully and mightily did the Lord Jesus work in those days, by His Spirit and through His faithfully preached Word! Soon rather notorious characters began to find the Lord. Bootleggers, gamblers, and gun-toting braggarts full of machismo and dangerous self-importance found their way to the foot of the cross and to a Savior who totally transformed their lives.
Word began to get out about what God was doing at La Iglesia Evangélica Mexicana. The congregation continued to grow. Locations for the church to meet changed numerous times. The founding pastor used to say, “We’re like the children of Israel on their way to the promised land, ever moving, as led by the glory cloud.” Services were held at 9th Street and Madison and in the basement at Tanner Chapel on 8th Street and Jefferson. Soon it became necessary to relocate from that basement to a rather spacious hall down on Jefferson Street which was rented to the church by the city or the Maricopa County officials.
The church reached out, sending servants of the Lord to Canal Seco, to Peoria, to Campo Nuevo, to Golden Gate and Hollywood, to Las Milpas, to Santa Rosa, to Yaqui Town, and to Scottsdale (long before it became one of the premier resort areas of the United States!).
Deacon Ramon Carrillo and his wife Margarita pioneered a work in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Then Ramón Avilés and Nacho Espinoza and their families and others followed who planted churches in Hermosillo, Sonora, and other areas of Mexico.
Begun in the throes of the Great Depression when some of the earliest church members had to do their tithing by bringing lettuce heads, citrus fruit, and melons to the church, those dear saints, after many years of gathering in various meeting places, often quite humble and uncomfortable auditoriums, finally saw the Lord miraculously provide a beautiful campus and complex of buildings sufficient to house the Mission, the Church and the MCS day school—all glory to God! This home base for the church, the mission, and the school is located at 2925 W. Polk Street, two very short blocks just north of Van Buren and 29th Avenue—in the very heart of what is known as “Little Mexico”! God is not only very generous, but also very wise! As the four and a half-mile relocation was made from the east side of Central Phoenix to the west side of the inner city, our concern that some people might not be able to travel those four and a half miles proved unfounded. Not only did we not lose a single family but, within two or three years, the congregation doubled.
God gave us a vision of what could happen in “Little Mexico” with a strong bus ministry and soul winning outreach. Two of God's choice servants who were such a blessing and inspiration to us as they led the church as bus ministry directors were Ray Miranda and Bill Clare, along with great help from their wives, Tracy Miranda and Mary Clare. Ray Miranda also served as Christian Education Director.
A brief history of the church would be incomplete if mention were not made of the numerous and varied outreach ministries that developed over the years. Beginning in 1939 with a weekly half-hour live broadcast from one of the major Phoenix stations—KOY, an uninterrupted radio ministry of the Gospel brought Christ to the Hispanic population in central Arizona for many years. The founding pastor delivered the sermons live from the downtown radio studio with an enthusiastic church choir up early on Sunday mornings to contribute their songs of testimony and joy.
Dr. Dick Mercado began his involvement in missionary gospel radio as a “boy-soprano” member of the church choir. As he began his preaching ministry at the age of 16, he would take turns at the microphone preaching and also providing scripts for a two or three-a-week, 15-minute Gospel series he called “The Adventures of Tio José.” These were aired on a new all-Spanish radio station KIFN. In time, Dr. Mercado was invited by a Phoenix Christian station, KFLR, to do weekly Saturday evening one-hour bilingual programs called, “La Hora Vespertina,” which many expressed brought blessing to their hearts and homes. While those broadcasts ended after about a 12-year history, the radio outreach still continues with numbers of missionary radio stations across the Spanish-speaking world still airing some of Dr. Mercado's sermons and playing Dick and Margine Mercado’s recorded duets and Mercado family taped music. Again, how gracious and good the Lord is! From a boy-soprano radio choir member to still preaching and singing on radio—it all represents some 66 years of participating in missionary radio.
The MGM Mother Church has itself for a number of years had the joy of helping to send out missionaries to various fields, including various parts of Mexico, Puerto Rico, New Mexico, Africa, and even Mongolia.
The church and mission have collaborated in publishing gospel literature and music in Spanish and English and in institutional ministries such as prisons, detention centers, hospitals, and nursing homes. Working with Don Ross of Harvest Productions, Dr. Mercado and numbers of church members have helped with quite a number of Gospel films (now on DVD) in which the Gospel is made clear and compelling. One such film, No Greater Love, has been used of the Lord all over the world to lead countless souls to the Savior.
Instituto Práctico Ebenezer
In the early fifties, the mission founded the MGM Pan-American Bible Institute, which was located in West Tempe, Arizona. Early graduates included brothers Avilés and Espinoza, along with Rumaldo Nuñez, Faustino Cornejo, Bro. Becerra from Guanajato, Mrs. Romero, and Vangie Miranda. About 1968, some 15 or 16 dedicated and “on-fire-for-God” young people from the Independent Baptist Churchin Hermosillo pastored by Pastor Avilés clamored for more thorough Bible training. During those very months the Lord brought to the mission a former FBI agent, Les Walthers, who felt a special burden to begin a Bible Institute in Mexico. Thus it was that after 14 years of fruitful teaching and training in Tempe, the school was moved to Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, and renamed the Ebenezer Bible Institute. Les and his wife, Loretta and their family moved to Hermosillo as MGM missionaries and served for a number of years as the original director of the Ebenezer Bible Institute. Adding the 14 years of the Tempe school to the years of Ebenezer Bible Institute history, we rejoice in marking more than 50 years of MGM efforts in seeking to train Christian leaders.
The Walthers moved from Hermosillo to the Phoenix field to help in the expanding work of the church and the mission, followed a few years later by Gail Ereddia. During that time, a third prong of the MGM ministries was developed, the K-12 Christian day school known first as MGM Evangelical School and, more recently, as Mission Christian School or MCS.
Mission Christian School
The genesis of MCS represents a wonderful answer to prayer. God burdened the pastoral staff of the church, as well as numbers of the parents of church children and young people, to pray that somehow He might open the way for those families to have their sons and daughters receive a Christ-centered, biblically based education. During an extended period of such prayer, the Lord put Mike Wentworth in touch with us, a recent graduate in both education and Spanish. The Wentworths, along with a number of volunteer parents, became the founders of a Christian school that, across more than 30 years, has seen graduates go on to a number of fine fundamental colleges and some on to the mission field and ministry for Christ. After the Wentworths, Mark DuBois directed the school, helped by his wife Lurene. For the past 25 years, Jim Crowther has headed up the school ministry, encouraged by his wife Linda, Dick and Margine Mercado’s firstborn daughter. God has raised up across the years, a corps of faithful, godly, and sacrificial faculty, all with true servants’ hearts and with a passion to impact their students for Christ and His cause. For years, MCS students have excelled in fine arts and academics, as well as athletic competitions, with some returning to their alma mater to become faculty members. How we praise the Lord!
Development of the Mission—Finances and People
In 1935 or 1936, Leonardo Mercado was given five minutes at the national GARBC meeting to share his passion for reaching the Mexican people of greater Phoenix, Arizona, with the gospel. His passion for souls, his tears and his unique smile won the hearts of many of the pastors attending that conference. As a result, many invitations came in to speak at missions conferences and local church meetings in many areas of the United States. It was thus that the Lord was pleased to provide prayer and financial support for a growing missionary work.
At just one such meeting in Waverly, Iowa, a young registered nurse named Winifred Lynes, heard Pastor Mercado's challenge. She soon resigned her position, left the comforts of her Iowa home, moved to Phoenix and began a remarkable missionary career which included reaching many precious children and women for the Lord, not only in the Phoenix area, but all over Mexico. Evangelina (“Vangie”) Miranda joined with Miss Lynes and together they made a very effective team of missionaries reaching untold numbers of souls for the Savior. God used them in a special way in training many, many nationals in the ministry of evangelizing children and their parents.
In similar ways, God has raised up over the years many stalwart and faithful MGMI full-time missionaries and MGMI board members to serve in reaching the millions of Mexico—“Our Samaria To The South”—as well as among the multiplied millions of stateside Hispanics.
Some early MGM personnel who come to mind include Grady Parrott, who served as treasurer for the MGM Board of Directors for a time and then went on to be one of the founders of Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Rev. A. H. Woods, founder of Bible Chapel, for a time one of the largest and strongest fundamental congregations in Arizona, served for many years as a special friend, counselor, and active member of the MGM board. Naomi Edwards retired from her work with the VA hospital in Prescott, Arizona, and gave some 25 years plus in serving as a financial manager and administrative assistant to the MGM general director. We want to praise God for the many years of very important and faithful service other MGM board members have given. These include Pete Jacobson, Dan Bohlmann, Jack Miller, Wilfred Godinez, and Dick Mercado Jr. A few who are currently serving effectively as long-term MGM missionaries are Bacilio and Eunice Alfaro, Ron and Jackie Cochran, Keith and Lourdes Huhta, Sophie Weik, Cecilia Mercado, Roberto and Esther Estrada, and Dick and Margine Mercado. Other effective and loyal MGMI workers are more recent additions to the staff, and how we thank God for every one of them! They are Tap and Denise Hornor; Tap and Katie Hornor, Steve and Rosy Thomas; Jacinto and Rebecca Aguilar; Dan and Opal Wokaty; Sammy and Rebeca Schimansky, the Rubio brothers, Joey and Steve; and a number of dear national pastors and workers.
In Hermosillo, Sonora, Dr. Keith Huhta, and his faculty and staff at the Ebenezer Bible Institute continue to minister in the four-year Bible school where in recent years the student body now numbers approximately 100. Graduates have gone forth from this dynamic training center to evangelize and plant churches from one end of Mexico to another. Some IPE graduates are beginning to take part in helping to reap the harvest of souls for Christ stateside among the 40 to 50 million Spanish-speaking people now living within our own borders. These immigrants are the “strangers within our own gates” of Old Testament fame. Oh, that the Lord would help Christians across America, to rally to the cause of evangelizing these “strangers who sojourn among us” before the cults, and even Islamic forces, reach them.
Part of the church/mission evangelistic and missionary outreach has included supporting Dick and Margine Mercado's itinerant preaching efforts. These crusades, retreats, camps, and Bible and mission conferences have taken them to many parts of Mexico and the United States, to Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, the Dominican Republic, England, and Spain. Since 1995, the church has named Dr. Mercado their “Pastor Representante” (Representative Pastor).
Changes—A New Name and A New Director
Three generations of the Mercado family have served as senior pastor of the mother church—Leonard Mercado (40 years), Dick Mercado Sr. (25 years) and Dick Mercado Jr. (10 years). Pastor Dick Mercado Jr. has followed the Lord's leading for him to plant Westpointe Baptist Church in the exploding population of the far west Phoenix valley, and we are praying fervently that God's choice of a fourth senior pastor for La Iglesia Evangélica may soon be called to the pulpit. Joey Rubio is currently serving as Interim Pastor. Pastor Rubio, along with his brother Steve, who serves as youth pastor, were saved as teenagers under the ministry of the Evangelical Church and received their training at the Instituto Práctico Ebenezer in Hermosillo, Mexico.
In 2003 the name of the mission was changed from Mexican Gospel Mission to Mission Gospel Ministries International (MGMI). This reflects the broadened scope of the mission, which includes Hispanics in America, as well as Spain and Latin America.
In 2005, at the age of 75, Dr. Richard Mercado stepped down as the General Director and was named International Representative for MGMI. The new MGM International general director, Dr. David R. Shumate, has come with a vision for encouraging and assisting both English- and Spanish-speaking churches in their efforts to both reach Hispanics with the Gospel and to identify and train the next generation of Spanish-speaking pastors.
Over the years numbers of earnest men and women also found Christ in one of the church or Mission ministries and have gone on to serve the Lord in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. A harvest has been and is still being reaped for God's glory. Numerous churches have been planted in Arizona, California, South Carolina, and in many areas of Mexico.
I will remember the works of the Lord: Surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings…
WHO IS SO GREAT A GOD AS OUR GOD?
TO GOD BE THE GLORY, GREAT THINGS HE HAS DONE!