Cristian Cruz started preaching within days of his conversion in a Texas prison, and he has hardly drawn breath since. His passion is fueled by “just knowing how much Jesus loves me, after everything I had done.”
As a troubled young man, he was jailed for drug-related offenses, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Though he had spent most of his life in the U.S., on release he was deported to his native Mexico in 2007. There he began sharing his testimony at rehabs, schools and prisons, and recording a couple of rap CDs.
Meeting John Sullivan, serving in Mexico with Foursquare Missions International (FMI) with his wife, Beti, Cristian was invited to join him in ministry in Zihuatanejo, in Mexico’s southwestern Guerrero state. Through John’s mentoring and connection with other FMI leaders, Cristian became licensed with Foursquare and now pastors with John at Zihuatanejo Christian Fellowship, an English-speaking congregation in a low-income part of the city. He also leads Compañerismo Cristiano Zihuatanejo, a Spanish-language church also in Mexico.
Membership has grown from a handful to around 80 through an emphasis on meeting people’s practical needs and praying in the power of the Holy Spirit—something that birthed his ministry while he was still behind bars.
“I was reading my Bible one night when I just felt this heat come over me,” he recalls. “It was just so powerful, so joyful, and I started speaking in tongues. I didn’t know what was happening; I thought I had gone crazy.”
Cristian’s Zihuatanejo congregation started with a group of kids involved in a soccer program he organized. “Three gave their lives to the Lord, and then two of the mothers came to the Lord,” he explains. “And then we baptized the first 10 people, and we started getting more.”
“We’re not all-mighty. We always need somebody. Whether you’re the greatest minister, you’re always going to need a pastor, a mentor.”
Because they don’t have much to give, practically, church members pray for and anticipate the miraculous. The handful of early members could come up with only a few hundred dollars toward their building project, but God honored that sacrificial giving, and they now meet in their own purpose-built facility.
At their first Christmas gathering, they had food enough for only 30 or so people, but somehow ended up feeding three times that number. “We see stuff like that,” Cristian affirms, “the Holy Spirit just showing Himself as He is.” There have also been physical healings as they have prayed for the sick.
Among the church’s outreaches are rehab, support for prisoners’ families, providing wheelchairs and food packages, and sponsoring kids’ sports programs. There are baptism services twice a year, with two home groups for discipleship.
Though he is fueled by his own experience of God’s forgiveness and restoration, Cristian knows that solo spirituality is not enough to sustain long-term ministry. “We’re not all-mighty,” he says. “We always need somebody. Whether you’re the greatest minister, you’re always going to need a pastor, a mentor.”
As part of Foursquare, he is grateful for the mentoring, accountability and support he has received. “When you have somebody over you, when you have somebody you’re accountable to, when you have somebody that’s praying for you, somebody that’s listening to you, you just feel so covered by the grace of God, and that’s how God works,” he says. “It has all helped me grow a lot.”
Now married with two daughters, Cristian still has family in the U.S. whom he has not seen in more than a decade. He hopes to be able to get to visit them one day, to tell them in person about the encounter that took him back to the country of his birth as a missionary.