Early History of Central Mexico Missions - Fred's Story
Updated: Feb 9
The Story of Fred Collom, Founder of Vineyard Ministries Central Mexico In 1978, Fred Collom moved from East Peoria, Illinois to the city of Fresnillo in the state of Zacatecas in Mexico. Fred had previously made several trips into Mexico and had decided on Fresnillo as the place to begin his missionary work. (Fred had already planted a church in a small town 50 miles from the city of Saltillo on one of his two-month trips to Mexico. That church is still going today.)
The Valparaiso Plant After establishing a church in Fresnillo, he began to branch out to other cities in the state of Zacatecas. The next church was planted in a small town of thirty thousand people by the name of Valparaiso. There was no evangelical church in town and only one Christian. Others had attempted to plant churches, but the fanaticism, persecution, and strong anti-Protestant feelings made it difficult and thus they gave up. Fred rented a dance hall and held a seven-day evangelistic crusade. The attendance was much better than expected. A few converts were made and the hard job of establishing a church began. A few months after the crusade, the family who owned the dance hall was converted. Their house was adjoining the dance hall, so they had heard the gospel every night during the crusade. Eventually, the church was established, a church building constructed, and a national pastor installed.
Lobatos Plant In 1980, the next church was planted in the village of Lobatos. Lobatos was a typical village in Zacatecas, hostile to outsiders and strongly anti-protestant. To open things up, Fred invited a medical ministry from San Antonio, Texas to hold a two-week clinic. The first choice for doing the clinic was a village named San Mateo, but the leaders didn’t want it. (It was later learned that the people of the village were very upset with their leaders for having refused the clinic.) Fred decided to drive to Lobatos to see if there was some interest. When he arrived, he pulled up to a small general store and asked one of the men inside if he knew whom the village president was. “I am,” the man responded. “What can I do for you?” Fred explained his plan for a two-week free clinic. The leader said that he would like to have the clinic. Fred then told him that he would need to use their public school facilities. The president said that he would need permission from the school principal. To Fred’s surprise, the man drinking a coke beside the president was the school principal. The principal said that he was in agreement but that they would also need permission from the regional education director who happened to be the third man in the store! With all three men being in agreement, Fred saw it as a divine appointment and proceeded with his plans.
During the two-week clinic, over two thousand people received free medical attention, including surgery. After the clinic, the village leaders wanted to thank Fred in a public ceremony on a Mexican holiday. Because of the hostility of a few men, the village president had to assign some guards to make sure nothing happened. The clinic had been very well received, however, and a church was successfully planted.
The Colloms are Involved in a Head-On Collision In 1981, Fred made a trip to the border to buy supplies and renew his tourist visas. On the way home, just a few miles from Fresnillo, a drunk driver who was driving in the on-coming lane, suddenly pulled out to pass, hitting Fred’s pick-up head on. The impact was so strong that the motor was torn out of the pick-up that hit them. Amber, Fred's three-month-old daughter, was thrown into the dash and severely injured. Pablo Casillas, another missionary who was traveling with them, hit the dash, folding over most of his teeth. Amber's mother had a broken arm, all of her ribs broken on one side, a collapsed lung, a fractured pelvis, and several deep cuts. Since most of the impact was on the front driver’s side, Fred was pushed backwards, breaking the seat of his extended cab pick-up. He had a shattered pelvis and his hip sockets were severely fractured.
That night at the hospital, the doctors said that Fred's daughter Amber would probably not survive. The next day, Fred asked a friend to call a Christian pilot that he knew in McAllen, Texas and ask him to fly Amber to the United States. She was taken to San Antonio and placed in intensive care. Fred stayed behind in Mexico, since he did not have any insurance or enough money to pay to be flown out. Amber’s mother's prospects of surviving without medical attention for a collapsed lung and internal bleeding were not too good. However, friends and family got together and made arrangements for a flight to Texas. By then, Fred was in a body cast and a bigger plane had to be rented.
Before leaving Mexico, a young schoolteacher named Mario came to visit Fred. He had been converted in an earlier crusade in Fresnillo. Fred told him that he needed him to establish the infant church in Lobatos and to take care of the young church in Valparaiso as well. He agreed, even though he had no preaching experience. Doctor Harry Stephens and his wife Diane, who had headed up the medial caravan that held the clinic in Lobatos, arranged for Christian doctors in San Antonio to provide their services free of charge. Even with the doctors not charging anything, the hospital bill was now well into the thousands of dollars. After three weeks in the hospital, the Stephens, knowing that Fred had no insurance, decided to move everyone into their home which was soon crowded with hospital beds and other equipment, as well as the nurse who stayed at the house to care for Amber. In order to make more room, the Stephens moved into their camper in the back yard for the next two months. Their servant’s heart and loving humility was a testimony that Fred had never forgotten.
During that time, someone had started a rumor that Fred had said he would never return to Mexico. Many people were surprised when they went back to the mission field about five months after the accident. At that time, Fred needed the use of two canes to walk and Amber had the prospect of many years of physical therapy before her.
Fred Escapes from Armed Men One day, shortly after to returning to Mexico, Fred and a Mexican worker were on their way to Valparaiso for the church service when a pick-up truck pulled up beside them. Fred thought that the truck was going to pass him, but suddenly, the passenger stuck a rifle out of the window. In Fred’s words: “The truck was about ten feet in front of us, still in the passing lane when the passenger began to swing around with a high powered rifle in his hands. I only had a few seconds in which to react. I stepped on the accelerator and got right behind the pick-up. I was almost touching his bumper. I went as far as I could toward the left because the man with the rifle was trying to get us in his sights. Both vehicles were in the on-coming lane, doing between 70 and 80 mph. The section of road that we were on only had a one or two foot shoulder, so there wasn’t any way to turn around even if I had wanted to. Just as we came upon a short section of highway that had more room for turning around, the man with the gun ducked back into the cab. I could see him talking to the driver. He seemed to be telling the driver what to do in order for him to get off a good shot. I thought that this might be my only chance, so I hit the brakes and was able to stop on the wide section of the road. By the time that they realized I had stopped, they were about one hundred yards ahead of us. As I began to turn around, they stopped and began to turn around as well. Due to the wider section of road, I was able to turn around more quickly. I knew that I had to out-drive them because I was still using canes to walk and no way could I out-run them. After driving the thirty miles back to Fresnillo, I told the police, but they were afraid to go look for the men. I remembered that someone had told me that if something like that ever happened, I should tell the army, which I did. The army captured them within a few hours. The men were heavily armed. The rifle was an MI automatic, military issue.”
Calera Plant A few months after that incident, Fred made plans to plant a church in the town of Calera. Several years before, a missionary had purchased land with the plan of starting a church. A small house and a room for services were constructed. A Mexican national moved in to plant the church. The reaction from the community was so violent that he gave up and left. At one point, some men had threatened to hang him.
One day, Fred was visiting with a Mexican pastor in Fresnillo. The pastor asked Fred if he would take the property in Calera and use it to start a church. Calera was an extremely difficult town. A few years after the Mexican national had left, a missionary moved in, but he eventually left as well. In addition, the Assemblies of God had attempted to plant a church two or three times and given up. This town of forty thousand still did not have an evangelical church.
After prayer, Fred accepted the property and made plans to start a plant. Knowing that this was one of the more difficult towns in Mexico, Fred recruited enough people for a prayer chain to cover the planned crusade with prayer. He recruited a good Mexican evangelist to preach the crusade. He then invited the pastors of other churches in Fresnillo and the surrounding area to the meetings. They committed to take their people to the crusade. Fred knew that a crowd draws a crowd and that there’s safety in numbers. He also hired a gospel music group. In those days, there were very few music groups, so this was a good way to attract people to the meetings.
The five-day event was a success. Soon after, a church began to be established. It seems that the prayer team and the crusade had broken the power of the enemy. Later on, some of the same groups that had attempted to plant churches before, returned and were successful. Now, many years later, there are five churches in Calera.
Second Fresnillo Plant and Ministry with the Government After planting churches in the village of Toribio and the small city of Rio Grande, Fred felt that it was time to plant another church in Fresnillo. While planting the church, the Lord opened many doors for working with the government in ministry to the poor. During that time, Fred had tried to work with the Zacatecas state government to import food, clothes, and medical equipment from the US, but they showed little interest. The neighboring state of Aguascalientes heard about Fred’s offer to help the government out, and the governor’s wife sent someone to invite him to meet her. During the meeting they agreed to split everything that would be imported. Fred would gather enough stuff to fill two semi-trailers. One would go to Aguascalientes and the other to Fred’s ministry in Zacatecas. During the time that he worked with the government, he was able to smuggle 100,000 Bibles into Mexico, working with Reverend Schemper of the World Home Bible League. At that time, it was very difficult to get Bibles into Mexico, and Fred’s government connections were quite helpful.
So much food, clothing, and medical equipment was given to Aguascalientes that it helped the governor’s wife win an award from the president of Mexico for having the best welfare program in Mexico. Near the end of her administration, she had a large assembly and gave Fred an award for all that he had done for their state. Several thousand people were present in the large auditorium, many of them being important and influential politicians from all over Mexico. The president of Mexico sent his personal representative. The wife of the new candidate for governor of Zacatecas was also present. Afterwards, she approached Fred and asked him to work with them if her husband won the election, which he did. Soon after taking office, the new governor invited Fred to his home and reaffirmed his desire to work together. Since he and his team were new in office, they asked Fred to take care of getting the necessary permits for importation. After receiving the proper paperwork from the governor’s wife, he bought a bus ticket to Mexico City, leaving on a Sunday night after church. Because of very limited finances, the plan was to travel all night by bus, go to the head of customs, solicit the permit, and return on a night bus. In those days, they didn’t have money for hotels. A couple of hours before departure, Fred realized that he couldn’t find the papers from the state government. Since he had already bought the bus tickets, he decided to make the trip to Mexico City anyway.
Fred says, “As I rode on the bus, I wondered why I had decided to go. Back in those pre-NAFTA days, a semi-trailer of used clothes could be sold for a lot of money. I could see myself going to the head of customs, claiming that I had letters from the state, which I had lost, and that I wanted him to give me a permit anyway. I could hear him saying, ‘Somebody throw this gringo out.’ Anyway, when I arrived at the customs office in Mexico City, I was surprised to find that the person who wrote out the permits, which the head of customs then signed, was a man I had met twice before. He was at the assembly in Aguascalientes when I received the award. “I was relieved when he was happy to see me again. I explained that I had lost the official papers needed to request the permit. ‘No problem,’ he said. ‘I’ll have my secretary prepare them again.’ When the papers were finished, he asked me to sign them. I was surprised to see that the bottom of the page said, ‘Fred Collom, State of Zacatecas, Director of Imports. He then called the Zacatecas state welfare director and informed him that I was now the import director for the state and that all imports would be done by me. He also told him that these permits normally took months, but the ‘gringo’ would have it within an hour."
“Needless to say, my status with the government increased greatly. I now felt confident to tell them how we would work with them. I informed them that all donated goods would go to my warehouse in Fresnillo. The governor’s wife could then release donations to the fifty-six state mayors by sending them a letter, which they could present to me. In Mexico, each mayor is over a whole county. So, all fifty-six mayors had to come to our church office to receive donations. Along with food, clothing, and medical supplies, we would give them tracts and Bibles. This was key to changing attitudes towards evangelicals throughout the state. I could tell many more stories of how God opened doors during that time, but this is supposed to be a brief history.”
The Beginnings from Fresnillo to Mazatlán In 1995 with the churches in the state of Zacatecas established and the main church in Fresnillo with its own building; Fred moved to Mazatlán taking a small team of Mexican Nationals with him. They held a 21-day tent crusade and a few months later started services in a beach hotel in the Mazatlán Golden Zone, Fred reports; "we didn't have any money to rent the conference center, so I went to the manager and ask for it for free. I explained that many tourists like to go to church on Sundays and the Vineyard would like to start an English church which would be good for tourism. I added, we will do the service bilingually in case the manager and other locals would like to attend." He liked the idea and gave us the facility at no cost. 1995-2020 in Summery Here is a brief summery what God has done through us in Mazatlán from 1995 to Dec 2020. We started in a tent and a few months later moved to a beach hotel conference center with a bilingual service. After a couple of years with both the English group and the Spanish group growing, we needed to move. We were able to rent a facility in the Golden Zone at an exceptionally low price. Because of the limited space we held one service in English and the other Spanish only. We soon outgrew the facility. There was a large commercial space for rent right in front of us. Fred had already checked on it, but the rent was way beyond budget. One day while he was praying a thought entered his mind, why not ask the owner if we can use the facility for free while it is for rent with the promise to move out immediately if it gets rented. Surprisingly he agreed. We were there for around 3+ years rent free. A Space of Our Own The facility we were in was on the 2nd floor with no handicap access. It was also difficult for some of our snowbirds going up and down the stairs. Fred realized we needed our own facility on the ground floor. One day a visiting businessman who had been touched by our compassion ministry asked him what his vision was for the Mazatlán ministry. Fred shared the vision to have our place in the Golden Zone. Part of the vision was to connect the haves(US and Canadians) with the have nots and bless the poor in Mazatlán. He was asked what is would cost . Fred told the man around 400,000USD. To his surprise the man said, "if you can raise $200,000 I will match it". It took awhile but the amount was raised and in May 2004 we purchased a facility in Mazatlán's Golden Zone. Community Centers of Hope Vision and a Visit from Governor Mario Lopez Valdez We started our 1st children's feeding center, later called community center of hope, in the Colonia Valle del Ejido. In 2001 Fred had cast the vision to plant 12 community centers of hope. In 2011-we reached that goal. At that time, the Governor of the state of Sinaloa was doing a big event at the Mazatlán Conference Center. Fred was asked to say a few words to the governor. Just before leaving for the big event on the spur of the moment Fred ask the secretary in the church office to write a letter to the Governor Mario López Valdez inviting him to our upcoming Sunday service where we would celebrate reaching our goal of having 12 children's feeding centers. When Fred finished addressing the governor the invitation was handed to him. He immediately responded publicly; "I will come to your church to celebrate with you." And come he did but not alone. He brought his whole cabinet as well as the Mayor of Mazatlán. At the moment it went unnoticed, we had made history. As far as we know no sitting Governor had ever officially visited a church in Mexico. He did get a lot of criticism for his visit to our church afterward.
1995 -2021 Mazatlán Summary As of January 2021, we now have 18 Community Centers of Hope in Mazatlán. We have always encouraged our members both snowbirds and national Mexicans to get involved or even start a ministry. Some of those ministries are: - Child Sponsorship Program (VCS) - Child School Sponsorship Program (VSP) - English school for underprivileged kids - Child Orchestra - Soccer League - Ladies sewing group - Mobile kitchens - Mobile Sunday school truck - Field clinics
Thank you all for your love and support over the years. It is amazing to look back and see how God had opened doors and put the right people in place to help us grow and do his work for the last 25 years in Mazatlán. If you would like to get involved with any of the ministries listed above please don't hesitate to reach out.