The missionary call of Tim and Annette Gulick, who have been missionaries in Toluca, Mexico, for the past 10 years, was found in a statistic. “We read in YouthWorker Journal in the late ’80s that 96 percent of the trained youth workers in the world are in the United States, where only a small percentage of the youth live; and we thought, Hey, we can do something about that.”

Toluca is less than an hour away from Mexico City, home to 26 million people and the second-most-populated city in the world. The opportunity for youth ministry is staggering because 41 percent of the population in Mexico is between the ages of 13 and 26.

“The percentage of youth within the community of the church, both Protestant and Catholic, is much smaller—only about 22 percent,” Annette said. “Only about half of those are actively involved in the youth ministry of their churches.1 All of that shows the formidable task facing the Mexican church of reaching the many youth outside their communities of faith with the Good News.”

Most churches are often hard pressed to pay the pastor’s salary and the operating budget for the church building. “This often leaves the youth ministry with no budget, no resources, and very little guidance or support,” Annette said. “In the United States, the fantastic programs, amazing events, and big budgets can easily obscure the truth that the only thing that transforms a person’s life is God’s love. The most important tools God uses to communicate that love are the life of another person and His Word.”

Since 97 percent of Mexican youth workers are volunteers, they are doing the ministry in their free time on top of studies, jobs, and family responsibilities. This can take its toll on the family life of dedicated leaders.

One valuable resource available to the Mexican church is the stability of the community. “Most people in Mexico have a large extended family that meets together much more regularly than American families do,” Annette said. “This network of relationships provides natural opportunities for evangelism. My goal as a leader is to motivate believers to be salt and light in those relationships. I want to help youth understand what is so great about the Good News so they want to share it with others. Additionally, I strive to create environments where those relatives and friends can experience a community that shows them what being a Christian is all about.”

One of these environments provided by the church the Gulicks attend in Toluca is a youth retreat called EJE. “We host a pre-evangelistic youth encounter that focuses on providing a safe place for participants and strengthening the family unit. This event has been a phenomenal way for our youth group to form a community that reflects the ethos of following Christ,” Annette said.

Maria, a vibrant college student with dreams of writing award-winning novels and who had been coming to the church with her parents for about six years, exemplifies how this works in a student’s life. “Maria attended the ‘youth church’ meetings most Sundays and even attended a Christmas camp,” Annette said. “But once she got to high school and her friends and school work took a higher priority in her life, Maria hardly ever came to anything. Despite this, we continued to have a good relationship with her. Maria always caught us up on her life the few times a year she came to church. But nothing we tried worked to get her involved.”

The youth encounter was coming up, and Maria’s parents signed her up to attend. “Maria had some important school projects, and she wasn’t very enthusiastic about spending the entire weekend with the youth group,” Annette recalled. “But she came—and she was hooked. After the retreat Maria began to focus her considerable relational energy and leadership ability into the youth group, organizing informal get-togethers and making sure people stayed connected. As she began to grow spiritually, she talked through her doubts and questions with some of the leaders.