Fishers of Men is an organization of evangelical Christians
From Victor's background as a member of a street gang in Mexico City and Julie's childhood as the daughter of a Michigan pastor come their combined passion to provide a secure home for abandoned children at Refuge Ranch and to proclaim the healing power of Jesus Christ to remote regions of Mexico through the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades.
The Story of Victor and Julie and of Fishers of Men
Victor Zaragoza was fleeing for his life. The gang members would likely kill him if they caught up with him. Running in a grassy area, he tripped and fell. They would be upon him in seconds.
Since the age of 9 he had been living on the streets, part of a gang. One of seven children, at age 6 Victor had watched his father walk down the street and out of his life. Working to support her large family, Victor’s mother had little time to give the children, so Victor dropped out of school and found acceptance with a gang of boys in a rough section of Mexico City. Eventually he became the gang’s leader.
Victor enjoyed the camaraderie of the gang and the excitement of fighting and stealing. He had acquired the nickname “Mequetrefe,” which means “troublemaker.” But in his moments alone he felt empty and knew something was missing in his life. He began to think more seriously about God, stole a Bible from the home of a friend, started to read it, and attended a few church services.
Now, lying in the grass, waiting for the enemy gang members to find him, Victor remembered a song from a church service based on a statement from the Bible in Psalm 3:3, “But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” He heard the gang members approach, then pass him by, having failed to spot him hiding in the grass. Victor knew it was a miracle they hadn’t discovered him. Eventually, at the age of 20, Victor gave his life to God. He began to work in a church in Mexico City, sometimes going on their medical mission crusades.
Julie Claassen was enjoying her teenage years playing in the Toledo Youth Orchestra and studying to maintain good grades. The daughter of a pastor, she enjoyed the opportunities she found for ministry in her father’s church, including participation in a mission trip to Mexico at the age of 16. It was on this mission trip that she felt a call to go into full-time missions. She also had a passion to meet the needs of poor and abandoned children and hoped to find a way to combine her sense of calling to the mission field and to children without hope.
During college, Julie spent a semester studying at a language institute in Mexico. While attending a church in Mexico City, she met Victor. Upon returning to the U.S., Julie began to work among the migrants in Indiana. Arrangements were made for Victor to join her, and they worked together in the migrant ministry, while also working to establish a Hispanic church. They were married in 1998 and served in the newly-founded church for the next five years.
A New Life in Mexico
After a few months they purchased several acres of land on a mountainside
south of Mexico City within sight of the volcano Popocatepetl. The land had not
been farmed for years. Walking through
the waist-high grass, making their way through an old avocado grove and
climbing the rock-lined terraces, they began making plans to build a small
Like the pioneers in early United States history, Victor and Julie began the process of taming the wild land to make it their home. The house was built with donations from supporters and volunteers who came on short-term mission trips. A large holding tank to provide household water was moved into place. Slow-moving local bureaucracy resulted in Victor stringing their own electrical and telephone wires.
A chicken coop and roofed stall were built. Chickens and a milk cow were purchased, and a garden was planted . The goal to be at least partly self-sustaining was beginning to take shape.
The steep dirt road to the property became nearly impassable with the heavier traffic of the water truck, family vehicles, and visitors to Refuge Ranch. A major project was undertaken to pave approximately 400 feet of the steepest grade of the road. Again, funds donated by supporters and short-term mission teams provided the resources to make it happen.
Two lives and two dreams have merged at a crossroad on a mountainside in Mexico, giving birth to a mission Victor and Julie call Fishers of Men. The ministry has two facets. Refuge Ranch provides a home for abandoned children. The Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades provide medical treatment for the poor and are an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Angie and Diana, ages 22 and 21, are sisters and came from a life on the streets of Mexico City. Martita, 20, and Lolis, 18, also siblings, experienced the death of their mother during Lolis’ birth and subsequent abuse from a stepmother and alcoholic father. Martha, 17, also survived the death of her mother and an abusive alcoholic father. Fidel, age 15, was abandoned by his family and was found living in a village jail. Nine year old Ana was willfully surrendered at birth by her single mother of five other children. Jocelin, age 13, joined the family when her single mother, Victor’s sister, died unexpectedly. Daniel joined the family at the age of 20 months when his birth mother abandoned him. Severe congenital heart disease led to surgery at age 5 which resulted in his tragic death. Five siblings, Fatima, Leo, Miguel, Carolina, and David, ranging from ages 15 to 6, joined the family when their mother abandoned them. Alejandro, age 15, was rescued after being rejected by all of his relatives.
Josiah, now 14, Caleb, who is 11, and Ruth, age 10, are the biological children of Victor and Julie. All of the children are home schooled and enjoy playtime among the hills, trees and animals of Refuge Ranch.
Construction has begun on a much larger home that will accommodate more children and staff.
Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades
Several crusades are conducted each year, the number largely determined by the availability of funds and team workers. The majority of the team members are from Mexico, though some come from the United States. Teams range in size from 10 to 40. Crusades are only held in areas where there is an existing mission or church in order to ensure more effective follow-up.
The national religion has minimal impact on people’s individual lives and is often little more than empty ritual permeated with superstitious beliefs and practices. The purpose of the medical missions is to provide much-needed medical care while offering the hope and help that come through a personal faith in Christ.
A young gang leader on the streets of Mexico City and a girl raised in a Michigan pastor’s home seemed to be on very different paths, but they each came to a crossroad in their lives, finding each other and a life together. Victor’s vision of carrying out evangelistic medical missions and Julie’s dream of taking in unwanted children have merged into the ministry they call Fishers of Men. Together they seek to carry out their dreams and God’s call on their lives on a mountainside in rural Mexico.