The Valley Missionary Program
Diocese of San Bernardino, California
For more than 40 years, San Bernardino, California’s Valley Missionary Program has been instrumental in evangelization and leadership development among the poorest of the poor. The missionary program reaches out and touches the lives and hearts of those hungering to know and experience the loving touch of the Lord.
Created and modeled after the spirituality of Mexican immigrants, the Valley Missionary Program (VMP) has a simple premise: friendship with the Lord and love shared in small faith communities. Holy Cross Father Jose Pawliki founded the program in 1983 while ministering to the Coachella Valley’s Hispanic community. Offered in stages, the program begins with a three-day retreat that allows participants to enter a personal encounter with God and with the Church.
In 2008, Fr. Guy Wilson traveled with two others from Georgia to Coachella to participate in a retreat. Though he planned to take the encounter back to his community, the Diocese invited him to assume the work of the VMP program at Our Lady of Soledad Parish, which he did.
Under Fr. Wilson’s leadership, the program has transformed more than 15,000 individuals by deepening their faith. In addition to the retreats, the program offers participants an opportunity to be involved in small faith communities that gather weekly to deepen the retreat experience. Currently, the Coachella Valley has 150 small faith communities.
Opportunities are also offered to engage in faith formation and spiritual growth through the faith communities, parish activity and diocesan ministry programs. The VMP coordinates an annual 32-mile pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe that draws more than 20,000 participants.
In addition, there are opportunities to engage in apostolic works. Participants are asked to build up their families, parishes, and local environments and to accompany new retreatants in their own encounters. The program includes outreach to non-practicing Catholics as well as direct service to the poor and neglected. Many who participate in the parish leadership and ministry have come from the VMP.
Participants, particularly men, offer moving testimony about the conversion that emanated from the encounter. Many men share how, through their participation in the program, they became aware of their roles as Catholic husbands, fathers and faithful. Moreover, many report the program helped them to take steps to confront addictions.
Additionally, Operation Bienvenida offers food, clothing, encouragement and a safe place to stay to immigrant asylum-seekers on their journey to their sponsor families in the United States. As asylum seekers arrive at the VMP, Fr. Wilson offers prayer services and his listening heart as they share their struggles and stories. He offers to help in whatever way the Coachella community is able to assist the travelers on their journey. Since October 2018, Operation Bienvenida has helped more than 3,000 migrants reach their sponsor destinations.
Fr. Wilson and the VMP are described as a living example of the Gospel message being lived out in the Coachella Valley communities, one day and one person at a time.