The First Years
I lay very much alone, staring up into the darkness about me. It was overwhelming, the lonesome black coldly ignoring my hot, bubbling emotions, a wallowing of self-pity. No one could understand. No one knew my contradictory pain. Except for one. I looked up, the tears streaming down my young cheeks and realized for the first time the agony Christ felt at leaving His Father’s home to come to a far country, to do His Father’s perfect will, to suffer for His very obedience.
It was a moment of epiphany. I was perhaps alone in the world. A slightly naïve, occasionally criticized, 18 year old, about to embark on a lifetime of decisions completely foreign to her peers. No one else in that conference hall had heard the call. No one else was getting married, leaving home, and flying far away at this age. Yes, I was the only one. But alone? Hardly. There was one; He knew all about and beyond it. He knew exactly what it was to leave the splendors of glory, the home of His loving Father, to descend into the very best the world could offer the Son of God-a dirty, rugged manger.
That night before our wedding was a culmination of several years’ worth of heart work. Saying yes to David implied not only marriage, but also life on the mission field. Long before, I had known this was where God was leading me. Still, there had been doubts. There had been questions and concerns. Yet superimposed, above them all, I kept seeing those nail pierced hands, stretched out towards my soul, and simply could not turn away. The world and complacent Christianity called. The sufferings of a lifetime ahead threatened. Mesmerized, I walked on. There could be no turning back. The crucified Christ had called and I would follow.
We were married and about a week later flew down, arriving to the tiny airport on the island of Carmen on the 19thof August, 2009.
That night I unpacked my suitcase, hanging my things on the opposite side of David´s already occupied closet (he had been living in that home for almost two years). I remember taking a step back, looking at all my summery, girly, teenager dresses gracing the left side, swaying against harsh, pink, concrete walls, the sweat dripping incessantly down my back, all those khakis and buttoned shirts on the right….then collapsing on the bed and weeping. It was not that I was unhappy to be there or regretted any decisions made. It was simply the finality of it all; the seal on what was my new reality. I was here and this was it. No amount of glowing missionary stories could have prepared me for the change.
I had read all the books, I had heard all the reports, I had visited several times, had been prepared as much as possible. But all those things simply cannot replace nor adequately prepare anyone for what it is to truly leave all that you know, most of what you love, to arrive to a 115 degree concrete square and be able to say, “I’m home.”
Perhaps it was for the best that I was only 18. I had nothing to give up, nothing much to leave behind. As hard as the first bit was at times, a young heart and mind is malleable. There were no years of habit or experience that governed my outlook, nothing to inhibit openness to understanding the new world around me. Some traces of the sponginess of infancy still lurked in the corners of my newly minted adult brain.
I had the unique privilege of marrying someone who was basically native to my new country of residence. The pain of struggling to grasp cultural and linguistic concepts was hugely alleviated. Any question or confusion could be promptly put to ease by simply turning to my husband. He wisely carried me when necessary, pushed me forward when he saw fit, stood in the shadows to maybe let me fall but staying close enough to pick me up again. There were times it really hurt, when I rebelled against leaving my comfort zone, when I wanted to kick and scream like a spoiled child and never again leave my ugly little house. Yet slowly, slowly Calle Francisco I. Madero and Justo Sierra and Avenida Camarón became as familiar as Lansing Ave, Parnall Road and Michigan Avenue. The shouts of street vendors somehow eventually faded into white noise. Feelings of severe seclusion, even among believers, regularly lessened as my ear acclimated itself to Campechean accents and phraseology (you know, those little things you never learn in your high school Spanish class!).
There was a lot to learn. How to kill a cockroach with the first smack, for example. Onions and potatoes must be refrigerated. Footwear other than flats is a waste of time. Muriatic acid can only be described as a faithful friend. Mosquito bitten scarred legs have no remedy.
But there were other, more important things as well. Things like patience with believers. It was foolish, impossible, ridiculous to expect new christians to be just like the ones I was accustomed to back home. I had to learn to appreciate freshness, or unique ways of expressing oneself (how awful that sounds now!). It was necessary to listen graciously to advice or correction that went against how I had been raised. I had to learn that gospel work was not magic, like sometimes reports could make it seem.
The group of believers in Carmen enveloped me in love. Most were (and are!) old enough to be my parents or grandparents. They respected me for being David’s wife and for coming to live among them, but so kindly, so gently, took me under their wings. They were there when our babies were born, they were there for me when David was gone or vice versa, they taught me to eat their food, how to embrace their culture, to love God with simplicity and sincerity.
During this time, we worked in Carmen, here in Zapata, and with the Lord opening the way, in Paraiso, Yucatán and Cancun as well. They were busy, full, and joyous years, but also years of learning and growing. We knew the pleasure of seeing people saved and experienced the grief of seeing them fall. We felt the pressure of teaching and guiding while we needed it so much ourselves.
Those first years were really quite paradoxical, looking back. In a lot of ways, we were very lonely. Far from any other foreigners or older, more experienced helps, our days went by largely the two of us struggling together with God, apart from the occasional visit or a weekend at a Bible Conference. From the very beginning, God kindly began teaching us dependence upon Him alone. When days finally came when no help came at all, when we were shunned and ostracized, they were deeply soothed by the balm of His faithful presence known for those first five years. Loneliness was certainly no alien but neither was the kindness of God.
The Years of Sadness
I tread carefully over the next four years of our life. They were like one long eternal funeral of the deepest grief, a funeral for the living, a funeral for the dead, a funeral for all we had ever known. We lost nearly all there was to lose. No graveside was easy. Your imagination can perhaps fill in the necessary blanks.
Mexico has taken much from me. She took my youth and health. She stole my innocence, my naivety, my ignorance of the human heart’s depravity. Her soil cradles the body of my baby boy; her winds have carried off plans and dreams. She has also gifted me with more than I could ever express. She has given me mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. She has made me into the adult that I am. God, through her, has patiently molded my heart and mind, teaching and exhorting. But those things, good or bad, are the very things that have made Mexico a dearer home than ever. I never imagined what these years would bring. I never thought there could be such sadness, such overwhelming, daily grief in the life of a believer. I never really knew that our God would come down and walk beside His children, or that such an intimacy was ever possible.
I wish there was, dear reader, a way to adequately describe what it is to drag your wounded, ruptured soul back to the foot of the cross, to look up at that broken, bloodied figure, to bathe again in the freshness of His fountain of love. To stand again at the place of the skull, still a bit bruised, still some mangled and to cry out to the heavens and to the four winds of the earth that HE IS WORTHY.
That is the moral of this story.
The reality of Mexico’s mission field is that Christ alone is worthy.
The Last Years
I come to the last few years of my ten years in Mexico with poignant humility. This is the year of the Mexican believer. It is his time to shine. We are workers, servants together with the Lord. We owe so much to these dear, godly people. This work is now their work and with the help of God, will carry it forward for generations to come.
As I look around my house, I see these ten years stamped clearly over our life. My fridge is always home to habanero and cilantro and queso de hebra. Books in English cohabit happily with those in Spanish. I have like 5 liters (liters, no gallons around here!) of fabuloso in the laundry room but not a vacuum to be seen. My kids tell jokes in Spanish, wear sweaters when the temperatures drops to 80, and eat pork rind drenched in hot sauce.
There are a lot of times I still can’t properly pronounce words. I still don’t eat tons of spice. There are mindsets and certain ideologies that frustrate and confound me. I’ll always be the weird güera with a floppy hat on her head. But I’ve learned to accept those things instead of fighting them, to just ride along with it because they really don’t matter.
As I think back over it all, I feel as if we are just beginning now. My first years, dedicated to getting accustomed to this life, growing into adulthood, gaining bits of experience to help the people here, seem so unproductive, so hesitating and unsure in character. Those middle and later years where just a fight for survival. We did little more than breathe while God chiseled away at all our lives. Yet now, looking forward, it is with a great, bursting hope that finally, with God’s help and grace, we might be able to live in absolute freedom and spiritual energy to see the gospel truly spread and flourish across this great peninsula.
Because that is why we are here. To see HIS name honored and glorified, lifted high in praise from the lips of men and women won to the resurrected Christ.