Devotional: 1

“And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.” Exodus 28:2

They were truly beautiful. Garments of the richest fabrics draped in layers over the erect figure serving God at the altar. Each piece was embroidered with the most intricate needlework, the blue and purple, scarlet and white, skillfully woven with wires of gold into gorgeous design. At the bottom, tinkling bells and dangling pomegranates swayed with his every step. Engraved onyx stones, set in golden ouches and chains, graced the shoulders, reaching down to the breastplate covered in 12 precious gems. Rings and wreaths and bells and lace! Aaron, bedecked in his chief priestly robes was a total exhibition of all things glorious and beautiful. Each offerer, as they led their sacrifice or carried their basket of goods would look in awe. “There’s Aaron!” They’d whisper. “See all the gold? Look, there’s the beryl that stands for our family!” Their intercessor, wearing his God-ordained finery could not be mistaken. He was a magnificent sight.

Day after day, Aaron labored in his garments for glory and for beauty. Sacrifice after sacrifice were slain. Ritual after feast after holy day were complied with and carried out. Intercession was made for the people. 

Until the fullness of time came. Until God took away the first to establish the second. Until Christ, in those last moments of communion with His Father in heaven declared, “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body has thou prepared me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou has had no pleasure. Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God.” 

He came, but there was no beauty that we should desire Him. There was no stately form, no splendor, no glory adorning the Messiah. And so we despised Him. We hid our faces from Him. We found no pleasure in contemplating His holy face.

And so, with wicked hands we crucified and slew Jesus of Nazareth. 

We stole His simple garment, ripped it up into so many pieces. We cast lots for his outer coat. 

There were no garments for glory or beauty that day. 

There were no gems upon his chest. Just a wooden cross upon his back. 

There were no tinkling bells. There were only the murmurings of scoffers and railers. “Save thyself!”

There was no rich scarlet thread. There were instead streams and rivers of scarlet blood flowing from every gaping wound. From His head, His hands, His feet, His side. 

His bonnet declaring Holiness to the Lord was a crown of thorns, silently repeating those very words. Holiness to the Lord! The Holy One, exacting the righteous penalty for impious humanity on the soul of the Holy One, so that they too could be holy ones!

No beauty for the King that day, No glory for the Lord arrayed. His garments gone, in darkness deep None at His side to bow or weep. Our sins to pay and death to slay. The Intercessor slips away.

“He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Solely and forevermore.
Blessed be God our God.

Tlaquepaque, Jalisco

Keep Your Gold

They step off their ships onto the sandy shore, swords glinting in the hot Yucatán sunshine. Unit after unit of men squint down the beach to the hundreds of coconut trees swaying in the tropical breeze, like so many maidens sashaying down the main avenue of Medellín.

Peering into the dense jungle, Hernán Cortés and his men set forth, following the scent of woodsmoke. It isn´t long before a community of indigenous peoples become evident. 

“There! There they are! Do you see them? What is this? Do they not have any clothes on?”

With righteous Spanish indignation, he bursts into their circle. No Virgin Mary? No proper outhouses? What kind of food IS this? Blood-everywhere! Terrible rituals, frightful habits, unintelligible tongue. 

They were worthy only of conquering. Hardly people, really. 

Thus Cortés marched through the south, his 500 men in line, making his determined way to the heart of Mexico and the epitome of native power: to the Aztec empire and Moctezuma himself. 

An ancient Aztecan prophecy claimed their white, blue eyed god Quetzalcoatl would come back one day. 

And while he was most certainly no god and although it was his first time in Aztecan territory, Cortés was received as deity, given honor and glory and power. He kindly returned the favors by taking Moctezuma hostage and ransacking their city for the Spanish cause.

And so began the conquest of the Mexican people. Subdued and blinded by white skin, by guns, horses and smallpox, they turned over their mines of gold and silver, royal treasuries and native artwork. 

The Mexican people eventually did rebel but the damage was done. 

As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, the damage continues on into 2019. 

Archeological Site: Palenque, Chiapas

No, perhaps there is no overt conquering, no verbal disparaging of local customs and habits, no looting of peoples homes. Except the Mexican will tell you it still happens. Surreptitiously, cloaked in Bible verses and fancy talk, the foreigner still reigns over the Mexican, over the South African, even over their own people if they happen to have the right last name. 

There is a masked encouraging of marked division: physical, financial, and spiritual, between work and worker. It is a dominant culture of foreign control and responsibility where the natives should not question nor raise concern. It is a club mentality where only a special few deserve prominence and respect.

But that is not anything my God or His Word condones. 

There is only One who deserves any sort of preeminence or special place among a group of Christians, and it’s certainly not any man here on earth. 

Whether you are Mexican or Jamaican, Finnish or Turkish, Japanese or Sudanese, God has given you precious mines of gold. Anything and everything we are is for His glory alone. No one but your Lord deserves control over those deposits. No church leader, no missionary, no political force. 

Keep your gold for God.

Hacienda Ka’la, Campeche, Campeche

Dr. Helen Roseveare was a medical missionary to Congo/Zaire from 1953 to 1973. She details a somewhat shocking anecdote in the first chapter of her book Living Sacrifice. After multiple incidents of misconception and mistreatment occured in the hospital, she felt her heart becoming colder and colder, overwhelmed by work and responsibility. The culmination would have to come, and it did, in the form of a verbal Swahili explosion in the women’s ward. Racked by excuses and shame and regret and a cold heart, Helen went to visit a couple several miles away. This is what she wrote: 

“Gently he [brother Ndugu] leaned toward me, “Helen,” he said quietly and earnestly, “why can’t you forget for a moment that you are white?….” 

He went on, and opened up to me hidden areas in my heart that I had hardly even suspected, particularly this one of race prejudice. I was horrified.  …. The Spirit forced me to acknowledge that subconsciously I did not really believe that an African could be as good a Christian as I was, or could know the Lord Jesus or understand the Bible as I did. My caring had in it an element of condescension, of superiority and of paternalism. Not that I had ever meant that it should: I just had not recognized the insidious effect of the whole colonial system and my own acceptance of it as the necessary basis of our work. 

I began to confess….”

In the early 1930’s, the Lord began to convict men and women in Rwanda. It was a large but dead work, rife with friction between workers and the African believers. Patricia St. John writes of the revival in her autobiography An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith. As missionaries at odds with each other publicly confessed and asked forgiveness of one another and the African workers, the Africans were amazed. “Never before have we heard a white man own he was wrong,” they said wonderingly (page 211). The missionaries and believers were “products of their age, and their age was that of post-war colonialism.” The African obeyed, the whites patronized. She writes “The first hurdle to be crossed was Joe Church’s insistence on an equal brotherhood of black and white….but the germ idea caused consternation.” He was criticized for allowing the native believers to sit with him at his house and for sharing his letters from back home with them. A sister was condemned for inviting African believers to her home for a hymn sing (page 217).  

Even Amy Carmichael was not exempted from this temptation. Elisabeth Elliot pens in her biography, A Chance to Die, of her preference towards whiter children. 

“Amy’s partiality to certain children could not be disguised…. Indians with Aryan blood, of fair skin and silky hair, were, naturally enough, most appealing to the European in Amy…” “Because I was dark I was always put at the back,” said one. “She loved the fair ones” (page 214). Amy also was adamant no American could ever serve at the Dohnavur Fellowship as they were not prepared for the necessary sacrifices nor spoke English to her satisfaction (page 360).  

At Jerusalem, 33 AD, the local assembly distributed food, daily, to the widows of their number. An ancient cosmopolitan, filled with Romans, Greeks, and Jews who had been born outside of Israel, the assembly there was a miniature reflection of the political scene. It is no wonder tensions were quick to rise. The Greeks went to the elders of the church. “The ones in charge of feeding the widows aren’t giving our countrywomen their share! They’re only feeding the Jewish sisters!” (Acts 6:1-6). Peter and Barnabas were also guilty of shunning the Gentile believers to keep face with their Jewish brethren (Galatians 2:11-14). 

Ancient times, ancient problems?  Current sins.  Preference, actions, decisions based on nationality.

Hacienda Ka’la, Campeche, Campeche

Would to God we could all be honest and judge this hidden sin from our oh, so deceptive hearts! With the help of God, may I never, ever exalt myself over my brothers and sisters in Christ simply because I am me and they are them. 

He “hath made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26); we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), with equal liberty and significance before God. He gives wisdom to all men liberally (James 1:5), He gives gifts through the Spirit, “distributing to every man individually as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Your nationality, your age, your skin color, the language you speak, mean nothing to God! You are of value because you are His child. You have the same opportunity to be as wise as anybody else. You have the same capabilities to grow your spiritual gift, meaning teachers or evangelists, shepherds or givers are not limited to certain countries, languages or families.  

Let no one tell you differently. 

Archeological Site: Palenque, Chiapas

The same flow of blood from that wounded side washed me and it washed you. 

We are truly one, servants together of the most high God, and it’s all because of Christ. 

“HE is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things HE might have the preeminence.”  Colossians 1:18 

(all photography included is the personal property of the author)

This Month

Towards the end of her fascinating autobiography An Ordinary Woman´s Extraordinary Faith, Patricia St. John mentions, “one cannot easily write about the present. Those involved are very much alive and close at hand….” In addition to sensitivity to privacy and the dignity of mankind, the present can seem cloudy. There are untied strings, buds are still awaiting their petals, and dawn is just beginning to glow. The present is filled with questions and uncertainties, leaving any sort of written work only half completed. Maybe that’s why this month has gone by without a post. 

There are a few ways to do pioneer gospel work. Some prefer to stick to one place. Maybe for life. Never really letting go of the reins, keeping things in tip- top shape. Some like to focus on one place for several years, then move on somewhere else. Some don’t stay anywhere and jump from here to there every few months. There are huge factors that play into these methods. Personality, age, interpretation of the Scripture, family life, what the Lord places in your hands, how people respond to the message. 

Personally, we live and focus our main energies on one place to be able to leave them alone with God at the soonest possible date. However, we are also responsible for the spiritual good of about 5 other groups, spread out across the Yucatán Peninsula. This makes for some very full months. 

We also cannot say no. Emergency situations come up. We have to drop everything and go. We have to let God lead and be the one to fill our schedule. We are simply His servants anyway. He is the Lord of the vineyard.

The grapes are going to ripen and drop anyway. The question is whether someone will be there to harvest them in time. 

Dying, unsaved people don’t have time to care whether your kids are extra grumpy that day or not. Discouraged, floundering believers need lifted up, regardless of our own personal stress or discouragement. 

So yes, the present is full of unknowns. It is difficult to understand. It is a daily offering, a presentation of this living sacrifice, laid out freely on the altar of God’s will. 

Because see, that is where we have always found the greatest joy. Simply saying yes to God. 

Last weekend was full. So incredibly full. There was barely time to think. Then we got the phone call. 

The tumor is in her brain. 

We’re in Mérida. 

We were going to be in Paraíso Sunday night anyway so we shuffled a few things on Monday and went. 

It´s okay to have to cancel appointments. It´s okay to stretch your own family. 

She´s unsaved and she might die. 

And my kids know that. They know this is the most important thing in the world. 

We saw the hopelessness and despondency. The grief and desperation. 

We heard those blessed words, “Yo acepto a Cristo.”

Then we saw peace and tears of joy. 

We hear there is now a love for God´s Word. We hear there has been healing in her body already. 

It´s the privilege of saying yes. 

Then another phone call. Another trip. Broken believers. Hours of visiting. Hope revived. 

The privilege of saying yes. 

Yes, we’re tired today. There’s laundry and catch-up and all the rest. But it doesn’t matter because we’ll be living off this God-given joy for days and days to come.

Mr. Thoreau’s Advice

Sometimes one would love to speak. To pour out from the deepest depths of the heart grief inducing observances, to shake the world’s numb conscience, to pour fire into veins of lethargy. But sometimes, the words just won’t come. The subject seems too harsh, too awful to actually put into words. Henry David Thoreau commented, “Write while the heat is in you….” Perhaps as believers we chose rather to practice grace, to allow July’s heat to fade into January’s snow before formulating tangible evidence of inner turmoil.

Tonight though, I think I will take Mr. Thoreau’s advice. I have done it before of course; they are words that I hope the world will never have to read. I literally begin to shake, the odd time I chance upon those documents in my writing folder. Somehow, though, I feel tonight’s subject matter necessary. I have to write. I have to publish. 

You know, whenever I post anything, I am very aware that there are eyes on earth reading my thoughts. God above is witnessing every word I send to the world. And, the wicked one below has also the capability of knowing exactly what is written. That can be downright frightening. 

Last post, I mentioned that with the help of God, we felt energized, full of joy in His work. We were looking forward to these years ahead to fill them with the gospel. 

The devil is so wicked. His imagination is filled with hatred towards all things good and true and righteous. He still lifts himself up to bruise man’s heel, he fills our paths with stumbling blocks, he goes again and again to God, to accuse and tear down the hedges. He fills our brains with fog, our hearts with consternation. 

He finds an unsaved neighbor, a fellow mom at a school, a co-worker, he fills them with strange thoughts, hateful imaginations. He sends them on a crusade against us, battling to destroy our testimony and good name before all those around us. They’ll bring in authorities, make stuff up, complicate and frustrate our life. 

Sometimes it is a government, an authority, some reigning power that he inundates with wickedness to ruin the lives of believers, to send them fleeing, to forsake the gospel, to neglect searching for lost souls. He makes it so hard to just live that there is no thought or energy left for the after life. 

And sometimes, yes, sometimes, he looks with incredible astuteness into the very body of Christ. He finds traces of pride, of jealousy, of anger. Oh, how he capitalizes upon our weak flesh! He comfortably hands out beds of ivory, lambs and calves, viols and wine, filling hearts that belong to Christ with the luxury of indulging the flesh. “But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” Their brother! Their fellow man! Sold! They had heard his wails, they had seen his dirt streaked face and merely pocketed their few pieces of dirty silver. They had stood there watching as he was dragged off, the Ishmaelites tossing around their newest possession like just another bolt of silk. “Good riddance!” they had cried in relief, fingering again with pleasure the little round coins of assured indulgence. 

Oh my brothers, my sisters in Christ. When will we stop our ears to the whisperings of below? When is false testimony ever okay? When is betrayal ever of God? What place does gossip and verbal attack have among the holy priesthood? At what point did we cease comparing our holiness with God and begin to compare ourselves with a weaker brother? When did sin ever justify sin? 

I ask of you to pray. It is one of those times we literally ask the Lord to send His Heavenly army to camp around our home.  

The accuser, the wicked one, the liar, will never, ever be satisfied as long as there is blood to drink from the veins of Christ’s precious children. 

And now for the sequel, because I wrote that last night. 

We were pretty thrashed today. The last several days have been on the tough side and aside from that, it has been a long time since David was home to just relax in the evening. I told him to stay in. To not worry about evangelizing or visiting. To let someone else do it tonight. 

I’m humbled and thankful he didn’t listen to a wife who was allowing the devil to now use her to hinder the Lord’s work. I am ashamed I let my guard down and gave place to those whispers of complacency. 

He did go and was gone for a long time. 

And he finally came home with the best news we could have hoped to hear. No wonder the devil has been so angry, so determined, so full of attacks. One from his kingdom of chains has been translated. The kingdom of the dear Son is richer by one. To God be the glory. 

Jabin tree, Campeche

These Ten Years

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. 

Fried Shrimp

We pull up just as the sun begins her habitual descent into the aquatic horizon, igniting highways from west to east of rippling, glowing fire. The gulf laps quietly against the bows of some fourteen fishing boats, resting sleepily after another long day of relentless toil. Gulls soar overhead, searching for one last treat before complete darkness. The wind begins to pick up, merciless in her endeavor to blast billows of sand onto every exposed inch of sweaty, sticky skin. Natural exfoliation at her finest. Delicious, enticing smells come wafting on the breeze, woodsmoke and frying shrimp. 

I remember the first time I was given shrimp in a home here in Campeche. They served us up enormous bowls of shrimp broth, heads and tails separated but still in the shell. Except I didn’t really know it was shrimp. I thought the heads were maybe some exotic brand of grasshoppers, six-inch long antennae, beady black eyes and oh the legs. So many legs! I whispered my doubts of horror to David. Shrimp, he assured me. I looked with mortification at my bowl. As far as I was concerned and according to small-town Michigan, shrimp came in vacuum-packed black bags in the freezer section of the grocery store with pictures of cute little curly pink things jumbled around a dish of dipping sauce. These enormous, whitish grey creatures floating in my bowl, of which I was expected to reach in and peel and suck and scramble through had to be of absolutely no relation! 

But that was 10 years ago. 

Our friends welcome us under a simple wooden structure, topped with dried palm branches. Their daughter is busy in the kitchen, frying shrimp and little fish, cutting limes, making up tortilla dough. They are old friends, dear people we have known for years. We peel our shrimp by the light of a lantern, it’s greenish glow casting just enough lambency to distinguish faces and whose coke is whose. 

The talk always turns to the sea. 

How do you know where the shrimp will be? Ah, the wind. The wind will tell you were to find them, in close or out far. 

Have you ever had a close call? One time. One time, yes. It was night and we were resting, but not sleeping. We saw a light coming closer and closer. Thankfully our engine was still running. It was a huge boat. It would have run us over but we were able to move just in time. 

Cazón that we eat, do they stay little or do they grow into big sharks? Oh, sister, those are just the babies. Out there are some seven kinds of sharks, there’s hammer head, black fins….all kinds. Because the oil rigs throw their wasted food overboard, the sharks all crowd around below. 

What are those two lights way out there? Those lights there you ask? That’s the Usumacinta oil rig. It exploded about 12 years ago. Those aren’t lights out there, actually. It’s really fire, still exploding from escaping gases. We were here when it happened; not long after a man in a life vest washed up to shore. He was almost gone. An engineer from the rig. We brought him up, washed him, gave him food and drink. We named our son after him. Another man was also found, his leg had been torn off by a shark. Most everyone else died. 

It’s totally black now, except for their couple lanterns. No electricity out at the beach. The kids are shrieking and laughing, spinning around and falling in the sand, loving having older kids to play with. We talk and laugh and share. Time doesn’t seem to matter. They hardly sleep anyhow, swinging in hammocks with half an eye open to watch the boats in their care. 

Good nights are finally said, they stay to their night long labor and to semi rest before another busy day tomorrow, ourselves gone to fly down the lonely beach, salty air whipping our hair into tangled messes. 

It is times like these that one feels so at home. So in love with the people God has chosen for us to live with. These occasions help smooth out the rough ones; they give new life and energy to flagging souls. God help us if we ever think we’re the only ones who can encourage and uplift. A plate of fried shrimp on the gulf shore did more for me tonight than any amount of literary genius scribbled across a thousand pages in Times New Roman ever could.

Emiliano Zapata, Campeche

Workers Together

I will be honest and admit that I have no idea which book I was reading three years ago when I took a picture of the page to send to some dear friends. The quote, however, has never left my conscience and so I share it with you today (despite perhaps not agreeing 100% with the entirety of the situation referred to).

We may share the conflict or shun it. When at length William Carey had succeeded in persuading his fellow ministers to form a missionary society, to Andrew Fuller “it seemed that the project of sending missionaries to the heathen world was like a few men deliberating the importance of penetrating a deep mine which no one had hitherto explored. We had no one to guide us. Whilst we were deliberating Carey said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.’ But before he descended it seemed, says Fuller “as though he took an oath from each one of us that whilst we lived we should not let go the rope.” Did we take hold of a rope some years ago and have we with the lapse of time let go? Shall we take hold of it again?

There are men and women across the globe who are holding the rope to the work in the south of Mexico. From the bottom of our hearts, the hearts of the believers, the hearts of the unsaved (though they do not know it yet), thank you.

This past weekend was a vivid example of men and women, some down in the mine, some up above holding the rope, working together with God to see the gospel penetrate farther and farther down the shaft of the world.

Believers in Canada had worked and organized to get John 3:16 texts printed and sent down. They had also labored for months to produce, publish, print and ship a gospel magazine called Via. Boxes and boxes arrived, filled with encouragement to get on to the streets and share the gospel.

Several couples in the state of Michoacán, some 15 hours away from Campeche, felt burdened to help in a practical way as well. They sent us bags and bags of good clothes to help the believers here and reach others with the gospel.

So, that´s what we did this weekend. The assembly here in Zapata organized a text and clothing distribution, going out in the morning to evangelize and invite. The clothing was spread out on benches after the gospel meeting for people to freely help themselves. Several women came who had never been to our little meeting place before. They heard the gospel. They were loved. They were filled up with Christian care.

Mission fields are not always (or even usually!) a place of huge, abundant, overflowing blessing, halls packed daily with searching sinners. Three, four, six new women and a bunch of kids is an enormous victory for the gospel.

It could not have been done on our own.

Workers, together, with God.

There is no other place I would rather be than down here in this mine and you there, up above, holding tightly on to our rope with all your godly might.

Spectacles of Insight

Preface

There are people the world over who live utterly unimaginable lives. The anecdote I choose to tell occurred less than a week ago, but it is not the first time it has happened, nor will it be the last. It is also a story that is in no way restricted to a small village in southern Mexico. So, I humbly ask you reader friend, to don your spectacles of insight, prepare to read some uncomfortable things, remembering that these are real people. I have hugged their sweet little children; they have played with my own. 

For delicacy´s sake, I choose to change names. For storytelling´s sake, I have taken the liberty to add descriptive detail and dialogue, which may or may not be exactly as it all went down. However, the heart and soul and main points remain unequivocally based on the sad facts of some of the most desperate lives I have ever witnessed. 

Story

Elizabet watched anxiously up the road for Pedro´s arrival. He had worked all week, she had even gone some days to help him, and today he would be paid. She looked down and her children´s gaunt eyes stared wonderingly back up at her. They had been to the garbage dump that morning, as usual, but had little success that day. 

“Mama,” little Pedrito said plaintively, “I´m hungry.” 

“I know you are little love, but just wait a bit longer. Papa will be home soon. When he comes I will get something to make you.” Pedrito appeared hardly convinced at this optimistic opinion.  

They heard the gate bang shut, all flinching involuntarily. 

Pedro came stumbling up the dirt drive, heaving himself through the curtained door. All five children huddled behind their mother’s tiny, skeletal body, wasted for their own sake, to give each a couple extra bites that should have been hers.  

“Where’s my dinner?” roared Pedro in the incoherent slur of any inebriated human. 

“Did you bring me money? How can I get food if I have no money, Pedro?” 

“Don’t talk back to me woman!” And as Pedro lifted his fist, Elisabet gave an imperceptible signal to the innocents behind her skirt. 

The sound of his slap was enough to cover the slight, harried shuffle of 10 feet out the back door. 

He continued railing, yelling, shouting, abusing, his bloodshot eyes bulging in anger. 

“Come, Pedrito, quickly! Come, oh come little Mary! Don’t look back, just come!” Isabel, in her anguish, fairly scooped up Pedrito in her thin arms and ran recklessly through the coconut grove. 

The others followed behind, trusting their big sister to take them as their mother had shown them so many times. 

Always take a different way, she had said. He might discover a worn footpath. Go quickly, go quietly. Skirt around the mango and head down to the dip. On they went, beating through the long grasses, the hot, hot sun burning mercilessly upon their heads. 

At last they arrived, panting, to their special hideout. Mama had made it herself, a refuge from the storm of a drunk and violent husband. It was just a little structure, four wooden poles as corner posts with an old, faded canvas sign strung across the top. The children, heaving with fright and exertion, sat down on a couple of logs Mama had dragged in the last time and said nothing. 

Pedro by now had crumpled on the floor, his soiled pants filling the house with their rank odor. 

Elisabet quickly, silently, grabbed a jug of water and followed her children out. There was no telling when he would wake again, no telling what else he would do to her or the children. Between alcohol and drugs, he was completely unpredictable. She remembered clearly their last child, conceived not of love but of drunken, lustful, brutal demand.  

She arrived to the little tent, hugged her frightened children around and gave them all a drink of water. 

“Come, little ones, Papa’s bad off. It’s best if we were gone. Follow me quickly and quietly.” 

She scooped up the littlest and the four others fell into single file line behind this tiny woman who would give her all for their little selves. They walked through the bush, eventually cutting across to the main road, keeping always to the shadows, an ear open for a follower, eyes alert to certain danger. The children said nothing. They had nothing to say. Hardship, hunger, poverty and violence had beaten into their brains the uselessness of complaint. Silence hung about them, broken only by the buzz of mosquitos and the whistle of a golondrina, as they trudged on into the village to find help. 

They made it at last to the home of Elisabet’s sister who, knowing the drill, ushered them in, closed the door then peered up the street for a long, long while. Convinced at last Pedro had not perceived their escape, she turned her attention inside. Fresh fruit juice all around, the baby on her hip, forcing her sister to sit, the children to play, Soledad was a flurry of activity. She made them empanadas, filled them to the full. Showered them with the love and attention they all so desperately needed. 

“Come with us tonight to hear the gospel preached,” Soledad suggested, knowing her sister’s urgent need for Christ in her life. 

“I would go. You know that. I would love to go. But he will find me there. Remember last time? We had to hide in the bathroom, the believers had to lock the front door for us. He will find me and make a scandal, cause a terrible scene, try to fight the brothers. He won’t even let me go when he’s sober. And now like this?” 

Soledad acquiesced, determined instead then to show her the love not just of a sister, but the love of Christ to a poor, lost family. Elisabet and the children stayed until they could find out if Pedro was finally sober again to go back home, which they did. Admittedly, quite anticlimactic.

Epilogue

But how did they? How could they return to such an environment? Questions abound. Why does she put up with him? What will happen to the children? Will there ever be any change? 

There is a strength in impoverished women that supersedes any I have ever seen.

Today, we think of strong women as ones who have climbed the corporate ladder, who run their own businesses while homeschooling 6 kids, women who write long articles on how they are equal to men.

Strong women are women who will go hungry for their children. They are women who are faithful to their husbands even when they deserve everything but. They are women who have no running water, yet manage to wash clothes and kids and dishes and floors every day. Women who are not afraid to look for help. Women who will risk their lives for those of their children. Strong women are ones who wake up every single morning and simply do it all again without murmuring against their unfortunate lot. 

As much damage as a husband like that can do, it is impossible for his wife to leave him. She needs the physical security of a man’s presence, she needs the occasional money he actually does bring home, she needs his help and even his love, for when sober he is truly a pleasant man. She is left with little choice. 

And the children? Where does it leave those precious, sunburnt kids with big brown eyes? It leaves them with little education, little hope for advancement, little opportunity to learn what a functional family should be. They will only watch and grow up believing it is somehow normal, leading down similar paths in life. 

Oh, if only the wretched cycle could be broken! If only the light of God’s glorious gospel could shine into their dark hearts! Hope, love, joy could all be theirs. 

As I ponder back over what I have just written, I am remembering the last time I talked to Elisabet. She came over to the house with her sister and we had a lovely little chat. She was happy and peaceful, laughing and enjoying conversation. Yet her 22 year old eyes always belied her mirth. They are the eyes of an old woman, eyes full of miserable, hard knowledge. They are heavy with care and pain. I wish I could scoop them all up, take them home and make everything better. But I can’t. Only God can work to make it all right, only He can provide the necessary miracle to save their family. 

I am well aware that this family is not the only of it’s kind. There are others in this town, this state, this country. Families like this exist the world over. 

There is only one word left to add. 

Pray.  

The Story of Quinta Querit

We sat on our camp chairs and looked around at the beginnings of our new life. It was just a single story ranch, surrounded by flowering pink maculí trees, mangos and towering melina, sandy soil and beautiful silence. A small enclosure held a few hens. Several sheep grazed in the grass behind us. The day was grey and windy and we looked up into the rushing clouds, wondering at God’s merciful goodness. 

Just a few weeks before, we had left the city for the countryside, leaving behind a rented house full of the saddest memories a family could ever have. Emotionally, our cups were full and running over. We clung to each other and to God. There was nothing else we could do but hold tight and wait for the storm to pass. 

But now, we were here. In this little jungle square God had given us, there was peace and beauty, there was new life and new hope. We had felt backed into one of humanity’s most desperate corners, we had gasped for breath, asphyxiated by the wretched pressures of satan’s pestle. But there was oxygen here. We could finally fills our lungs and actually begin to breathe again. 

The difficulties and sadness had not gone away. Not at all. Yet there was something about this place of peace that refreshed our weary souls. The black, silent nights, graciously restoring to us the rest stolen for months by nights of tossing and distress. The whispering of nature reminding us daily of new life and hope for tomorrow. The animals: promising a welcome diversion of work and a healthy provision for my children’s stomachs. 

“Let’s call our home and farm Quinta Querit,” I said on a sudden impulse. David looked at me inquisitively. 

“Yes, Querit, for it was here that God miraculously provided for us a refuge when we could not take another step. 

He agreed. 

“Penelope, man can do what they will but God, He is always faithful. He has never abandoned us through all this time and He never will. Quinta Querit it is.” 

(Querit is Cherith, for my linquistic contemporaries.)

Israel was a barren land. With a king and queen devoted to idolatry, false prophets and a hatred of all things righteous, it was no wonder God brought a famine through Elijah the prophet. With more tenacity than I could ever muster, Elijah announced to Ahab there would be no rain, or even dew unless he, Elijah, commanded it to come. You can only imagine the king’s exploding fury at this one who dared to invoke God’s holy name against him! Elijah the prophet fled, at God’s command, towards the east, the rising of the sun, down to the little brook called Cherith. It was a place of undeniable, miraculous, God-given refreshment. Bubbling through the harsh Jordan Valley during the rainy season, Cherith was a haven of unexpected rest in that arid mountainous region. Yet God did not only provide water to His fugitive servant. He commanded the ravens to feed him as well, every morning and every evening, bread and meat.

Oh the abounding, excellent, merciful generosity of our God!

We had felt like Elijah, desperate for a place of God’s refreshing. He, in His lavish mercy, gave us the very thing we needed, our little Quinta Querit. 

And so it began. Some hens, a few sheep, a batch of broiler chickens. They were for our personal consumption but as time went on, we realized the demand that there was for farm fresh products, free from hormones and chemicals and unkind living conditions. People were excited to be buying local and to be eating clean. We opened a Facebook page and started taking orders in to the city, about an hour away. At first it was only a few dozen eggs and a couple of chickens. Soon there were more and more orders we simply could not fulfill. We started ordering chicks by the hundred, waiting anxiously for the months to pass until those first little eggs were found in the boxes. Today, we have about 700 hens who lay around 300 some eggs per day. We take them in by trays of 30, twice a week, into the city of Carmen.

It was hard to keep up with several different kinds of animals. Between sicknesses, space and demand it soon became obvious something would have to give. 

In this area of Mexico, lamb is consumed very minimally. We couldn’t find a consistent market for our sheep, so off they went. 

Broiler chickens are prone to getting colds and coughs (chickens coughing=weird), so there was a constant cost of medications and special care. We finished raising the last batch, filled the freezer and said good-bye. 

Most Mexicans (again, in this area. I can only speak for what I know) would consume egg nearly daily. There would always, always, be a demand for eggs. So we decided to be the first and only regular supplier of farm fresh eggs straight to the doorsteps of the people on the island of Carmen.

The reason we live in Campeche, Mexico is to spread the gospel and see New Testament churches established. We never envisioned adding “farmers” to our list of occupations. Yet we arrived to this little village on the shore of the Gulf and a few things were evident immediately. Everybody, every single body, has animals. We, that first month, were the only people in the entire town not raising animals for meat. 

Let’s put that into perspective. There are like 1000 people, maybe some 300 houses. We are white. We have freckles. We speak English. We live in the last house. We preach the gospel. And we have no animals. Whaat?? There is an automatic rejection reflex because we are just too different, too strange, too confusing. It would have actually been a bad testimony to the gospel for us to not raise animals. 

Aside from that, a little town means everyone knows everything about everyone else. “Pastors’” lives least preserved from that minute inspection. They needed to see us working. They needed to have the confidence we were not here to live off their meager salaries. They needed to know the absolute contrary was our actuality. We were here to help.

People were shocked when we would arrive with a chicken to help them that day. They could not believe we would gift them a dozen eggs. They watched in awe as we were able to give jobs to men who had no work, so they could once again provide for their families. It just wasn’t what a typical herald of the gospel did.  

As we learned more about the different animals, it became one of the easiest ways to start conversations and make connections with people, so necessary when coming into a place with the gospel. It doesn’t work to just start knocking on doors and expect people to fall over each other to hear the good news! They often need to know you care, that you are human but with a hope they long to have. They like to see you care not just for their soul, but for their 15 turkeys with colds, for their husband who was out all night fishing, for their mother who is blind from diabetes. 

Then, they will be willing to accept you have something special; it is then that they will want to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified. 

God’s love shining through your questions of concern will convince them they need His love for themselves. 

It has been a journey of discovery and self-examination, a wonderful opportunity to let go and see God’s beautiful plans unfold. Our fortuity to run an egg farm has been an enriching experience for ourselves and also for our children, as they observe and learn about every detail and phase of this project. 

Quinta Querit continues to be a place of freshness, renewal and stress relief, a spot where worries fly up to God, borne on the back of weaver birds and warm ocean breezes, where His mercies and miracles are still new every single morning. 

A Special Day at Quinta Querit

It was my intention to write once a week on Wednesdays to keep myself accountable. I suppose that works for the uneventful, mundane weeks but I am learning that I also shouldn´t limit my writing schedule. Sometimes interesting things do actually happen!

A few weeks ago, a couple teachers from a nearby university stopped by our place. Responsible for classes on communications and specifically English, they came up with the idea to bring students to our home where they could be encouraged to study the English language and to work hard, no matter where you are from or where you live, focusing on our hen farm as an example. They also asked us, in so many words, to encourage them to seek God above all else.

It was no ordinary request. Since when do we normally have 50 some 18 to 20 year olds obligated to listen respectively to the benefits of a Christian life?

They arrived today on two large buses and parked a ways up the street to not block our little lane.

I watched them through the kitchen window, row after row of young adults coming down the two track, past the bamboo, on to the palapa and my heart was filled with thankful humility. We did nothing to arrange it, except to open our doors to a bunch of seeking strangers. God led them straight to our doorstep.

We had a half hour talk in which we shared our story, why we are here and what we do, the ways in which being believers has helped us in life and encouraged them to choose the road that leads to God. We had a time of dialogue in English and answered their many questions, ranging from how many hens we have, to what the style is of our meetings, to what our favorite Mexican food is!

They enjoyed a tour of the hen farm, orchard, and grove then spread out to have their lunch, hold the puppies, and buy their moms some eggs.

Just a few days ago, several boxes arrived with John 3:16 texts, so we were able to share them with the students. One young woman from the island of Carmen exclaimed to David, “my mom has one of these at home!” It was some 10 years ago those texts were distributed.

And I definitely forgot to turn off the porch light this morning…..

These are the little things that keep our flame of service burning, our love of souls warm and reaching, our minds clear and focused on the why of this life.

In some ways though, this was the easy part. It was simple to receive them, give them a tour, befriend and show them the love of God. Now, for me, comes the difficult part.

Is there much purpose in handing them a Bible verse, sending them on their way and forgetting about them, leaving them to the rude chances of university life?

Help me, please, to pray for these young men and women. Pray that their day here at Quinta Querit would be remembered not just for a lovely time out of school in the countryside, but that it would be the special day they realized their need for Christ as Savior.