Magdalena Apasco

Before I begin storytelling, I’d like this post to be preluded by a doxology of sorts. I want every single person reading this to stop for a moment and just realize how wonderful, big, infinite our God is. There is no god like our God. He is majestic and full of mercy. He pours out His grace over this world of failure and sin. He watches over us every moment of our lives, He guides and moves in the most mysterious ways. He delights to use mere men to perform and execute His wonders. It is His great pleasure to dwell among mortals. He alone is worthy of all honor and glory and worship. We serve a wonderful God. 

My story begins some 25 years ago. 

In the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City, where everybody but taxi drivers have found themselves lost and groping at least once in their life, a family with three young boys decided to move to a new neighborhood in the sub city of Nezahuálcotl one chilly December in 1995. As they moved their belongings in and started setting up, something caught S’s eye in the window outside. Tucked into the metal protector (a permanent fixture on most any house in this country), was a large card-stock John 3:16. 

“Look, R!” S called to her husband, “this is beautiful! I wonder where it came from?” 

“It must have been left here a few days before we arrived,” he replied, “I never noticed anyone leaving it for us.” 

“Well, we’ll keep it. It’s beautiful. Look what it says: For God so loved the world. What wonderful words!” 

A few evenings later, R and S took their three boys to do some errands together. As they walked along, they suddenly noticed a brightly lit storefront with people sitting down, listening as a man spoke to them from the front. Drawing closer, they gasped in surprise. 

There, taped to the wall next to the door was a John 3:16, exactly like the one they had found at their new home. 

“These are the same people!” “Can you believe it??” “We found them!” 

Then the more serious question. 

“Should we go in?” 

“I don’t know. What do you think?” 

It was decided to do their errands and come back another night. 

They came back and stood across the street, unsure what to do. From inside, someone noticed them and went out to invite them in. 

They filed into a row, mom and dad, their three little boys. And they heard the best news there ever will be to hear. 

Not long later, R and S both accepted Christ as their Savior. They were also baptized by immersion and gathered regularly with the newly forming group of Christians. 

About a year later, S received very sad news. Her younger brother had drunk himself into a diseased state of no return. Knowing his death was inevitable, he begged her to come home to Magdalena Apasco, Oaxaca to care for him. The rest of his siblings had no interest in helping him, but he was sure S would come. And she did.

Back in Mexico City, they had worked as tailors making jeans and clothing for a living. Returning home to Oaxaca, a generally much warmer climate that attracts thousands of tourists each year, popular demand leaned towards cottony button shirts, similar to what you may know as a guayabera. With their business growing, two of their three sons back in Oaxaca with them, also a little baby girl added to their family, the needs of S’s dad after the passing of her brother, they simply stayed on in Oaxaca. 

Years passed. 

The C______ family found themselves slowly sucked back into the town’s deeply rooted traditions. Party after party for saint after saint. Marches and parades, feasts and rituals. It is hardly a wonder they found it impossible to resist. Day after day of pressure, of expectations, of calls from childhood and family duty. Magdalena Apasco is not a large place. Maybe some 4000 people. Everyone knows each other. It’s like one big family. Parties for saints are held, not in some cathedral or chapel but in someone’s home where they put on meals for the entire town. People show up with a few kilos of beans, or several liters of coke, or whatever they can contribute. It really is a huge thing, saints and religiousness aside. So, on a Sunday, as christians, they’d occasionally attend a Pentecostal place while also participating in in town holidays. But they knew it was all wrong. They weren’t happy anywhere. They went because they felt sucked in, because they needed to attend somewhere. They missed the hymns, they found the lack of headcoverings uncomfortable, they yearned for real teaching. 

And so they waited, with really little hope of ever finding what they were looking for. 

One Sunday, their oldest son A went with his cousins to a service. They were invited to the front where they were encouraged to repeat a prayer to be saved. He went through with the ritual but as the days passed, decided nothing had changed. He still had no peace or assurance. His heart searching, yearning for the truth, he began to look online for articles to read, looking for any trace of what he remembered from his childhood in Mexico City. He came across a little page titled Gracia más Gracia, or Grace upon Grace. As he began to read, he felt compelled to write the anonymous author to thank him for the material. 

My husband received A´s message. Thank you brother for the articles. They have been a blessing to our family. 

They corresponded briefly. Then A explained how as a child he had heard preaching from men in Mexico city named Paul Thiessen, Harry Rodriguez and David Alves and how their family had wanted to reconnect ever since, but had never been able to. 

In shock, my husband asked if he knew to whom he was writing. 

“No, brother, I just found the Facebook page. I didn’t see your name.” 

My name is David Alves. It was my father and two other missionaries who you knew as a child. 

I wish I could explain to you what it is for a soul, desperate for the truth, desperate for sound doctrine, for a pure gospel to realize they have found it once again. 

A couple weeks later, listening to an audio message, A trusted Christ as his Savior, not through a prayer or ritual, but by simply accepting that Jesus Christ paid for his sins on the cross. 

And this is where I return to my doxology. How good is our God! David and I were like 8 and 4 respectively when this family first heard the gospel and were saved. Contact was lost for so, so many years. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for them to ever be reached again. But our God. He is a mighty God. Full of good and wonderful works. Let’s bow together in worship to the One who loves each of us so much, to the one who never, ever forgets His children. 

This story has nothing to do with the fact that A contacted David or that we were the ones God chose to bring to their doorstep. This story has everything to do with the fact we serve a God whose power casts us to His feet in deepest humility.

We felt the Lord had, for some (strange) reason, chosen to place the C family in our hands. I say strange because Magdalena Apasco is about 11 hours away from our home. It’s definitely not around the corner. We already have several towns where there are small groups we try to help. In many ways, it didn’t seem to make sense. But to God it did. There was no option but to go forward, to serve our Lord and the people of Magdalena Apasco. 

We found ourselves driving through some of the most rugged country I have ever experienced. Mountain after mountain, rough desert hills and rocky outcroppings. Oaxaca is a land of cactus and mesquite, a region that sings to the stories of Louis L’amour. One half expected to see some Tappan Duvarney swinging along on a dun, his eyes peeled for the oasis an old Indian chief had told him of back in 1821. But I digress (and confess the guilty pleasure of the occasional good western!). 

Magdalena is about 40 minutes outside the capital city of Oaxaca, a pretty ideal location, having access to the benefits of the city while still enjoying the tranquility of the country. The town survives off cantera and marble mining, as well as an industrial park that embarks nearly everything from the fabrication of clothes to the processing of coffee beans. As I have previously mentioned, it is an incredibly religious place. 

We enjoyed several hours of visiting with the C family, something so vital to establishing proper communication and fellowship with believers. We learned a lot from them. Those were invaluable moments of simply sitting and listening. Their disbelief and gratefulness that we would come was a touching witness to their desperate yearning for a gathering based solely on the New Testament. 

We were curious to see the response of others to the preaching and meetings that were held. 

A tells my husband people were grateful to hear words from the Bible, not from man. They are looking forward to hearing more and anxious for another visit. He said the neighbors asked a few days later what the meetings had been about because the singing had been so beautiful…..apparently David and Felicity’s lungs did the trick to get it through the concrete walls! 

We left them with a decent stack of packaged John 3:16’s to hand out and it sounds like they’ve already been delivered. 

It will be impossible to get back to Oaxaca before the New Year, so in the meantime, we pray and ask for your prayers as well. It’s an exciting time but also a time of trepidation and faith. 

“Nothing before, nothing behind; the steps of faith fall on the seeming void and find the Rock beneath.” 

John Greenleaf Whittier

Between Two Journeys

Today is the final day of a week long hiatal home-bound break between two journeys. In many ways, the week has seemed far too short. Just enough time to throw in a few loads of wash and get the house sufficiently dirty to require another fly through before locking the door behind us again tomorrow morning. Time enough just to reconnect, to screw our heads back on to face forward once again. 

The first trip was, what I would consider, a comfortable trip. We drove west until the road ended and found ourselves among old friends and believers. A Bible conference, a wedding. Normal, expected activities. People we know well, a comfortable environment of love and confidence. Encouraging conversations, uplifting hugs and handshakes. So many “good to see you”’s. Sure, two days of driving there and two days back again, but all good because you know exactly what you’re getting into. You know what to expect, who you’ll see, how you’ll respond to the environment. 

But tomorrow is sort of the opposite. 

There’s really nothing known about a first pioneering trip in the gospel except for maybe the city or town of destination and a name or two. 

It’s not comfortable. It’s exciting. 

It’s also scary and a little wild and nerve wracking and joyful and wonderful and unbelievable all at once. 

There will be roads and mountains we’ve never traveled over before. There will be culture and food we’ve never experienced. Most importantly, there will be people we’ve never seen before who may or may not be interested in the gospel, who may or may not be saved, who may or may not want you to come back. 

Our kids asked why we have to travel again so soon. Why did this trip come up so suddenly? Why can’t we stay home and ride our bikes for a few more days? 

It’s not always easy being the wife and family of a pioneer. 

As females, we love our homes. We love to nurture, to create, to craft a place of our own. We need that security, the constant place that is a home. We want our children to always, always feel safe and secure. 

And so sometimes we hold our husbands back. We say, “not this week,” or “I’ll just stay home,” or, “can’t someone else go?” And without a conscious thought, we hinder the spread of the gospel, the growth of believers and our own personal joy in the Lord. Leaving home and lands for the sake of the gospel doesn’t always just mean your house and country of origin. It’s a constant, perpetual, purposeful leaving of whatever is keeping you from chasing leads in the gospel. The word of God is like a mighty river that plows through virgin territory, making her own beautiful path. God keep me from ever becoming a dam builder; channeling His plans into whatever little streams and ponds are most convenient for me. Because, see, the absolute worst thing for a pioneer missionary family is to become too comfortable, to throw down their deepest roots, to establish themselves in one place. The moment we allow that, we completely lose our focus and true work for the rest of our lives. The believers cannot grow. New places are not opened. We relegate ourselves to the position of sitting pastor, upon whom depends every single movement of the local church.

We didn’t give excuses to our kids. We didn’t smooth things over with them. There’s no point in that. 

“A man from Oaxaca has been in touch with daddy. He heard the gospel when he was a little boy but he never accepted Christ. The other day, listening to a recording, he understood salvation and is now on his way to Heaven. The Lord Jesus told us to not only see people saved, but to make disciples of them, to teach them all the doctrine and to baptize them and see assemblies established. We don’t have a choice. God has given us this responsibility.” 

“Oh.”  The wisdom of all children. Acceptance. 

It was more for my own acceptance too. To remind myself again why we’re really here. 

So we humbly ask for your prayers. That God’s Word would be prospered. That hearts are being prepared in the capital city of Oaxaca to receive salvation, that doors would be flung wide open. That God’s will and plans would be honored and His name glorified for eternity.