Ridge after ridge spill out across my sight, eventually drowning out into hazy lavender oblivion. The closest peaks, coated in the fluffy green frosting of a tropical forest, occasionally melt their facade to reveal inhospitable rock faces shooting angry daggers at their curious onlookers. High summits stabbing the thin mountain air modestly hide their beauty behind billowing white clouds.
Even with modern advances, the Cumbres of Maltrata can be formidable to cross. Hair-pinning highways dangle precariously on the edge of cavernous valleys, fog often rolling down the mountainside, a deathly phantom wave of vapor while cars fly and semi’s chug.
It’s become almost a habit to me. As we cross and I ogle at the spectacular beauty around, I have to remember Maximilian and Charlotte, accompanied by their band of French soldiers and Mexican escorts. They came to Mexico, convinced (but delusional) that the Mexican people not only needed but wanted them there. They came to supposedly establish order, to save the Mexicans from themselves (ie Benito Juarez who really was little more than a self indulgent traitor), to annex this rich land to Napoleon III and Eugenie’s desperate and soon to crumble empire.
Many weak from malaria caught in the port of Veracruz, they trudged across the mountains on foot with only the dignitaries riding in carriages, in very relative ease if such travel could ever be considered comfortable. Bandits and guerrilla fighters roamed the hills, frequently attacking the traveling party anxious to be rid of His Royal Majesty before imperial power could ever be established.
They did somehow make it though, arriving in Mexico City which was at that time more lake than land. A mere 3 years later, years of boiling unrest, Maximilian was led prisoner to the Cerro of the Campanas and executed.
Perhaps not quite as majestic a story as Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants, but a similar outcome. He victoriously marched south to Rome, only for Scipio Africanus to rush to Carthage and claim ultimate victory.
So the question begs answer of our feeble minds. Great men and armies crossed huge mountainous barriers, both equipped with the latest technologies of their times. They overcame impossibilities, ravaging enemies and nature’s demanding obstacles. They made it, only to lose. Should they have made those journeys, taken those risks? Was the outcome worth their herculean efforts?
Humanly speaking, no. They should have stayed home, sipped some tea, basked in the titles of archduke and general. They should have been self-serving, forgetting the calls of desperate people, anxious for peace and prosperity.
But Hannibal could not close his ears to the cries of his Phoenician countrymen, bullied by the Roman spear and insatiable coveting of the western Mediterranean. Maximilian, as mal informed as he was, could not ignore the outright abuse of the Mexican people by a privileged upper class and controlling religious power.
There are mountains not made with stones, who rain not with water, whose fog is not of vapor. They are also patrolled by bandits of sorts and often take an elephant of a will to cross.
There are men and women who place obstacles in our path, they rain down on us with harsh and haughty words, clouding our name and reputation. They send out swords against us, willing us to fall by the way. They have no interest in the people or truths we strive to protect.
Should we cross that mountain?
Does it really matter if I am slain in the process, if it seems as though my convictions have lost the fight?
Having gone across and with one foot in the grave of reputation: go.
Your beliefs, the things you fight for last longer than this life, if they are of God. He is eternal, His word is forever. The truth you stand for will roll from age to endless age on the power of a risen Lord.
I confidently clicked the link and waited impatiently for the page to load. Missionaries beheaded in Turkey for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart fell into the deepest pit of my stomach and my throat stifled a threatening NO!! I knew exactly what David was asking me. Except I didn’t want to have to answer.
We were still just talking about a possible future together, he far away on an island in the gulf of Campeche, I safe and comfy on my creamy suede-covered double bed in a Raspberry Cordial painted room. The article was not him just sharing a piece of interesting, very tragic news in the modern Christian world. He was asking me one of the most serious questions to ever pass through my 17 year old brain. He was not asking me if I loved him, or if I wanted to be a missionary or if I’d mind living in Mexico. It went far beyond marriage and any sort of physical move I would potentially make. He was asking me if I was willing to give my all…my ALL for the gospel.
I crossed into the ring and started the fight. Yes God, I’ll go. Nooo….don’t ask me too much!!
I don’t recall how long I was in spiritual agony, only that it was exactly that. An agonizing wrestling match with my God and my Savior. I looked again and again at those nail pierced hands and chided my cowardice. How could I not say yes? I felt thrashed, totally demolished, but full of peace.
Several years later, I sat beside a hotel pool, my heart in shreds, my mind shackled in an absolute dungeon. Three blocks up the street, my nearly two month old, precious baby boy lay sedated in NICU, connected to life support, receiving dialysis and blood transfusions.
“You can’t have him!” I had been screaming for the past month. “He HAS to get better! He’s my baby and I want him here with me!” There was no way I was giving him up. “While there’s life, there’s hope” I’d say confidently, determined Damian’s Glory Day would be long after mine. But that afternoon I could take it no longer. His suffering, my suffering, David and the other children. I finally let the angel touch my thigh and I limped out, defeated. “Take him, Lord, if you choose. He is yours anyways.”
And He did. The next day, God sent His angels and lifted my baby from my arms to the arms of Jesus Christ. He went, listening to the lilting strains of
“See from His head, His hands and feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
and opened his little baby eyes to gaze into the face of the Savior.
I had fought but finally rescinded. God had won, and through the sorrow the deepest peace, that inexplicable peace that only God can give, coursed through my very empty arms.
Not long after we lost our little Damian, I found myself battling it out with the Lord again. We were being treated very wrongly, very unfairly, very carnally by men we thought we could have trusted. My heart rose in rebellion. It wasn’t fair. We were young, we lived so far away, we didn’t deserve this, we were still grieving. I wanted to make them pay, make them realize their utter horridness. Then, those searching words came again: are you willing to give me your all? It wasn’t life to death God was asking of me. He was asking for my living life. Every drop of it. When our financial aid was compromised, would I still trust Him? When our house and living location were attacked, would I stay and live out His call? When we were abandoned by so, so many, was He my everything? When our reputation, doctrinal beliefs and characters were brutally destroyed, could I leave the sorting out to the righteous Judge? Weeping, the kids eating cereal for dinner because I couldn’t emotionally manage anything more, I gave in to God again. Yes, Lord, I will live in poverty if you so choose, I will live abandoned, hated and humiliated for your Name’s sake, I will never forsake your work though all of Hell’s forces work to push me out. The future no longer mattered, I had found peace again with my God.
When I became oh, so sick, my nervous system a complete wreck, lupus destroying system after system, the old fight began again. Why me, Lord? Haven’t I suffered enough? Isn’t there some sort of limit to what you expect me to handle? Look at all those around me, they haven’t had to experience all this! Lying there, in too much pain to move, those ancient words of Psalm 73 soothed my ruffled soul. I went into the sanctuary, then understood their end. It wasn’t for me to dictate to God who should and should not have trials or pain, nor could I demand my preferred timeline of punishment. His will at that moment was to have me subjected, at His mercy, and to be totally ok with that. I had to stop fighting His perfect plan. If I was to serve Him and please Him through an inexplicable illness, then that was exactly what I was going to have to do. His peace again flowed through my tormented mind and broken body.
A couple weeks ago it became very apparent that unless something drastic changed in my body, I would mostly likely be dead before the end of the year. I couldn’t die! I have a husband, three precious little kids, my whole life still stretched before me. It wouldn’t be fair for our family to lose two members. How, oh Lord, how could this happen to us? I fought valiantly. Prayer yielded the slightly ambiguous answer: trust Me. I was desperate for something more specific. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love.” Then, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” I realized how weak my faith was. How much I depended upon myself, my medications, my doctors. I realized there was only one way to move forward-absolute, unequivocal, undoubting faith.
There were two counteracting issues that needed to be resolved. On Wednesday, one was resolved. On Thursday, the other. I would not die, and aside from that, I had been healed. Healed from an illness (pulmonary hypertension) all the doctors had said was not only incurable but degenerative as well. Oh, the joy, the relief, the peace that pervaded my fragmented soul! The goodness of God, without limit, without end!
Why do I share these distinct wrestlings with you? Why expose my own shameful sin and doubt? Why tell the world about intimate, painful experiences?
I have no answers except that when I started this blog, the Lord told me to tell you about Him. I want you to know how faithful, how loving, how merciful He is, no matter what trial you may be experiencing. I want you to know that His will is always sweet and His ways are always marvelous. You can safely cling to Christ through every dark valley, through each storm, through all those long nights.
Never would I choose to go through these things, never would I ask for such dark nights for supposed days. There were times I hated myself for how far from the Lord I must have been for Him to feel the need to call me so drastically. How cold, how proud, how self-sufficient!
And yet, looking back, I am thankful and humbled.
Our God is one of tender mercy who loves to draw His children close to His side. He sees through to the other side of life and patiently works our souls to burn the dross and shine the gold.
Incineration is never pretty. Here in the jungle, slash and burn is the preferred method for clearing farmland. It’s usually near impassable acreage, filled with dangerous snakes and scorpions, snagging thorns and poisonous plants. Burning is the only way. Walking passed the charred remains leaves a somewhat empty feeling inside, until you spot those neat, long rows of bright green corn, popping its frilly head above the carnage.
That’s what we’re looking for here: extermination of every useless, damaging habit to make way for the precious fruit of the Spirit. Like Jacob, may we stop our wrestling and limp forever, completely conformed to the walk He has chosen for our lives.
They rushed out of their mud and palm huts into the dirt streets, eyes shielded against the blazing afternoon sun. It circled around again, sending flamboyant flowers fluttering down from their delicate perch. For the first time, the residents of the Hacienda Paraíso saw a small airplane, glinting like a daytime star, flying overhead. They looked at one another, incredulous.
Up in the plane, no doubt a couple of men were also looking down. “There they are!” one would have exclaimed, “here, I’ll start the speaker.” The pilot responded, “yes, you do that. I’ll circle around again and the next time we sight them, drop down some 15 packages.”
Standing next to his grandma Elda, five year old Eduardo watched the plane, amazement in his little mind. But what happened next would be the foundation for the rest of his life. Out from the little plane began to sound the sweet notes of hymns, telling the people of the Lord Jesus and His great love for them. Care packages were dropped, filled with bits of love from absolute strangers.
Years went by. I will share with you sometime the story of how the christians in Paraíso were eventually saved and how we came to know them, but that is for another day.
Paraíso, Yucatán is a small village, originally part of a large hacienda, situated in the middle of nowhere. The chimney stacks are still there, as well as some of the original stone buildings. It´s about an hour outside the beautiful city of Mérida but time has had little say in their mode of life. Mayan is spoken more fluidly and readily than Spanish; most homes would continue the regular use of a mud and palm home with hammocks strung across the rafters for sleeping. Pork, sour orange, lima and freshly milled corn are still the word of the gastronomical day. Women sit in their doorways embroidering beautiful flowers along the edges of white blouses and dresses. Wide and airy, the wind blows through the fabric, refreshing women taut with a life of hard work.
It’s very much their town. It’s a comfortable feeling to know who everybody is, what time they go to sleep at night, what their favorite food is. It’s nice to know who owns exactly what properties and to which church everyone belongs.
So the minute a white van comes dieseling in, heads pop out of every window. Anyone who happens to be on the street stops and stares.
Flying in and out, just to have a meeting with the believers is merely maintenance. It’s no way to win new people, an impossibility to expect an outsider to feel the confidence to attend. You will always be a stranger.
For a several years, that’s what we have done. Maintenance work. We couldn’t do more. Emotionally, physically, spiritually pushed to our absolute limit, it was all we could do to just get through the day.
But God is our Healer. He filled us again with the grace and spiritual energy necessary to truly work in His field.
And it really is work. Systematic evangelization, visiting contacts, listening to stories of witch doctors and curses and dreams, faced with indifference, distrust, spiritual confusion. It´s walking in the hot sun, occasionally shifting your stack of literature so the bottom page doesn´t go totally soggy with sweat. It´s wishing you could cover your children´s ears as they hear of a father and son beating each other up and threatening the other´s death. It´s talking with your mouth and praying with your head.
It´s leaving all the results with God.
You can’t force a woman, steeped in idolatry to understand or even want Christ, just because you showed up at her door. You can’t reach in and clear out the cobwebs of ancient superstition to make way for the light of the gospel. You can’t grab the beer bottle from a man’s hand and shove a Bible at him instead.
Slowly, steadily. Through the Spirit’s power. It’s the only way.
There is little in life that can give greater joy than plopping down in your car, sweat dripping down your back, inhaling a bottle of water, knowing that however many families just heard the gospel or received literature to read and that the Holy Spirit is striving with them. There are so many people, not only here in the south of Mexico, so many who need Christ.
Please remember the little town of Paraíso in your prayers. There are people there who the Lord wants to save and use for His glory. Pray for the believers and their growth and for their children who still need Christ. Please pray the devil would hinder us no longer and that we would be able to work with freedom in our Lord.
Pulling up the old horse, Charlie, the D.O.M [Mr. Robert Wilson] turned to Amy. “Which blow breaks the stone?” he asked. Then, pointing with his whip he said, “Thee must never say, thee must never even let thyself think, ‘I won that soul for Christ.’ It is the first blow and the last, and every one in between.”
A chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliot
Mr. Wilson’s words, spoken nearly 130 years ago ring with ageless truth. Can it be that one and one alone is solely responsible for the joy of winning a soul?
About 11 years ago, before we were even married, David and a group of men came to Zapata. The first family they visited were the Mendozas. We visited them off and on throughout the years, with varied success at igniting interest in the gospel.
A full 7 to 8 years later, the first member of the family accepted Christ.
Several months later, a couple came to visit and spent nearly every single day with this family, encouraging them, loving them, laughing with them, teaching them.
A few more trusted the Lord Jesus as their Savior.
Two years later, a brother came and in house meetings spoke through translation. Oh, and that blessed light came shining through again, to another soul, lost and found.
A couple months later, her husband, in the darkness that is a tropical night in the countryside, watering plants in that refreshing sunless moment, he too realized his sin was keeping him far from God and accepted the gift of salvation.
Four months later, another brother was visiting who encouraged them several times to obey the Lord in baptism.
Which blow breaks the stone? How could anyone know? How could any of the 15 or so people alluded to here be marked as the one?
We are simply, humbly, “workers together with him [God]” 2 Corinthians 6:1.
And so, to battle the waves and the currents, two men walked the couple out into the salty sea, through sprinkling rain to show to the world that they are dead to sin and alive in Christ. There was no fanfare, no visitors, certificates or great ceremony. Just a small group, gathered on the shore, witnesses with God to obedience. Simply obedience.