In Which the Campechanos Decide to Build a Fire

For some reason, my brain writes blog posts in the horizontal, in the dark, before I fall asleep at night. It’s like my way of processing life. The problem is, I’m usually too out of it to actually record any of those 11 pm bursts of brilliancy. So, while I’m still semi cognizant, here’s a bit of life on paper.

It somehow seems like months, maybe years ago we had our yearly Bible conference over New Years. When you’ve changed focus and location, it seems like the rest of the world sort of fades into this hazy mirage sparkling somewhere out on the horizon. I mention the conference though because it’s important in some respects to our current situation.

For about a year, David and I have wondered where the Lord would guide us to next. We had two or three places in mind but while it’s not like doors were necessarily shut in our faces, they weren’t exactly wide open either. So we just waited. We continued working as we had been, helping mostly in Emiliano Zapata, watching the little assembly grow, seeing the believers develop, carefully stepping back more and more and more until really, we were just regular attendees. In November, contact was made with a family in Oaxaca and we made our first visit here in December, which you can read about in Magdalena Apasco . It started to make sense why no other doors had opened. And, as we looked around the assembly in Zapata and watched as the men completely organized and ran the conference, we saw there was no reason why we couldn’t be gone for a month. It would be best, really for them, if we weren’t around. Give them some more space to spread their wings in the Lord’s strength.

So we came back. And we brought sweaters and jackets this time because this family from Campeche is finding the mountain air pretty chilly. At home, I often start my day with a glass of cold water with a lime squeezed in and some cold yogurt. Here? If I can stop shivering enough to make some tea or hot chocolate, that’s what I do. We even bought an overpriced load of firewood from the landlady to cut the early morning chill. Unfortunately that meager load only lasted like four days, so we’re back to huddling under blankets until the sun starts to shine.

We arrived a little over a week ago, to what I can only suppose to be the devil’s chagrin. He worked pretty hard to make sure we couldn’t come. Out of two vehicles, both were in the shop, useless with mechanical problems up to about a day before we were scheduled to travel. The one we had planned to take, a diesel van with a huge trunk that never, ever has mechanical problems, of course became impossible to repair within the week. Our promises to the kids that they could bring bikes and a box of toys were revoked with not a little bit of pain. Thankfully our smaller vehicle made it, just in time (thank the Lord) and our plans held through. He made sure there were just enough little problems at home and around to keep us stressed and worried. He made sure there were enough discouraged believers to make us doubt and second guess our decisions. He hates the gospel. There’s no doubt about that.

And the devil wasn’t happy just to keep us on edge either. Nooo…..he’s been quite busy this month. He watched the family here in Magdalena, looking for ways to discourage them as well. He’s hit them this way and that, bringing problems and complications to disrupt their peace and joy.

It’s never easy to fight a spiritual battle yourself but in many ways I find it harder to watch others, especially new believers, be put to the test. It’s tough to have to just stand by and watch and pray and hope upon hope that they’ll come through.

Sharing the gospel is hard work everywhere. Mexico is no exception. Sometimes, we’re under the impression that here you simply start preaching and with a grand magnetic force, humans just appear out of nowhere. Not the case. Not here nor anywhere.

Before we ever arrived, the C family invited many of their friends, neighbors and families to come to the meetings. The truth is, of the few who came for the first time, only one came back. We have distributed many texts and calendars, we’ve knocked on doors and invited strangers. And no, there is no line up to get in to the meeting place.

I’ll tell you what there is, though. There’s a group of people who have had it with religion. All they want is Christ. There’s a group who is thirsting after God’s Word, after changed lives, after the reality of true Christianity. Some are saved, some are not, some maybe need some clarification. It doesn’t matter how many there are. Each individual is an eternal treasure of incalculable worth. We are grateful to God for one man so far who has professed salvation in Christ.

There are a few different families who have asked for the gospel meetings to be held in their homes, so Lord willing, we’ll be a week in each place. Last night we started at the second home, a family fairly distantly related to the C’s.

Some interesting things about Oaxaca:

  • The state’s southern coast is along the same fault line as California. There was actually an earthquake during meeting the other night.
  • Everybody here….everybody….loves eating grasshoppers. David eats them in tacos. I just can’t.
  • Because of its elevation and dry climate, central Oaxaca is significantly cooler than Campeche, even though we are farther south.
  • 500 years before Christ, the Zapoteco civilization thrived here, growing cotton among other things.
  • The famous Benito Juarez is from this state in Mexico.

I’m not so into update posts as storytelling, but will definitely try to keep you updated on how things are going. We’re incredibly grateful for all your prayers. Prayers for the people here that are believers, prayers for the gospel to flourish, prayers for ourselves, prayers for our kids as they tag along with us on our journey through life.

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.  

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.

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.

Paradise

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. 

Paradise, how I love you

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.