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.

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.  

La Reina

She is often little more than a despotic queen. Demanding and unpredictable yet maddeningly indispensible, she ascertains man’s heart of fear and his soul of dependence. She is a moody monarch: one day deceptively sweet, honeying man out to her depths, the next roaring with insatiable anger and destroying whatever be in her all-encompassing path. She knows he can do nothing against her and will merely wait for the squall to pass before re-entering her enslaving waves to search for a few fish to feed his family. For without her, they will starve. 

It is the story of all fishing villages, of all the world, of all ages. 

Life is found within her watery swells. She yields kilo after kilo of shrimp and fish, putting food on the table and cash in the pocket. It keeps the economy running: women stand huddled around large wooden tables, sorting, processing, dying shrimp for many hours and happily arrive home with a few extra pesos tucked into the top of their shirt. Trucks arrive to haul loads all the way to Mexico City. They can buy their kids’ shoes, finish stuccoing their house, take the Virgin for a spin in their boat to thank her for their success. 

Except it’s not always like that. 

Men go out in the early morning, a few to a boat, loaded up with gasoline, nets and high spirits. All morning, the hot tropical sun beating down on their leathered skin, they throw the nets this way, then that. Nothing. They head back. Again in the evening, another try. Nothing. 

What will their family eat? Never mind meat and vegetables. Just a few pesos for some tortillas, a few fish to fry and share. They have no choice but to try again. 

They go all night, all the long, dark night. Nothing. 

Desperation strikes. They head farther out to open sea, farther from the relative safety of the bay. Out to where there is possibly some hope. 

Far, far out on the eastern horizon the clouds are rising, cumulating into dark, frightening masses. They are out too far, there is so little hope. Some make it home, some do not, their little fishing boats tossed like little toys on the violent sea. Her rage hardly mitigated even for the desperate cries of desperate men. 

But the ones who make it home have no choice. It does not matter they have almost lost their lives. Their family has to eat. 

Out they go, again and again. Searching, hauling, mending. Ceaseless, driving force to provide at least something. 

They head out, just as the bright red sun sends its final rays flickering across the rippling sea.  It’s just two of them this time. The boat is fully loaded, ready for an all-nighter. They wave good-bye to the family on the beach who watches their boat when not in use, and off they go. Gone for a few kilos of fish. 

They go and night falls, the sea rocking to drowsiness her unsuspecting dependents as a mother lulls her baby to sleep. 

Days go by and they don’t return. Not on the first, nor second, nor the third. The families begin to get desperate, but who has money to pay for the gas to go look for your husband, your father, your brother? The fourth, the fifth. 

Some men finally go, out again to the depths of the sea. 

There! Finally one cries. There, oh, there they must be! Oh, the grief, the disillusion! The demolished fragments of what had once been a fishing boat, floating all alone on that azure field of waves. Struck, no doubt by a large ship, unseen in the blackness of midnight. Farther on, what had once been a man, now recognizable only by a chain he wore. The other, lost. Completely lost. 

I am at this moment at a loss for words, for these are true stories. The men lost in a sudden storm happened 3 years ago, the two men just last week. 

They lived here, they worked here. Their wives and children are up the street, grieving. 

There was no option. For all the danger, for all the uncertainty the life of a fisherman affords, there is little choice but to go again and again into those murky waters and hope for just a little catch. The sea, like an abusive relationship, can burn their skin, can steal their sleep, can take their very lives, but man will always go back to her again and again. Civilization demands it, the economy demands it, their children’s empty stomachs demand it most of all. 

And what can one do? I suppose my three year old said it best. 

Mommy, I hope God saves all the fishermen. 

So do I, little man. So do I. 

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. 

Obedience, Simply

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
Beach at Emiliano Zapata, Campeche

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.