Of course, that doesn’t cover the entire trip. There were many things that we could not take pictures of lest we turn the trip into “poverty tourism.”
“When we’re bold for God, God is bold for us.” Fifteen-year-old Meaghan stares intently into my face, her finger pointing determinedly at the floor as she makes her statement again. “When we get bold for God… God gets bold for us! Why don’t we pray for sick people?” She’s frustrated. “Why have we stopped doing that?”
I don’t have an answer.
The scene around us is intense with color. Meaghan’s words ring powerfully in my ears and chest. This isn’t the classroom I taught her in. Where are we?
Before that gets answered, the dream starts again. Twice, I hear her give this speech. Twice, I feel her words ripple through me like spiritual waves. Then the first rooster crows, right outside my window, and I’m awake.
We loaded up the vans and a trailer and drove off the main road onto a dirt trail marked with a signpost saying, “Sendero,” ie., “path.” It was a narrow, windy road that took us into the hills, past small farms and homes until we reached a house by a riverbed. Gathered in the grass outside were many women, a few children, and a man in his sixties. They helped us unload our tables, chairs, and BBQ, and then we formed a circle and had a time of sharing.
The area in which we were was called “Descanso,” meaning “rest,” and Gloria, a member of La Hermosa Church, was their spokesperson even though she lived in town. Gloria told how she had met one of the women, Sol, how God had saved Sol, and how Sol now led a Bible study with all the women present. Then a young mother testified that the doctors had told her that her baby girl would never walk due to a deformity in her feet, but a team had come and prayed for the girl and her feet were healed and now she runs everywhere–which we could see!
Gary had asked me to play a few songs on the guitar, so we sang Feliz Navidad–because I figured everyone knew that song–and Amazing Grace. And then Jen said we needed to sing a Spanish worship song I had written 19 years earlier, the lyrics of which are roughly, “In this world we will have trouble, but He will give us His peace. The joy of Jesus is not short-lived nor false, but something of great power.” The chorus consists simply of “La, la, la, la, la, la, la” over and over, so it was easy for everyone to join in. And then we heard testimonies that were tough, the biggest one being: ten young men were kidnapped, including the son of one of the women present; the people prayed; the men were killed–except for the son, thank God.
Lots more happened here. Our kids played catch and other games with their kids. Jen and I sat with a woman and her 92 year-old mother-in-law. We talked and talked and ate the old lady’s dessert because she insisted and people her brought more than one plate’s worth. But the rest of that is Jen’s story.
One of the mothers of the CDL kids came with her two young daughters to the base and spoke to our team about the difficulties of their life before Casa de Luz. It was hard to leave her husband, even though it needed to be done because of how badly he treated her. She didn’t want her daughters to grow up seeing that kind of behavior.
Erin, co-director of CDL, translated and interviewed and told of the dramatic change she had seen in the lives of the two girls. At first, they were very shy, withdrawn, and unresponsive. Now they were filled with light, joy, and the kid-energy you’d expect. The mom said that at CDL the kids knew they were loved.
The mom spoke quite a bit about her firstborn, a boy, who is about 10 years older than her oldest daughter. He is working to put himself through school and is estranged from his father. Her heart has hope for him because a prophet had come to the church and prophesied over him while he was still in the womb, saying he would be a servant of God. The mom had said, “Oh, it’s a boy?” And then she raised the boy, and said he was never a problem, never.
As hopeful as that story was, I noticed she had no such story for her daughters and it broke my heart that the machismo in the culture carried over into her expectations for her daughters. So when it came time for people to pray for the mom and her family, I prayed in Spanish so that the mom and daughters would understand what I said. Of course, I can’t remember it now, it felt emotionally/spiritually inspired at the time, but it was along the lines of the girls growing up, encouraging each other, being strong in the Lord and the word, being lights on the path for each other and for many, many more that would follow them as they followed Christ.
It was a cold day.
We did a grocery run to Walmart–even in Mexico, I don’t like Walmart–to get supplies for another BBQ, this time in a place Gary called Brick Valley. I had been to Brick Valley before. Families live in shacks the size of garden sheds. They dig the dirt and clay out of the sides of the hills surrounding them, use their hands and feet to mix it with dung and grass, drop it into forms made from blocks of wood nailed together, let it dry in the sun and then bake it in mini outdoor kilns. Sounds and looks like the book of Exodus, right?
The road to get there is very difficult. I thought for sure that we’d lose the trailer with the BBQ on it, or bend the hitch, something. But it turned out we were just going to the very edge of the valley, not deep into it. The reason for that was that Martina, another La Hermosa Church member, lived near the edge of the valley and was therefore known to some of the people. We hosted the BBQ as a way of drawing a crowd to her so she could present to the local community.
Again I was asked to play and sing. I had already been vamping on some Mexican-flavored cords while Leia sang La, la, la with me, shaking a chicken-shake in her hand. At some point I handed the chicken-shake (a little plastic egg with beads inside with which one makes rhythm) to a barefoot three-or-four-year-old girl in a pink dress she must have worn for the last week. We played together for quite a while before the program started, so when it was time for me to perform, she was on too! Her sisters thought it was hysterical, and afterwards I gave her the egg to keep.
We sang the troubles-Jesus-joy song, which is hard to do when the audience really does have troubles and your troubles at home seem nothing in comparison, but at the same time Truth is Truth, and those words were Jesus’ words first, which I made a point of explaining.
After the message, while people stood in line and ate food, Jen and I sang a new Spanish version of my song “Jesus Wins.” That’s the totality of the lyrics in English. In Spanish, we sang, “The Lord Conqueror won/vanquished, still wins today, and will always win.” It felt powerful to stand on the edge of such poverty, such economic slavery, and declare in a way that the battle, the multi-sided, multi-layered battle for these people had already been won, that Jesus was still winning today, and that He’d win forevermore. It was like telling the darkness, “You’ve already lost, you’re losing now, and your days here are numbered.”
After setting off fireworks with the members of La Hermosa Church, the team went back to the base and I stayed for the three hour New Year’s Eve service.
Since Pastor Daniel still had laryngitis and sounded like Micky Mouse, Pastora Aleida led the service. We sang many songs, and had a time of reflection. I almost left, I was so tired from the day, but then we had a snack of pastries and fruit punch and I was refreshed. Pastora Aleida asked us to take time to mediate on the word and broken things being made new. They handed out paper and pens for us to write down declarations for the coming year. Then Pastora Aleida stepped up to speak. My heart began pounding. She said that her message was about …, and …, and a need for a prophetic word. I had to start writing. Had to. In Spanish. I wrote the verse in which the King asks Ester, “What is your petition, it shall be granted to you? And what is your requested, it shall be given, up to half the kingdom…” And then it went on from there. God was inviting the church to see its position as highly-favored with the ability to intercede on behalf of the community, name the evil it saw, expose it, present its petitions and requests to the King and have the evil removed. Scrawled in blue pen, front and back of the paper, I had something. Now what?
I approached Erin and slipped her the paper because being a visitor it seemed the respectful thing to do. I supposed that I could have asked to tag something onto the end of Pastora Aleida’s sermon, stood up and addressed the congregation, but how would that have played out? I was already not cool with machismo. Would being a white male have made it worse? “Uh, excuse me. White guy here. God’s talking to me, by the way, and here’s a little something for you.”
Erin liked what I had written and asked if I wanted to share it. I shrugged. She waited a few more minutes and then thought the “word” was for Pastora Aleida herself. That sounded better to me, seeing as she was the one asking for a prophetic word and the main character in the word, Ester, was a woman. So after the sermon, and after we gathered in a circle and “prayed in” the New Year, and after we all hugged each other, I handed the paper to Pastora Aleida and said a few words in private.
The women were invited to a local women’s prayer meeting. Jen took Cate and Aislin with her. It’s a good, but heavy story, and it’s not mine to share here. Sorry.
I will tell this story, though.
For two/three days Peter had been so sick he stayed in bed and I had such pressure in my head from a head cold that for most of the week it was difficult to think. It took a lot of effort to pray. I went to every morning prayer meeting I could, but the team never met as a whole team, only three or four people at a time were assigned to get together for prayer. The team felt fractured, the way prayer was divided up like a chore–like cleaning up after breakfast. Day after day felt like a missed opportunity to share vision and passion with each other, much less worship God or present needs together. Maybe we were “being Canadian polite” because one of the couples on our trip weren’t believers, but rather “spiritual” people who might sometimes visit card readers and wore totems, and came because the husband is involved in a lot of the shipping of stuff down to CDL. Strange. Also, another family, single mother and two sons, weren’t believers. Why did they come? I don’t know. But requiring these people to attend a prayer meeting every morning might have changed things for them…
Anyway, I expressed my difficulty thinking while at prayer with a teenager and a small boy, maybe 7 years old. The boy looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just read a verse and pray it?”
Wisdom, right? I didn’t explain to him that that’s mostly what I do anymore anyway, but I felt like God was encouraging me to do the same with him. So when he said he had already read a verse that morning, I asked him which one. Jen joined the group and we read the verse together. And then the boy read another verse. Both from Ecclesiastes 2. What a strange chapter to pull from. The first verse was about male and female slaves and servants born in the house, and the second verse was about the wealth of sinners being stored up for the righteous. So we prayed for the servants of God, male and female, that were already a part of the La Hermosa Church, and then that there would be more servants born in the house–come to Christ at La Hermosa. And then we prayed for God to continue to supply for La Hermosa using the wealth of those who weren’t saved–or not yet saved. And I thought of that “spiritual” couple on our team, Jon and Sue.
Gary invited a friend of his, Merve, a Canadian who has moved down to the area, to talk to the team about praying. Merve told stories about blessing people with your actions and your words, and shared that he has asked if he could pray for thousands of strangers in his lifetime, and that he’s only been rejected twice. Every other time, people accepted prayer. He said that when you pray, you invite God into the situation, then you listen to Him, and then you pray. Don’t worry about how bold the words might be, it’s up to God to deliver. You pray as you feel led.
We stacked the hampers we had made on Wednesday into multiple vans and split up into family groups to go pray with local families and bless them with our gifts. Each team had a guide from the La Hermosa Church, a guide who either knew the people or was already known to them. Our guide was Gloria, the lady who led our time at Descanso.
We had, in total, 5 hampers to give away. We gave 4 hampers away at the first house because 3 families lived there and a related family lived next door. In a one-story home that was smaller and more cramped than our home in Canada lived three generations of three families, all related. The grandmother–still living, standing, and in-charge–had raised 12 children in the home. While we were still in the van, Gloria told us that this was a spiritually difficult place. There was much idol worship involved. Gloria had wanted to engage this family somehow, and now with these food hampers she had a way.
Bearing gifts, we entered the patio area. We were immediately invited in. Gloria and the grandmother were acquaintances, so it was not completely strange. Grandma launched into her family story and her daughter who lives in California but no one can go visit because they don’t have any papers. The daughter, who must be at least 40, had been in a coma. Upon hearing this, Gloria had made contact with Grandma. Grandma refused to cry because tears do nothing. When she had finished telling her story, I politely told her that tears were not useless. I opened the Spanish Bible a friend had given me a few months before and showed Grandma the verse, “Jesus wept.” If Jesus wept, if God wept, tears are okay. God knows grief.
Then we prayed for the daughter.
Then we heard the story of a the son standing before us holding a chihuahua. His wife had died not fifteen days before from cancer. We prayed for him and his grief.
Then Gloria asked us to sing the “troubles-Jesus-joy-la-la-la” song. I hadn’t brought my guitar, so we all snapped so there was some rhythm. The whole household either listened or joined in at “la, la, la.” It felt a little like pouring vinegar on wounds. But that is how wounds heal, isn’t it?
By the time we were finished praying and telling stories, the youngest couple had made us a meal of fresh tortillas filled with diced potatoes and diced hotdogs. They also had a home-made spicy sauce, which I tried. Once. It was my excuse to not eat the seconds they offered us. I had fire in my belly.
After vising Grandma and her clan, we went to see a woman who had been the mayor of the city. Gloria told us her name was Nita and that she was having a difficult time. She had done a lot for the city, but now she was unemployed and no one was “remembering their family.” We knocked on the door with our last hamper. Nita was not home. Her sister Elisabed answered the door. Gloria helped guide Elisabed in shaking our hands, Elisabed was that blind. Gloria and Elisabed had a conversation, which I translated while thinking about the verses I’d been reading all week, Isaiah 53:4-5, after having that dream and in an effort to encourage myself considering how sick Peter and I had been.
Gloria asked to pray. Elisabed accepted the offer. When Gloria finished, I asked if we could pray for Elisabed’s eyes. She said yes. Gloria began to cry. I opened that Spanish Bible again and read Isaiah 53:4-5. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our trangressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” And then we prayed. We prayed that God would open her eyes, and we welcomed Him to come, day after day, week after week, year after year and show His unending love to Elisabed and Nita.
At that moment, God did not heal Elisabed.
Before we left, through Gloria, we gifted Elisabed that Spanish Bible. Gloria took it as hope that God would eventually heal Elisabed and she’d learn to read the Bible for herself. Gloria told us that she loves the teams from Canada. She had been praying and praying for a way to meet the needs of the people in her community and to introduce them to Jesus, and we had come and given her the key she needed to enter locked doors.
And then Gloria went to work.
I was challenged. Gloria, a woman easily in her late fifties, works to live. And she missed work to pray with people. The morning she spent with us either cost her pay, or it meant she worked hours later than normal. But all she cared about–all she cared about, was getting these people connected with Jesus.
That afternoon, Nita came by CDL to say thank you to the team for the baskets. She cried because she’s been so broke these last few weeks. She wanted Gary to pray for her. He did. While he did, I kept seeing a rainbow over her heart. I explained to Nita that I saw a rainbow over her heart and that in the Bible God used a rainbow to make a promise. He had a promise for her. Then Cate prayed too, in Spanish. I helped a little. Essentially, Cate saw God’s promise as a new job, so she prayed and gave thanks for that.
And More Prayer
Later, back at the base, I made small talk with our chef Nora. Chef Isabel was inside, doing the tortilla preparations, but Nora was outside working the charcoal grill, getting carne asada ready for dinner. We talked about many things, but eventually got around to her son, Rojelio, who is making a lot of bad decisions and hanging out with the wrong people. Drug culture. She told me she’d had the same problems with her husband, but that she had prayed and prayed and God answered and her husband left that lifestyle and is now part of the church. To me, that was the invitation to pray with her, so I asked if we could pray. At that exact moment, Jesse, a member of our team who was virtually co-raised in drug culture, came by. Having already heard his testimony and having gotten to know him over the week, I asked if he wanted to join us. Boy, was he game. I had to translate. Nora cried and said thank you. And later, when Nora’s husband came by to walk her home, Jesse randomly met him and wanted to pray with him too, not even knowing who he was or why he was there.
It was a good, yet emotionally hard day. The kind of day I’d hoped for, actually. One of those days where you know God is meeting with His people to meet the needs of people, and you get to be part of that crowd. It’s an honor. And a thrill. And reminder that God knows.
Ride back and Commitment to Pray
On the ride back to the border I listened to Erin tell stories of the youth pastor, Carlos, and Jonathan, one of the teens. Jonathan, essentially, no longer has a home. No father in his life, and his mom parties hard in the drug culture. He needs a place to live. And his best friend died two weeks ago, poisoned on the way home from the beach by a stranger. I couldn’t imagine the kind of grief young Carlos, only 22, would have to counsel this teenage boy through, but I added them both to my prayer list:
People to pray for
- Tony & Erin, Bella, Lucas, Joshua, Olivia
- Earl & Rhonda, Owen, Phoenix, Hayden
La Hermosa Church
- Pastors Daniel & Aleida
- Youth Pastor Carlos (Jonathan and the other teens)
- Film guy: Hector
- Musician: Victor, wife and young daughter
- Chefs: Isabel, Nora (and her son Rojelio)
- Ismael & Fabby, Becky, Liz, plus many more
- Kids: Jose Luis, Karol, Uziel, Adan, Fanny, Suzed, Camila
- Descanso: Micayla, Sol: small group leader
- Brick Valley: Martina
- Around town: Gloria the evangelist (Grandma & clan; Nita & Elisabed)
- The families that were already saved and/or experienced God in a new way (Christi and Mark and their boys; Jesse and Steph and their boys; Ed and his wife and kids; Scott and Sarah and their daughters; Matt; Halle)
- The families that were not yet saved, and their need to experience God (Jon and Sue; Theresa and Noah and Elijah)
I read Psalm 42 one morning, after days of experiences that weighed on my heart and while coming to grips with what was not happening on this trip, and I went out on the balcony and composed verse 11 on my guitar. Upon coming home, it wouldn’t leave my head, so I recorded it on piano.