Our trip appeared to have a smooth start. Thankfully, God provided the necessary finances. We drove safely to Charlotte, but by God’s providence, our flight was delayed close to two hours. Consequently, we did not make it to Dallas/Fort Worth in time to connect to McAllen, TX. Graciously, we received food vouchers and a hotel to try again next morning. For whatever reason, God did not want us in Mexico yet. Maybe it was so that our shuttle driver, Yousef, could receive a gospel tract? Maybe it was so that the team could bond more, or get extra rest? We don’t know for sure. Nevertheless, God is sovereign. He makes no mistakes. “In Him we live and move and have our very existence.” We trust that God will bring us to Mexico safely, and that His timing is perfect.
God brought us safely here to Mexico. We trust God in His timing, as today, while having breakfast with a fellow team member, I shared a gospel tract with our waitress in the airport. In McAllen, TX, we were greeted by Pastor Efrain and the Daniel family—ministers in Rio Bravo. As we crossed the US-Mexican border, it was almost surreal—no other place have I been immersed in a culture with a different language than English. At ICCD, members from two local churches greeted us with great joy. Tossing confetti upon as, and preparing a delicious lunch, they considered us more important than themselves, which is truly Christlike love. Yes, the heat of the day can be exhausting (one member had a severe reaction), but God is good. For dinner, we had an amazing meal at a local restaurant. Clearly, we Americans stuck out, as three different people walked up to us from the street to either sell candy or roses. Today, we especially ministered to the local ministers and their families through games and fellowship. Tomorrow, our goal is to fulfill the call of missions: proclaim the gospel.
Tonight was the first night of VBS. It was located in an “upper-lower” class neighborhood in Rio Bravo. We didn’t know how many kids would show up, especially since the local school denied our entrance to pass out fliers. A handful of kids showed up at six o’clock, but they kept on coming—all the way to 30! God was gracious in how the night proceeded. Though separated by language, my limited vocabulary allowed me to communicate on a basic level, and more so via an interpreter. I had the opportunity to teach a Bible lesson and even a memory verse, the latter almost entirely in español. We had lot of fun, and I even scored a goal in futbol…against third and fourth graders. Most importantly, the gospel was clearly presented. This is missions!
Our team had a little extra time for rest and recreation this morning. Many of us took a ride on the zip-line. However, the men (not the women, though) have been bitten many, many times by what seems to be bugs. We have not narrowed it down to which bug, and why only the men have been affected, but a couple are covered in these bites. We don’t know why God allowed this, but we trust His plan, and pray for progress in treatment. VBS was good once again, where we saw at least five visitors. While my Spanish is limited, many of my third and fourth graders know me well as “Juan.” Overall, the night was exciting, and we earnestly expect God to be at work in these next few days as we preach the gospel and build relationships—even if we aren’t united by language, we are/can be through the work of Christ.
The sun was scorching hot this morning as I helped reinforce wiring along a chicken fence. I cut my fingers, I got sun burn in the 106 degree heat, and experience digestive problems as a result of this. We followed the instructions of a Mexican man named Aurelio, who is in charge of the landscaping work of the ICCD campus. It’s humbling to think of how hard this man works—truthfully I wonder if I caused more or less work for him. Although I felt sick to start the VBS, I prayed that God would allow me to lead the third and fourth graders well, especially since I was teaching the evangelistic Bible lesson. As I taught, I believe God spoke through me. Pastor Salvador gave a fervent evangelistic invitation to close the teaching time, and several responded positively to the pastor. God kept me healthy through it all and was active in our group. Xochitl (pronounced So-chee), an ICCD, Spanish-speaking missionary even commented that my lesson was “very good,” and that the kids listened so carefully in my group and in the other two (grades 1-6 in all). We finished the night at a surprisingly modern ice cream shop, which was a nice treat. While my health weakened after a three-hour night sleep, I am joyful for God’s powerful presence this day!
After a more relaxed morning than usual (for most of us), we visited the homes of three deaf children associated with ICCD. At the first house, one man (uncle of two deaf kids) provides for his family by driving buses, yet is the only one who sleeps on the floor while the others have their own beds. The family of the second home is supported by the father’s taco stand business. ICCD played a major role in helping deaf children acquire necessary skills for making a decent living, and especially to know Jesus. At VBS we had a record-high attendance, with several more responding positively to a gospel invitation. Afterwards, Pastor Salvador invited us to his beautiful home for an extraordinary evening. We had a delicious dinner, accompanied by bottled sodas (Coke, apple, and strawberry), sweet desserts, and even a Mexican mug filled with their country’s famous candies. He makes $13 per month from his church (after having a very good paying job, where he was laid off), yet provided a night I will not forget.
As we walked along the streets of Nuevo Progresso, a US-Mexican border city, it was quite obvious that we American were prime targets for local vendors. I bought a backpack from one man for a price he said was $2 cheaper than the guy next to him (not an uncommon sales pitch in Nuevo Progresso). I liked it so much that I returned for a second. When he asked me if I could take out of the filling on the latter occasion, I realized he only had one arm (the other attendant helped the first time). Many Mexicans struggle to make ends meet, with some having more obstacles than others. We finished our VBS week with over forty students in attendance. Our hosting church prepared hot dogs for everybody and provided each leader from my home church, Colonial Baptist of Blue Ridge, VA, with certificates of ministry. It was hard saying goodbye to my Mexican brothers- and sisters-in-Christ, as well as those who have not received Jesus.
I will miss the “jokesters,” Refugio and Cesar.
I will miss the bilingual and warm-spirited Justin.
I will miss the kindness of Enrique.
I will miss the passionate messengers of the gospel, such as Salvador, Efrain, and Edgar.
I will miss the delicious food from the ladies who were so hard working in the kitchen, before, during, and after meals.
I will miss the fun fellowship with the Daniel family.
I will miss the unifying partnership in the gospel from both my Mexican and American hermanos y hermanas.
To be sure, I am extremely eager to be back in Roanoke, Virginia with my family and the comforts of the US, like air conditioning and fewer bugs. This has been a trip I will hold in my heart forever. I have been admonished to speak the gospel with much more earnestness. I have been reminded, and in many ways, taught, of how huge God truly is. His providential work in missions outshines beauty that can be found in art and nature. God does not desire that Mexicans be left in ignorance, as pertaining to the gospel. By taking part in this trip, I am thankful to have been privileged to be one of the few that have preached the gospel to the precious people of Rio Bravo, Mexico.