Monday, May 29, 2006

Mexico: Part 7

Tuesday, March 14

By the time Marshall and I awoke, Josue had already left for school. (By the way, I don't think I have explained that Josue is pronounced Ho-sway.) We did all those normal morning things that you do and ate breakfast. Because of the time I have allowed to slip by between the trip and writing about it now, I don't remember what we did for breakfast each individual day. I do know that one day (perhaps not this day) we had tortas. They are sandwiches made from little oval loaves of white bread, on which is spread cream (kind of a cross between cream cheese and sour cream), a slice of cheese and some sliced ham. Jalapeños were optional, which of course I accepted. The tortas were great! Since returning I have even made my lunches like that, spreading cream cheese on bread and making sure to load up on jalapeños or chopped hot peppers.

Again this morning, we were going to the Landrums' for Team Time, but before we left, Josue returned home. He explained that he arrived at school too late and the doors were locked. So since he had a suddenly free day with nothing else to do, Marshall suggested he accompany us. Nancy agreed to let him go, and we headed out to the bus stop. Soon we got off at the stop for the Landrums' house.

During the team time I felt sorry for Josue because he doesn't know English, and that's all we spoke in! Eventually it came time to leave for the bus station to take us toward San Juan de los Lagos. We would be stopping to eat in Lagos de Moreno, where the Landrums used to serve several years ago.

On the walk to the station, we passed a construction site where they were putting up a commercial building. It was right at the street, and we were walking on the sidewalk only a foot or two from the construction--there were no fences, barriers, tarps, etc. keeping people away from the action!

The fare to Lagos was only about three dollars on a coach for the near-hour ride. It was a pleasant ride, providing ample opportunity to see the countryside, which was quite deserted: few trees, much scrub brush, and few houses. At one point, traveling through a more populated area, we saw a lot of sizeable white stucco houses with terra cotta roof tiles. "Casas de ricos," Josue explained. Rich people. It was ironic, because when you think of a southwestern style house in America, or see things like Taco Bell with their stucco walls, you tend to think of that as being a Mexican style house...which it is, only for the rich.

In Mexico they do have a lot of familiar stores. One which was on our normal bus route home was Wal-Mart supercenter ("Precios bajos. Siempre.") There were also Home Depot and McDonald's, and this Goodyear service center Ken saw in Lagos.

When we arrived in Lagos de Moreno (which means Brown Lakes), Craig took us to a shopping mall, not heavily patronized in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, to eat lunch. There were several restaurants to choose from, but most of us ended up ordering from the same traditional Mexican place. They had enchiladas, quesadillas, hamburgers, the like. I ordered chicken enchiladas: three enchiladas on a large plate, with lettuce, cheese and red or green salsa (I don't remember which one I got). The salsa was sufficiently hot, rather liquid, and soaked all the food, so every bite was spicy! I have since discovered I can achieve the same effect at home by pouring the water from a jar of sliced jalapeños over my food.

While we were ordering, a ten-year-old boy came around, apparently begging for money (not an uncommon sight in Mexico). We all turned him down, but he took a seat at a table next to us. Willie did give him a tract, though, which was in the style of a comic strip.

Marshall also ordered some enchiladas, but began to feel a little bit nauseated. He didn't push himself and only ate a few bites. A little while later, he had an idea.

"Ryan, why don't you ask that kid if he wants my food? He may not have had anything yet today."

"Yeah, okay," I agreed, intrigued by the fact that in the U.S. we (or I) don't usually talk to people so freely whom I don't know. But this is how you can minister to people and practice the love of God.

"¿Quisiera esta comida?" I asked him ("Would you like this food?"). He gladly took the plate and got some utensils from the restaurant, and proceded to clean the entire plate. Not a normal feat for a ten-year-old.

After most of us finished eating, Celina, who was fluent in Spanish, went over to the boy's table and began talking to him about the gospel and what it said in the tract.

While many of us were praying for the boy and Celina's witness to him, Celina later reported that he did make a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus! She gave him the phone number of some believers in the area, but only the Lord knows if he was able to contact them. Again, He knows what kind of a family he has and what living conditions he is in; they might discourage any faith in him. His name is Juan, and he could use our continued prayer.

Meanwhile, as Willie and some others were passing out tracts to the few people around, a policeman in the building discovered them and stated they couldn't do that here. As I heard the story, he wanted/needed contact information for people who could explain more about what the literature was about, so they gave him the contact phone number on a tract! Perhaps he read it later.

After everyone was collected, we walked back to the bus station to continue on to San Juan de los Lagos (St. John of the Lakes). We got there in time to miss the most recent bus, and the next would arrive in half an hour. Craig was kind of dissatisfied with that amount of waiting time and inquired at another bus line's ticket desk. They said a bus would be there in twenty minutes. Well, twenty minutes turned into an hour! (That's Mexico.) To pass the time, we talked and some of the students played a card game on the floor of the station.

On the bus to San Juan, Craig met another American, not a christian, and Celina witnessed to the young woman next to her almost the whole time. God's word will not return void! We must continue to pray for these people.

From the station in San Juan, we all took taxis to the cathedral. Entering in the back, we saw the confessional booths. How tragic to think people think you have to confess your sins to another person because you can't approach God Himself!

Next, we went into the trophy room. It had a lofty ceiling, and pegboard covered the stone walls. Literally the walls were letters, photos, soccer trophies, motorcycle helmets, jerseys, locks of hair, crucifixes, children's crayon drawings, communion dresses, paintings... They were all tokens of thanks to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos, because supposedly she answered prayers made to her at this shrine, whether for healing from an illness, a game won, or some other request. All the letters were addressed to the Virgin of San Juan. Of course the virgin is supposed to be Mary, but there is also the Virgin of Guadalupe, the virgin of this town, the virgin of that place... It's effectively not the same person, because people address the virgin of each individual place. It was heart wrenching to see the utter idolatry of the country in this room. Occasionally the caretakers of the building come through and clean it all out. I think I heard that the amount of stuff on the walls there was only about six months' worth! You see, six million people go through that cathedral every year! The disparity between the wealth the church gets and the non-wealth of the general population is despicable.

From there we made our way into the "sanctuary," where the stench of incense filled my nostrils. A mass had just begun. At other times, we were told, you might see people walking down the center aisle on their knees. At the front of this cavernous main room is an altar to a three-foot-tall doll, representational of Mary.

Back in the 1500's there was a situation where someone had supposedly died, so another person who had this Mary doll laid it on the "dead" person, who revived. Thus they enshrined the doll. The whole town was built around the cathedral and the doll, and it is now a profitable institution for the Catholic church in Mexico.

Everything in that building spoke to me of death, between the 3/4 life size dead Jesus on a cross off to the side, and the pitiable, blind worship of this image. We made our way to the back of the the "sanctuary" (nothing sanctified about it) and noticed, as the chanting prayers and songs were raised, there was an old man in the back row, on his knees, arms upstretched, rosary in one hand, whose voice soared over those of everyone else. He was dedicated or desperate, and hoplessly lost in his religion! It was a horror to see. He obviously was clinging tight to the Catholic religion to get him in favor with God.

Josue was especially glad to leave, since he is so much more aware of the hold the religion has on the populace, and the deadness of it. In the U.S., you usually don't see such dedication as the Mexicans have to the Catholic faith, nor the superstition.

Craig said that every year when he brings the Emmaus Bible College students to San Juan to show them the pitiable state of the Mexicans in their beliefs, it's a real "downer" of a day, with which I quite agree.

Just before we headed back to Leon, a couple of us took a detour to the restroom...they were pay restrooms. A rather foreign concept here in the States, but it helps to pay for the cleaning services. It was only 3 pesos, or about 30 cents, so it wasn't a bother to pay. It was just a bit funny, you know?

On the trip back, we all were seated together in the rearmost seats in the bus. Ryan was folding some origami again, and for quite a long time Emily, Josue, Ken and I were talking and having a lot of fun! I learned all the Spanish names of the fingers: Thumb = pulgar, index = indice, etc. If you want to know them too, just ask!

We got home after dark, so it was past 9:00 pm, and we had supper at our host familys' homes. Normal Mexican time for supper. At Nancy and Cuco's house, Nancy's father was there visiting, and we told him we were at the cathedral of San Juan that day. He told me to take a look at Jeremiah 7:17-18:
Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger.
It startled me to see the phrase "Queen of Heaven" in there, for that is what they call Mary. It was just so similar to Catholicism in that it was creepy. The passage goes on to declare that the Lord GOD (the name used when God made the covenant with Abraham and David) would pour out his wrath on those people for their idolatry.

We too should be careful if we think we are not idolatrous like the Israelites were or Mexicans are. We all have things we put in priority before Christ, and anything like that is an idol. Before God, all sin is equal, so blatant, open idolatry is just as offensive as idolatry hidden in the heart.

Well, again I don't remember the specifics of what we did at the home. Often times, after we supposedly went to bed, Marshall and I would talk for quite a while. One night early in the week we talked about military aircraft and top secret airplanes. It was a subject I had some knowledge of and an interest in ever since I was about thirteen.

Nights were warm, the window in our room was always open, and we slept without sheets or blankets on us. The pillows were rock hard (I never got quite used to it) but we did sleep well after a long day!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mexico: Part 6

Monday, March 13

The next day dawned and Marshall and I got up at our usual time, 7:30. I think Nancy made us huevos revueltos, scrambled eggs, that morning. She mixed chopped bacon and cheese into it. Great way to make eggs!

We were scheduled to meet at the Landrums' home at 10:00 for "team time," and we needed to get there somehow. Cuco left early for work, Josue left for school around 7:15, and Nancy was going into work around 9:30. As it worked out, Nancy's father, also a believer, came by in his car to drive us over to the Landrums', and Nancy to work. (She sells advertising in a local newspaper.) So we ended up getting to the Landrums' house first of all the students!

When I first stepped outside on this morning I was surprised at how warm it was! I asked Marshall if this day was any warmer than Saturday. "About the same," he replied. And to think I was chilly even in long pants and a jacket Saturday. I was definitely not well! Thus it was refreshing and cause for praise to the Lord again for my restoration to health.

By this time in the week, Marshall had already taken around 500 MB of photos and he wanted to burn them to a CD, so, with Brenda's gracious permission, we went upstairs to the office and I helped Marshall with his project. Meanwhile, everyone else arrived, and we became late for the meeting because of the computer work!

After a short devotional given by Ryan, we sang a few songs accompanied by Willie on his guitar, and then Craig told us some history of how he and his wife became missionaries.

Soon I found out the talents of Ryan and Scott. Ryan was very interested in origami and was folding some paper cranes. We found this interesting because I used to be big into origami when I was younger, and we both have the same first name. When I pulled out the juggling balls I brought along, Scott eagerly began trying to juggle four, for he was pretty good at three already and had good form.

After lunch, with which we enjoyed some mangos, we headed over to the kinder where we were to meet some others of the church for evangelism. The day prior to our arrival in Mexico first contacts were made in the neighborhood of the kinder, where they handed out tracts and asked the people to read them. Today were the followup visits in which we would ask the people what they thought about what they had read, and explain the gospel. Obviously we don't speak Spanish that well, so Ken and I were teamed up with Alberto, and everyone else was matched to a Spanish-speaker as well.

Not too many houses out, Alberto had a chance to talk at lenght with a middle-aged woman named Margarita. I didn't catch a lot of what they were saying, but it was very encouraging to see that she was (mildly) interested, and polite enough to chat. As we left after about fifteen minutes, Alberto pointed out a small sticker on the gate, which featured la Virgén de Guadalupe, some popular virgin Mary shrine. So much more we appreciated the opportunity to converse with her!

As we moved on, many people were not home, and since we were unclear exactly which streets to cover, many people received the tracts for the first time. After a couple of blocks, however, there was one elderly woman seated outside a little shop who, when asked what she thought of the tract she received, said distainfully, "I don't have an opinion; it doesn't interest me." How sad to see a soul, likely convicted by the gospel contained in that tract, dismiss it callously. So many people are set in their ways, trusting in the rituals of the Catholic Church for salvation, that it may be enough to discourage one. But knowing that the little church on the east side of town was built from such as these is assurance that God's Spirit working in people's hearts, co-laboring with faithful witnesses produces fruit!

After making use of the allotted time, we returned to the kinder. There we shared with one another how things went and enjoyed some more fellowship.

Here Ken and Emily are talking with Alberto

Next on the agenda was a trip to downtown Leon to see a little bit of the city, which also offered a chance to do some souvenir shopping. All the students, Ken and I, and Craig picked up the big bus, la oruga and began the trip. The orugas are interesting buses. They are about one and a half times as long as American city buses, and accordian-hinged in the middle. It's from this that it gets the name oruga, which means caterpillar! There is a lot more standing room in Mexican buses than American, because it is a more common mode of travel. Everyone uses it! Even middle school students going to and from school.

We walked a few blocks from the bus stop downtown, passing many leather shops on the way. Leather and women's shoes seem to be the biggest industry in Leon, judging by the number of shops specializing in them!

We soon reached the square, which was square. And big. And had more people in it than you would ever see in a similar setting in the States. Mexican people love to hang out outside! It did so happen that there was some sort of political/communist rally-type event ocurring there which did account for a large chunk of the people, but still there were so many just enjoying the weather, shopping, etc. In the center of the square was a fountain that was the image of lions standing in a pool with a large bowl on their backs. They were the lions of Leon. Los leones de Leon. We got a pretty good group picture there:

Beth, Emily, Scott, me, Marshall, Ken
Celina, Amy, Caleb, Willie

Everywhere we went, Willie was handing out tracts, repeating the phrase taught him: "Le regalo un folleto" ("I 'gift' you with a pamphlet," indicating the fact that it was free). It was a real encouragement to see his enthusiasm and single-mindedness for evangelizing according to his ability.

Making our way around the square, Craig recommended a certain ice cream shop there, so we all bought some ice cream. It seemed blueberry was a favorite among us. While there, Willie met a young couple sitting at a table. Because he knows, practically speaking, no Spanish, he soon called Ken over to interpret. It turned out these folks were Christians and excited to hear about the mission we Americans were there for. They even exchanged e-mail addresses with Ken and urged him to contact them if we were ever in the area again! The brotherly bond in Christ is boundless!

While Ken was talking to them, the rest of us purchased and finished our ice cream. So while Ken got his, Willie got talking to another man outside and enlisted the help of Craig. Craig and this man talked for a good long time, possibly 20-25 minutes. He reported to us that the man had been in the Catholic church, tried Buddhism, and several other things, apparently trying to find a religion that really worked. He's another soul needing fervent prayer.

Also during that time, a man and his teenaged son came by and set up a homemade marimba on the stone-paved walkway and began to play some tunes. This was something quite typical in Mexico, especially when they hopefully solicited tips from the bystanders.

Finally we were all ready to go, so we made our way back to the bus stop, Willie dealing out tracts all the way. We had to switch buses partway through the trip, and one of them was packed. Do you know what Mexicans do when there's no room on the bus? They don't wait for another...they pack it tighter! We were literally shoulder to shoulder and back to back to everyone on the bus. Craig was shouting our destination for us to hear. "Next stop!" The buses only stop for about a minute, which, for a vehicle that packed, made it possible that people would either miss their stop or miss their bus, depending on which side of the doors they were. We were concerned that only some of us would make the stop! Nevertheless, with much pushing and "Con permiso!" we all got off together.

Mexican bus rides are a blast! Adventure! Excitement!

Anyway, we headed over to the Landrums' favorite restaurant, Tacos Don Luis. As you can see, like all Mexican store-fronts, the restaurant was open across its whole width to the street. Never have I had better, more authentic tacos! There were choices of pork, beef, and sausage, with or without cheese, and you could add as much lettuce, onion, or hot sauce (yeah!) as you wanted. The tables were about waist high, and you could either sit on stools or stand to eat. They had Coke, Sprite, and a couple of other choices of beverages, served in glass bottles. That's something you don't find here. We ordered what we wanted and watched in awe as the men chopped, cooked, fried and assembled the meat and tortillas into tacos. Using blisteringly hot griddles. With bare hands. They could grab a tortillas, throw some meat in it, throw some hot sauce on it, throw it on a paper plate and hand it to you in five seconds, absolutely no kidding. That's Fast Food! Once you were done with your tacos or quesadillas, a waiter might come by and take more orders, delivering them to you.

Like I said, great food. And great service. All at a cheap price. Each taco was about 80 pesos, or close to 80 cents American. The cost of living in Mexico is much cheaper, as is the average income, so I'm not really sure what it was like for a Mexican to pay 80 pesos, but it sure was cheap for me.

Good music too. Eventually a man came in with a boombox, and the restauranteurs pointed him to a spot in the restaurant and an electrical outlet. He plugged in the boombox, which he held in his hand, pulled out a notebook of handwritten words, and proceded to sing to accompaniment tracks on a CD. The musical style was Ranchero, specifically Vicente Fernandez songs, if that means anything to you. Fernandez and his son, Alejandro, are amazingly popular singers in Mexico, and my dad has a couple of their CD's from his business trips down there years ago. It's really nice, traditional Mexican music. So this man was singing these songs, without amplification, and he was clearly heard above the cacophany of the restaurant. Quite a talent that man has!

When dinner was over--probably around 9:30 pm (lunch is usually around 3)--Craig told Marshall and me that we had to take the bus by ourselves back home. He told us what bus stop we were at and which one we had to go to. We were both good-naturedly nervous about it, but it couldn't have been simpler. (By the end of the week we were old pros.) We got home and I told Nancy and Cuco what we did that day. Nancy asked what we were doing tomorrow, Tuesday. Going to San Juan de los Lagos, I replied, to see the cathedral. Josue joked, "On your knees?" The cathedral there is a big pilgrimage spot where millions of people come to every year, often on their knees. Even some in the church in Leon made the pilgrimage before they trusted in Christ alone for their salvation, believing that all their so-called righteousness was as filthy rags before God. But more about that in my accounting of the next day.

We showed them Marshall's digital pictures on the TV, which they enjoyed immensely, then I think played dominoes and eventually went to bed around midnight.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mexico: Part 5

Sunday, March 12, continued

After the services were over and food was being spread out on the table in the back room, I met and talked to a few more people. Soon I joined Ken and Amy talking to Juan, who was sharing his testimony of how he came to trust in the Lord, and how he evangelized his wife and she got saved too. Juan is the father of Fernando, the guitar player.

By this time, the food was smelling delicious. That was a good sign, considering the smell of food the day before was unappetizing. It was announced that the visitors from the United States would go through the food line first, and of them, the ladies first.

There was quite a variety of food. You could make your own sandwiches, tacos... I don't even remember all that there was! I remember grabbing a couple of tortillas and a variety of mixed foods to fill them with. And I made sure to get some jalapeños!

An interesting note: In the U.S., disposable plates, whether paper, styrofoam or cardboard, are round. In Mexico most of what I saw were rectangular! They do have round ones, but apparently they're not as common.

Though I did not fill myself with food, my hunger was satisfied. I still didn't want to push myself for fear of becoming sick again. Of course we had Coke to drink, too.

After the meal, I headed out the back door, which opened into a little yard. Josue and his 16-year-old friend Samuel were playing guitars together. When he saw me, Josue offered his guitar to me to play something, and in a little while he showed me a bit of a song he was working on learning.

We stayed outside for quite a long time, and Fernando began to play and sing all kinds of songs with his guitar, mostly hilarious renditions of popular songs including "Besame" and "Volare." He was really good, especially at flamenco style, and his fingering on the strings was so precise! As you can see from the picture, everyone was having a grand time!

Brenda Landrum said that these Mexicans were so gregarious and loving a good time that you never knew what they might do or want you to do for fun. Somehow, they began coercing each other to step into the ring of people enjoying the music and do a little flamenco (or whatever we thought was flamenco) dancing. Ha ha! Yes, even I got it over with when they selected me.

Ken and I also enjoyed a small game of basquetbol with Alberto and Susana.

After the basketball game, I rejoined the (still) singing group and learned a couple of Christian songs, one of which Hannah the Landrums' daughter had written.

Gracias Jesus, porque tu me salvaste
De la muerte
Gracias Jesus porque tu me amaste tanto
Hasta morir en la cruz. Jesus

(Thank you Jesus, because you saved me
From death
Thank you Jesus, because you loved me so much
to die on the cross. Jesus)

Another person whom I remember with fondness was a man named Chuy. Throughout the day, he would pass by one of us Americans and tap him on the shoulder. When he would look around to see who was requestion attention, Chuy would have the most matter-of-fact normal look on his face as though he never did it. I've seen people in the U.S. do this, but not with as much success as Chuy!

As the time approached 6:30, we all got ready to leave for the park, where we would do some evangelism. People piled into the Landrums' vehicle, Oscar's van, and Chuy's pick-up and headed out.

Here's another fun aspect of Mexican culture: vehicle packing. It's not unusual to pack as many people as can possibly fit in any vehicle, whether a two door hatchback, pick-up truck, or bicycle (I saw a whole family of four on one bike! Father pedaling, and mother and small child on the back rack, and another small child on the handlebars!). Admittedly, it's quite dangerous, and they do have accidents because of this kind of thing, but it sure was fun.

After we stopped at my host family's home to pick up Nancy, there were about fifteen people in the back of the truck. Nancy brought a bottle of diet Coke with her. Remember what Brenda had said about the Mexicans being a little unpredictable? Well they began passing the bottle of Coke around and almost everyone took a sip, me included. I have no idea why they did it, but it was funny!

The park we arrived at was right next to a Catholic church, and there were some vendors selling CD's, produce, and cheap children's toys. The whole area was about half a block in size, paved with stones, with planters here and there with benches around them, and a central stone fountain. Stockpiles of tracts were distributed among the believers and we prayed together as Fernando and some others set up a PA system.

We all organized ourselves into a large semi-circle and the music began. It was a heart-wrenching soundtrack for the mime drama the Emmaus students began to act out.

Marshall and Ryan, guards, threw Caleb to the pavement. As he struggled to get up, they kicked him and punched him and mocked.

Eventually they stood him upright and grabbed Amy and Celina, making them pound "nails" into Caleb's hands. When the deed was done, the women retreated to the sides.

Jesus was crucified, put there by each of us.

When he was dead, he was taken down from the cross.

Amy and Celina stood by solemnly. Then Caleb came out from the now-rather-large crowd of observers and approached Amy. He presented himself to her, very much alive, but she was full of scorn and disbelief. She shoved him away in hatred. Then Caleb went over to Celina, presented himself to her. She couldn't believe her eyes--he was alive! Full of joy, she tried to convince Amy of the risen Christ, but Amy angrily pushed her away too. Caleb indicated it was no use, and he and Celina walked away together.

Obviously, this was an allegory that our own sins nailed Jesus to the cross, and it demonstrated people's reaction to the gospel, both believing and rejecting. I assume this is what Fernando preached about next, when he picked up the microphone and began to speak. I and the others were looking around, seeing to whom we could give the tracts.

In the discomfort of my flesh, I was not eagerly participating. I wanted to hand out tracts, but didn't know how, didn't know what I would do if someone started talking to me... I did make excuses to myself. I never did this before. I know there was profit from the preaching and distribution of tracts that evening, but it was not helped by me, much to my sorrow.

About 8:30 Josue took Marshall and me back home. I found out later that all the Mexican believers who were there went to Luis and Yola's house afterward, the poorest and most hospitable family of that church! I was very happy for Celina and Beth, for Luis and Yola were their host family, so they got to enjoy more fellowship! It would have been fun to be there.