This will be really long - I want to cover the trip thoroughly to have a complete record of the event. Feel free to skim if you are not terribly interested in the details.
For several years, we have traveled to Juarez to give away blankets at Christmas time. Because of border violence, our Juarez contacts discouraged us from coming there. So instead we stepped out on faith, made some new contacts and planned a trip to Matamoras - a border town south of Brownsville.
The adventure began Wednesday morning - early. We left from my house before daylight. Everybody threw their stuff into a trailer that was already loaded with nearly 700 blankets, tons of stuffed animals, and other miscellaneous items that God provided for the trip. About a mile from the house, Shawn flipped on the light in the van and began writing on his markerboard. (Because he has a cyst on his vocal chords and can't speak). He wrote, "Did anybody lock the trailer?" We stopped and checked and realized not only was the trailer not locked, it was not even closed. So we turned around and trekked back to the house, picking up the few items that had fallen out along the way.
We headed back out again and made the trip to Anna to pick up two more people, bringing the total number of travelers up to 11. Roadtripping with friends is always one of my favorite activities and this trip was no exception. We had a blast. I laughed hard and long. (However, it seemed that people were laughing more at me than with me.)
Van dogs were a disaster. We stopped at my brother's store in Saledo to tie the dogs on under the van to heat up. It was interesting to watch Robby and Shawn crawling around trying to find a good place to tie on the hot dogs. My brother laughed and laughed about the two rednecks. (He's one to talk) Unfortunately, the hot dogs fell off during the drive, and when we stopped to eat, we had none. Instead we ate Subway.
We arrived at the dorm in Brownsville only to find out that all the blankets that we had carefully packed in boxes would have to be taken out of the boxes and repacked in the trailer. We spent the evening unloading and reloading the trailer, preparing to cross the border the next morning. I was so impressed by the attitudes of the people I was working with. It was late. We had traveled many long hours. We were exhausted. But I heard no complaints. Everyone pitched in and worked hard to get the job done. This great attitude was characteristic throughout the entire trip. Attitudes make such a difference on mission trips. Being with so many positive people made the trip a pleasure.
The next morning we headed over with the trailer but were turned back at the border. So then we packed blankets in the van - under the seats - in every crevice and even in the seats so that we sat cross-legged on top of them as we crossed the border. We were blessed both days with green lights - which means that we were not stopped and inspected.
The missions pastor, Dwayne Spearman, from FBC Brownsville took us not to Matamoras but instead changed our plans and took us to a coastal fishing village - Las Higuerillas. That was the best decision on the trip! We rode about 60 kilometers down a bumpy, pot-holed highway to the village. As we approached our destination, the sea crept up close to the road on both sides. It was such an incredibly beautiful scene to see the ocean and the sand dunes. However, the poverty in the village was overwhelming. The homes were tiny, simple shacks thrown together with old lumber and driftwood. Some homes were not even entirely closed in on all four sides.
We stopped at the local mission and meet Pastor Keen and his beautiful wife Juana. Pastor Keen has been in the village for many years, coming originally from North Carolina. He is an elderly gentleman in failing health, with a very thick southern accent. At times I was not sure who was harder to understand, Pastor Keen with his thick southern accent or Juana speaking spanish. He was quite the interesting character - I'll have to save my Pastor Keen stories for another time.
At the mission, they have begun construction on dorms in hopes that mission teams will begin coming and staying on the peninsula to do mission work. There is no electricity in the village, but Pastor Keen has a generator for the mission. There is also no running water, but the outhouses at the mission were pretty nice as far as outhouses go. It was a new experience for some on the team.
We also met another missionary, a young man named Aaron. He was staying in the village with his fiance's family for a few weeks. He dedicated both days to helping us with our mission work and translating for us.
We handed out blankets and gospels of John in the village on the first day. One gentleman accepted Christ, and we made lots of positive contacts. Hopefully soon many of these people will visit the village mission. We quickly ran out of blankets and returned to the mission to eat a fresh seafood dinner prepared by Juana. Then we went down to the beach for awhile.
The next day we returned to the same village, but also had the opportunity to take a fishing boat over to one of the islands where there has been little mission work. When we arrived at the island, we realized that all of our translators were still back at the dock waiting for the second boat ride - about 45 minutes behind us. Shawn decided to take a brief reprieve from his silence in order to translate for us, and I'm pretty sure he did some unnecessary talking just out of relief to be able to speak. I was invited to stay on the island by a man who apparently was fascinated by my red hair.
That evening Aaron's future mother-in-law fed our team supper in her home. We all crowded into a tiny room probably about the size of my dining room - squashed on top of each other - and enjoyed a wonderful meal of fish, spaghetti, and oysters. This family had to borrow a generator so they would have electricity for us. I was moved by their generosity and hospitality. They gave up an entire day to prepare a meal and sacrificed to create comfortable accommodations for us.
On our way out, Dwayne stopped by the town square in Matamoras for us to see the Christmas decorations. The white lights were so beautiful, almost magical. Then we spent a couple of hours waiting in line to get back into the states.
We roadtripped back home and the great adventure was over. Before, I have been ready to get back home, but this trip was different for me. I could have stayed. I regretted having to leave before we formed strong relationships and before we were really able to deeply minister to the population there in Las Higuerillas.
I think I've done a pretty good job of recounting the events of the trip - minus a few funny stories due to time - but I just don't seem to be able to capture the overwhelming emotion that accompanied the event. It was not pity for the people's poverty that consumed me, but I was overwhelmed by the great need and hunger for the gospel. Many times as we handed out the gospel, the people stopped what they were doing to read. I realized that for many of them it was probably their very first time to own a part of the Bible. For many of them, they were reading the gospel of John for the very first time.
Every year I realize more deeply God's call to go to the nations. If we do not go, how will they hear? There are still languages that God created that have never been used to worship Him. Nations where there is no one who knows Jesus Christ. Who will go?
I'll have to take time some other day to share all the funny events - my friend Joel summed them up well as lessons we all learned- "Melody needs to perfect her spanish, Rachel needs to learn sign language, LaRissa discovered that in Mexico redheads have more fun, and Liz found out that next time she needs to dye her hair red."
To my friends from the trip who are reading - it was a memory of a lifetime - going to Las Higuerillas with all of you. I enjoyed every single moment! Even the ones where you were all laughing at me! I love you all. Thanks for being part of my family.