Well, since it has again been “too long” since we’ve written our last newsletter, we wanted to share some of what has been going on in general in the area where we are. We wish we could say that everything was just fine, but we’d be lying to you if we said that. Certainly, we don’t want any of you to go into a panic about our immediate health or safety. Regarding all the press we’re getting due to the INFLUENZA epidemic that has apparently broken out in Mexico, we’re happy to report that there are no confirmed cases in our area. Unfortunately, though, we should tell you that what has broken out here has been the violence and fighting of the drug wars, and arguably this last time has been worse than before. Now we want to make clear from the start that nothing has happened to us personally, since we have been trying to be careful, and especially since the bulk of the fighting is between the two sides of the trafficking rings and doesn’t involve “civilians.” Even so, we should probably tell you that several of our friends have wound up having unusual experiences in their various encounters with the drug terrorists.
Having said all this, we repeat again that we don’t want you to go into panic, but if you have, please click here for a more detailed explanation of why we do not think we are in any immediate danger.
Our story begins…
For those of you who are ready to continue reading, we want to clarify that the real purpose of our letter is definitely not to cause panic, but to glorify God and demonstrate just how He is working through all of the disturbing things that are happening here… With that in mind, we wanted to share an experience we had a few weeks ago which we feel captures the essence of what is really going on, and how God is using it.
The story we’ve chosen to share actually begins as we were sitting down to start one of our in-home Bible study groups, which we do in the different houses of our church members on a weekly basis. Larry was lazily tuning his guitar as group members chatted, waiting for the others to arrive in order to start the evening with our regular worship time. All seemed to be going according to the usual plan until suddenly a young girl from a neighbor’s house raced through the door, frantically informing us that the sound of “gunshots” could be heard in the distance outside.
Immediately, the entire room was thrown into a state of turmoil. Some people rushed outside to see which direction the shots were coming from, while others jumped out of their seats to make sure their family members were safe. Still others fell into silence and remained frozen in their places, nervously waiting to hear word of what was actually going on. And though we should probably say that the occurrence of gunshots in the distance is something that has become much more common than we would like, it never ceases to strike fear in the hearts of those who overhear it, as was evidenced by the fact that everyone in the group was consumed by panic for a few brief moments that night.
Everyone, that is, except a young member named “Josue” (translated ‘Joshua’ in English). In the midst of the surrounding commotion, thirteen-year-old Josue sat calmly, holding a baby which in the frenzy of the moment had been left unattended. He began softly singing in Spanish – a song called “Jesus is my Shepherd.” A few minutes later, it was established that the gunshots were over and had occurred far enough away not to cause a threat to our immediate safety, so things settled down. And when the rest of the group decided to join Josue back in the meeting room to worship and pray about the situation, this young man was more than ready to begin.
And so, as the group sang, first half-heartedly as they recovered from the incident, and then increasingly more whole-heartedly, Josue continued to dandle the baby on his lap. He alone lifted his voice to Heaven just as if nothing on the streets outside had ever happened. When our group had finished its prayer time and began processing the events of the evening, one of the group members shared her confusion about why God would allow these types of situations, and more importantly about how He would have us respond to them. And as the others nodded, equally baffled about the divine purposes of God, Josue sat calmly, and then said only three words… “It’s harvest time.”
…And so it is.
Certainly, the harvest has not come without a price. As we mentioned earlier, the sound of gunshots has now become a common occurrence and can happen at any hour of the day or night. And again, almost everyone we know has had some sort of encounter with the drug mafias. In fact, the majority of our close friends can tell at least one story about some really scary experience, including being threatened, made victims of extortion, held at gunpoint, temporarily kidnapped, beaten up, having their vehicles car-jacked, etc. To give you an idea of the general crime here, there have been three police strikes, two jail-breaks, and at least three hospital “raids” by the mafias over the past year. Hundreds of people have died in our area. In fact, over two hundred homicides have been registered in the city over the past year and a half. (Almost all victims were apparently involved in the drug cartels). In addition, hundreds of policemen have been fired, sometimes from one day to the next, in government efforts to clean up the police force. Hundreds of other people are also “missing” – some are being held for ransom, and many others who were involved in the drug movement have not been seen or heard from again. Some businesses have shut down due to threats or extortion. Hardly a day goes by when we do not see a detachment of soldiers, sometimes positioned with rifles to block off the street where we’re driving. It’s also not uncommon to see police chases at any time of day or night. To be honest with you, we’ve had stretches where for days at a time we’ve felt like the only reason for buying the newspaper was to read the updated death counts from the day before.
…So, needless to say, we were thankful to young “Josue” for his comment in our Bible study that evening, since it was then and there that we began to gain a new perspective, to try to see God´s perspective on the violence that surrounds us.
And do you know something? Josue was right, perhaps even more than he knew…
Signs of the Harvest
We’d like to continue here with just a few comments that will help you appreciate the magnitude of the harvest that God is raising up here in the midst of all of the confusion.
Our friend, for example, is a Christian who works at an all-night convenience store. He has tried for years to share the gospel with a steady stream of ‘night-lifers’ who constantly stop in for beer and cigarettes. The other day he shared with us that to his amazement people have finally started “listening,” and that his customers are beginning to ask questions about the Bible – not out of ignorance, but because in their efforts to reflect on things they have actually gotten Bibles and started reading them!
And as for our own experiences, we are also quite shocked because the gang members in Tierra Blanca are showing real interest in church now. Even the tattoo-covered guys who clean our windshield at local traffic lights are asking for Bibles… We honestly feel bad at times because we forget to bring the Bibles or don’t have enough of them.
Yes, and the Catholic church, known here in Mexico mainly for its traditions of wordliness and saint-worship, also seems to be stepping up to the plate. On February 19th of this year their was an area-wide “mass for peace” held in one of the local arenas, and more than 1,000 people were in attendance to lift their voices in prayer for peace.
So … Will there be peace here in Mexico? It’s difficult to say. But we think there’s actually a more important question, the one Jesus left for all of us: “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
We want to be found with great faith – faith to continue working in His harvest, no matter what the situation is here in Mexico.
So in closing, we’ll just say that we know that Mexico is no longer a “nice” place for vacationers… But we’re not vacationers. And in fact we feel the call to ministry here is stronger than ever. So for as long as God wants us to be here, our plan is to stay.
Whether there will be peace in Mexico, we have no idea. What we do know is that we can “open” our “eyes” and see the harvest around us (John 4:35). That’s what Josue did. And as long as there’s harvesting to do, we don’t want to be far behind him.