Here is what Beth shared at church on July 20.
Each morning I prayed for God to break my heart that day. I was afraid that I would try and separate myself from the reality of what we were seeing and hearing and didn’t want that to happen. On the first full day that we were down there we went on a tour of the Red Light District. I had been there a couple of times before, but it had always been at night and we drove quickly down a few streets and we weren’t allowed to make eye contact with anyone. On this day, it was 1:00 in the afternoon and Horacio, the youth minister that was driving, seemed to drive 10 mph and went down every street 3 times each. I could tell my mind was starting to dehumanize what we were seeing by saying that the girls seemed ok. They were standing up nice and straight, they didn’t seem distraught, terrified, or like they were high on drugs. As soon as that thought came to mind my eyes fell on a girl that was probably 17 or 18 years old. She was standing next to an open doorway and she was wiping tears off her cheeks. She was standing there in the open for all to see…crying. I looked back one last time and saw a man walk up, give her money and they walked into the hotel together. Her cheeks had to still be damp from her tears. I don’t know what brought the tears – feeling abandoned, hopelessness, despair…This is a story of redemption yet to come. My hope and prayer is that someone will be placed in her life that will walk her through the process of realizing she has a Savior that will reach down and pull her out of this pit, will restore her, make her new, and bring her into full redemption.
Here is what Beth shared at church on July 20.
During our July 20 church services, several of us from the Mexico Vision Team shared impressions and redemption stories from the trip. Following is what I shared. I am hoping, in coming days, to be able to post what the others shared as well. -- Todd
As we approached this trip, I don’t think that any of us knew exactly what to expect. One of the common comments I made leading up to the trip was that perhaps it was more about my own heart shaping than any impact we could possibly have.
You see, I remember very specifically a number of years ago when in a moment of complete honesty I had commented to someone that I had some bias against Hispanics and in particular Mexicans. This had come as the result of experiences I had when I was younger and traveling to Texas frequently on business.
Obviously, I don’t know about anyone else but I wonder if many of us don’t have a group of people that we don’t have the best feelings toward. It could be another race or ethnic group or maybe this year in particular it’s the liberals we don’t like or the conservatives we don’t like. Maybe it’s country concert attenders. I don’t know. It usually comes out in statements like “well, they reap what they sow” or “if only they weren’t so lazy”
In essence, what I had done in my mind was strip Mexicans of their worth and value as God’s children because I had relegated them to a lower level than myself. Not an easy thing to admit but it is what I had done
So when the idea of the trip to Mexico came up and God kept impressing on me that I was supposed to go, I felt like Jeremiah Wright’s statement – maybe my chickens were coming home to roost.
So, a bit nervously, I went on the trip … and we saw and heard things that maybe we never wanted to see and hear. We heard of things that really can be described as nothing less than evil. And we learned some of the pressures that have created the situations there. One of those pressures is Americans thinking that Tijuana can be this place where they can go and party and do things they wouldn’t do at home and somehow it is compartmentalized from their lives here in the states. We also learned that there are something like 12,000 adult films made in the US each year compared to something like 400 major motion pictures. Part of that industry involves folks trafficked out of the Tijuana area due to its close proximity to southern California.
And yet in the midst of that, we found and saw so many people there whose lives are completely devoted – and I mean absolutely completely devoted – to restoring hope and healing to those in Tijuana who are caught up in the things we were there to study. God is so anxious to make change there – to win over evil – and working so hard. There was no way that, after seeing how hard God is pursuing these people, I could ever have negative thoughts about them again.
I saw first hand how God really wants relationship with all of us – no matter race, heritage, political persuasion or taste in music. I hope, believe and pray that this trip redeemed me from ever again looking at a group of people and seeing them with anything other than love simply because they are God’s children, the same as me.
I want to share one other quick story with you … I tend to be an early riser. I’d wake up most mornings sometime around 5 and head out to the little courtyard area in the orphanage to read or reflect or do some writing. The second morning we were there, as I sat outside on a little curb and did some writing on my laptop, a little boy came up to me. He was maybe 4 or 5. He was really curious what I was doing so I showed him and then he started running around the courtyard collecting old Hot Wheels cars and bringing them to me to play with. We couldn’t understand a single word the other one said but yet somehow we connected and at the risk of being late for breakfast, I played with him for about an hour.
Throughout our stay there, he kept popping up, usually quite literally because I’d just be walking around and suddenly I’d get tackled from behind and there would be my little friend. He’d usually have a car or ball to play with or he’d lead me to the swing set where he taught me how he liked to twist the swing in a circle and then let it spin out. I asked Ed with our group to try to find out what his name was and all the little boy would tell us was “Hombre” which didn’t make a lot of sense because I think that means “man” in Spanish.
So, we started asking around and at one point someone told me his name was something that sounded to me like Azrael … I honestly don’t think that was even remotely his name but I liked it because it sounded like Israel which reminds me of God’s promise and that just sounded right for the name of this bright faced little boy.
A couple of days later though, Martha, the orphanage director, was talking about a little boy there who, as she said, wasn’t “right in his head”. I couldn’t believe it was Azrael she was talking about but yet it sounded like him. She said that he was the grandson of one of their cooks and came to the orphanage with her. She said that you can’t communicate with him … that he doesn’t understand what you say and the things he says back don’t make sense. I hate to say it but this sounded like the conversations we’d had with him trying to learn his name.
I spoke to Martha again later about Azrael and pretty much confirmed that we were indeed talking about the same little boy. She told me that they thought he had been mentally scarred by things he had seen as a young child. Keep in mind he’s only 4 or 5 now. My heart broke when she told me this. And it’s still broken for my little friend I left behind in Tijuana.
We saw lots of huge stories of redemption in Tijuana … I’d love to talk all day about them but, at least on this first trip, the one that really hits home with me is my own redemption – my own setting free – from prejudice. May I live in a new reality that allows me to better carry God’s hope, restoration, love, and Kingdom to the entire world.
That is the speed and temperature at which a space shuttle begins the re-entry phase of it's mission. Very fast. Very warm.
I've heard from a lot of books and papers that the "coming home" of one from a missions experience is often called "reverse culture shock." One web page describes it like this,
"While you may know your home, you may not realize how much you have changed after being gone. In adjusting to life in a new culture, your perceptions, habits, and maybe even values have changed, perhaps without your awareness, to fit in with the cultural context of your host country. At the same time, you've probably carried around in your head a wonderful mental picture of your home environment. All of a sudden, when you get home, reality just doesn't measure up to that picture."
I like that definition a lot. But today, on my first day back, I feel a bit more like a space shuttle than I do a human. I have been traveling fast and hot for 11 days and yes, I have changed, but my universe has as well. I am no longer entering the world that I knew before. The world has changed because I was able to put on heaven's glasses (I made that up, I'm not sure they really exist --except for in The Shack --read that book...glasses not included). And they are glasses that cannot be removed.
I wonder how an astronaut re-enters the earth's atmosphere:
-Can she ever see a sunrise the same way?
-Will he read "Little Boy Blue" without laughing at the ridiculousness of the cow?
-Will she be able to read the Psalm 8 without crying?
It's not just because the astronaut has changed. Re-entry is difficult because the world that they once knew is gone. I can't speak for the other 7 of us, but I now live in a new reality.
A reality where:
...I have a difficult time turning on the A/C (stores seem so cold to me)
...my normal size laptop seems huge to me after using a little travel one (seriously, the bigness of my computer really bothered me this morning)
...my regular news program in the morning seemed morose and irrelevant. It's hard to watch a program on a celebrity whose voice is too loud when I met children whose voices have not been listened to.
...I can no longer see a Mexican without knowing his/her story.
Granted, this new reality thankfully still has running water, hot shower water and a toilet that I can put paper in...and I am grateful. In fact, I don't think I've ever been more aware of my blessings.
And in that I recognize that my new reality, the new atmosphere that I call Life Part 2 on Earth begins, much like the last one ended...overwhelmed by how far I have to go but recognizing the grace in the moment that will one day get me there.
It's amazing how quickly some of the memories of Tijuana fade when you return home. Or at least it's amazing to me. Unfortunately I do not have the memory that I had 20 years ago ... or maybe even 20 minutes ago.
But somehow I believe that the cream always rises to the top. God has laid particular things more heavily on the hearts of certain members of our team. Those are the things that, in our future discussions, will rise to the top, fuel our passion and burden, and play huge roles in our discernment process.
One thing that, for me, keeps coming up is the power of the Holy Spirit. We saw this so alive in Tijuana. From the fervency of their prayer and worship to the passion of their burdens to the early signs of linking-up between ministries to the amazing ways in which we had opportunities to speak with the people we spoke with ... the Holy Spirit is flowing in Tijuana.
I occasionally like to visit an interesting site called friendlyatheist.com. They have some great discussion from time to time and it is fun to see what is fueling their thoughts and beliefs. Occasionally I have been known to weigh in and post some comments but most of the time I just lurk ... realizing that if my faith is going to be of the depth God wants it, I must be willing to be challenged and work through any remaining questions I have.
There is one particular topic I have seen come up in their discussions a couple of times that really intrigues me. In fact, I brought it up once in one of my comments. That is the discussion of why atheist groups do so very little in terms of compassionate outreach to those in need.
In the discussions, it seems that many atheists feel pain for those in need but they just can never get it together as a group to try to address the needs of others. I am sure there have been fleeting exceptions to this but, as a general rule, they themselves have expressed their recognition of this as a problem. It's as though, individually, they all feel the "moral compass" that CS Lewis wrote about in Mere Christianity but they just can't quite pull it off to work together in unison and accomplish something great and lasting.
The missing component, of course, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what interweaves itself amongst Christians, inspiring, challenging, encouraging and powering them to do great things ... to respond to needs ... to reach out with God's love, care and compassion.
So, as our Mexico Vision Team begins to sort through what we learned, seeking the Holy Spirit is critical. Its power and presence are there. Through His Spirit, God is alive and well in Tijuana. We need only seek and follow the Spirit.
Yes, that is sometimes easier said that done but God always paves the way and provides the leading for His will and wishes.
May we seek and follow Him well.
I had shared prior to the Tijuana trip that, if there was one group of people that I harbored some not-so-good feelings toward, it was Mexicans. I will not go into details but my prejudices stemmed from experiences I had many years ago during frequent travel into Texas on business. Texas has a high population of Mexicans and other Hispanics.
I would not say that I ever painted all folks with Mexican heritage with the same brush ... I hope I did not. But still, overall, not the greatest feelings remained in my heart. It has been several years but I remember even telling some people at one point about these feelings. They were a serious issue for me and, even if I hadn't actively thought about them for many years, they remained a serious unresolved issue for me.
God sought to change that.
When the idea of a trip to Tijuana came up and God began stirrings in my heart that He just wouldn't let loose of, it was obvious that my chickens had come home to roost. God had things to teach me. I was going to have to face old prejudices head-on. I knew that, out of that, God wanted to knock those things out of my life forever. I hope and pray that has been the case.
Prejudice is a terrible thing. It stands in the way of relationship building but yet living in community relationships is a big part of where God calls us. It creates a hardening of the heart which can bleed over to all sorts of things. Cognitively, I knew all this but yet God used the trip, and the events leading up to the trip, as ways to show me the cold spots in my heart ... and shape me for a better future.
One thing that hit me as we met with various ministries and leaders in the Tijuana area was that theirs is a message of and a calling to redemption not condemnation. Whereas I had slipped into condemnation mold, denigrating an entire population in my mind, we only saw attitudes reflecting God's grace and love on the part of those we met with.
Of course, it's relatively easy to be grace-filled when you're referring to the victims of crime and injustice but even when these folks spoke of the perpetrators of horrible crimes, it was still done with a redemptive hope, not a condemnation. That is a hard thing to do.
It is hard to feel anything but anger toward those who support and profit from human trafficking and the sex trade ... our human natures want us to condemn ... we hear stories of abuse that make our blood boil and we feel like we could go out and enact a little vigilante justice -- a little abuse on the abusers.
But yet those are, just like ourselves, individuals where God's redemptive power can do great things.
As the result of this trip, I hope that my heart has softened, old prejudices have left forever, and I am better able to carry God's message of redemptive grace wherever I go ... the same redemptive grace that saved me.
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:2-6, NIV)
I wrote some about it yesterday but I think that, as we return to our "normal" lives, all of us who spent last week in Tijuana studying the human trafficking issue will be dealing with a couple of the same things.
First is what role is God calling us to in all of this? The other thing I think we will be dealing with is guilt -- who are we that we should live lives so far different from the others we saw involved in ministering to the various situations in Tijuana? I have really been struggling with that this weekend. Immediately upon my return from Tijuana, I was able to get away for a nice weekend with my family. Unfortunately, that is not so easy for ministry folks in Tijuana who often find that, if they're not there, their ministry is disrupted.
Lots of thoughts go through my head ...
To whom much is given, much is expected.
God blesses those who serve Him well.
It takes all types to make up the unified Body.
God holds us and brings us to the points from where He expects us to do ministry.
God has gifted us all individually.
But, as I think about these things, it is hard to distinguish thoughts pertaining to them that are truly of God from thoughts that are just my own sinful nature trying to justify where I am at and what I am doing. If you look at any of my thoughts, you can clearly see not only a spiritual slant but a selfish slant as well.
Of course, the guilt that wracks me since the trip pertains to my question of "Why should I be so blessed?" But what I am referring to with that are what we perceive as "blessings" according to man's view. As we saw last week in Tijuana, those who are truly living 100% out of that spot where they have given it all up and God is the only thing sustaining them ... well, they have a much different view of what "blessings" really are.
Yes, I am much blessed in the eyes of man but maybe they are entirely different kinds of blessings that God offers us. The things that, in man's eyes are "blessings" actually may be curses in God's eyes, evil things designed to distract us and pull us off task to accomplish His work. While I look at folks doing ministry in Tijuana and feel they are trapped in horrible situations, perhaps it is actually I who am the trapped one -- trapped by the things of man that keep me from living the life God intended.
I like the Colossians 4 scripture above because I do believe that God opens doors for us to do ministry from wherever we're at. We need to always be prepared to separate ourselves from wherever we're at in life and do that ministry.
From a personal standpoint, as I continue to reflect on my time in Tijuana, there is one recurring theme which keeps coming to me and that is that the current situation in Tijuana is a story which must be told. We cannot be a body united for common cause there until the story is out -- until God has reached those He is calling to this area of the world and to these issues with a common message and common information that has left them burdened and equipped to act.
For now, though, as in Colossians 4:2, I think the key is in devoting ourselves to prayer, remaining watchful ... and thankful .. and wondering what "blessings" really are ... what "blessings" are actually things we need to escape.
On most of my Mexico trips, I snap about 15 pictures. Usually they are snapshots of my week or at least they are filled with people that I do not want to forget. On this trip I wish I had a camera for just 1 picture.
As we walked through the padlocked gate of the House for the Dying (padlocked for whom I wonder), I noticed something that I did not expect. I had expected everyone to be in bed counting their days and trying to recall memories of joy. (I'm a big insensitive idiot I know, but my nerves were skewing my expectations. Maybe I needed them to look sick because of my pride's desire to be better than them...wow I didn't expect that deep thought here...sorry). What I found instead were mostly men and some women who were living a community of hope.
I used to think that Acts 2:42 was the best picture of Biblical community but now I know better. I wanted to take a picture of what I saw. Here are frames of what I saw:
Men and women sitting in rocking chairs, wheel chairs and around a common table.
Some laughing, some trying not to fall asleep at the other's story.
Some whose minds weren't sharp. Some whose bodies had stopped cooperating with them.
All were in need. All were healing agents for the others.
No one could hide his/her weakness or vulnerability. All were broken. All were whole to the other.
Bibles sat on the table and verses were scattered around the beds. Could there be a more desperate real community who needed the Lord? They weren't loved because of their accomplisment or production level. They couldn't be. Their identities and dignity stemmed simply from the heart of God who had created each one of them and had marked their days just as He does mine. It is pure love.
And it's a picture that I will never forget.