I was thinking yesterday about how I do a lot of thinking but don’t express my thoughts very often. I guess I just don’t want to bother others with my thoughts since so many other people are sharing their every thought on Facebook and on their own blogs. It seems my thoughts would just get lost among the others, plus I really don’t like to draw attention to myself.
That being said, there are some things I want to share. Most of you know by now that we plan on heading to South Texas in December so I can attend Missionary Language School to learn Spanish. After that, we hope to transition to full-time ministry wherever God leads us. To a lot of people, that may sound like a pretty hazy plan. They ask questions like, “how will you provide for your family?” and “why can’t you learn Spanish here?” Well, there are a lot of questions I could ask God and a lot of reasons I could come up with to not go, but let me explain why I feel compelled to leave my job, friends, and family to spend a year learning the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Please forgive me if you’ve already read some of the details in one of Danyelle’s previous posts.
In April of 2009, we paid a visit to my parents who live in Edinburg, Texas, where I will be attending school. At the time, Dad and Mom were attending the school and were practically losing their hair because of the intensity of the training. I was very glad I was not in their shoes! I was also sad that we had to go to Texas to visit them instead of beautiful Colorado Springs where they had just moved from. Danyelle and I both loved Colorado and hated pretty much everything about Texas, at least what we had seen there in the Rio Grande Valley.
We felt very out of place and uncomfortable in the Valley. It wasn’t uncommon to be the only white folks in a store or to hear only Spanish being spoken in a restaurant. I remember feeling resentment towards the Mexicans who had taken over MY country! Build the border wall and keep them out, I thought! I had no love for the people of Mexico.
When given the chance, Danyelle and I both had no desire to walk across the bridge to one of the Mexican border towns. I was scared to take Abree and my pregnant wife into that unknown world. Danyelle wasn’t that scared; she simply did not like Mexico after having visited three times already on missions trips and didn’t care to visit again.
There were really only two things we enjoyed about Texas: fresh grapefruit and South Padre Island. Citrus groves are common in the Valley so grapefruit are cheap and plentiful. I think I ate fifteen of them in a week because I knew I wouldn’t be able to take them with me on the flight home. Danyelle liked the grapefruit too, but she LOVED the beach on South Padre Island! We made the hour-and-a-half drive to the island twice during our visit. If Danyelle could have gone every day, she would have. Of course, Danyelle loves any beach and has told me numerous times that she wishes she could live on a beach the rest of her life, so she would have LOVED the beaches of Lake Michigan just the same.
Those two things were not enough, however, to make us want to visit Texas again. We would have rather spent our money on a vacation to a place that we actually enjoyed visiting, and I actually resented the fact that my parents had moved there. I didn’t know how to tell them that we never wanted to visit them again as long as they lived there.
During the year after trip, we began to see things in God’s Word that changed our hearts toward the people of Mexico and Central America. We heard more news reports of violence along the border and watched a documentary about the plight of immigrants trying to reach the States. I watched a movie that detailed the violent world of the drug cartels and it broke my heart for the young men who are slaves to their gangs and have no hope for the future.
In August of 2010, we accepted an offer on our house which we had built just three years prior and decided that we needed to take another trip to the border. This time, it wasn’t to see my parents, but to seek God’s will for our lives. I sensed God leading us into full-time ministry to Spanish-speaking people, so I hoped that by visiting various ministries in the Valley I would get a feel for where God wanted us to go.
During our trip, we talked with several people who were long-time ministry workers in the Valley and we got some great insights into the needs of the people and the state of the local Church. The highlight of the trip was going into Reynosa, Mexico, with Upon This Rock International (UTRI). We visited an orphanage and various parts of the city, all the while picking the brain of the people we were with. We wanted to know how we would fit and what our ministry might look like if we were to join them. We also wanted to know their beliefs and see if we shared the same convictions about ministry.
As we headed home after ten exhausting days, we had no clear direction. We didn’t sense God shutting any doors, but didn’t see him opening any either. It was a long drive home and we did a lot of thinking and praying, but we were still undecided about what to do after our house sold.
We ended up moving to Rochelle, which was the last place we wanted to live. We both had bad feelings about the town and it was nowhere near any of our friends. God knew we needed to be in Rochelle, however. Looking back over the events of the past year, we are in awe of God’s hand in our lives!
Just a couple months after we moved, I had a conversation with some friends that caused me to think that maybe we should just stay in Illinois. After all, we had such good friends and we could minister to people here together.
That same night, I had a dream that I know was from God. I have never experienced anything like it, and it was so real that I remember it in detail today. It involved me witnessing the violence and oppression of the Mexican drug cartels in several different “scenes” in which I was directly involved. In each scene, I stood up to defend people from the gang members without being harmed. Although I don’t remember what I said to them, my words caused the men to retreat. Now, I don’t know what it all means, but it gave me a clear message that I am to continue on and that God will protect me.
Because of the dream, I had an urgency to leave Rochelle and move to Texas. I didn’t know what we would do exactly, but wanted to go and see what God would do. Danyelle wasn’t at all thrilled with the idea of uprooting the family again when we had no clear direction, and I knew in my heart we weren’t ready – spiritually or emotionally – to go yet.
Not long after my dream, I noticed a building in downtown Rochelle with a Bible verse painted on it in English and Spanish. The name of the place was Hand in Hand, or Mano en Mano in Spanish. I stopped in one day and asked the volunteers about the place. I was told it was run by Bob and Blanca Winton and they relied on God completely to meet their needs. I was intrigued by what I saw and heard and decided to come back on a Saturday morning when they held a community prayer time. That way I could meet Bob and Blanca and find out more about their ministry.
A couple weeks later, I was welcomed to the prayer meeting by a smiling and enthusiastic Blanca who greeted me by name (she must have been expecting me after the volunteers told her I might come). I was a little uncomfortable as it was just Blanca and two other ladies, but soon Bob walked in the door and greeted me with a big bear hug! I learned later that Bob gave everyone bear hugs and was even known to give a kiss on the neck – he just loved everyone.
We had a great time of prayer and I was blown away by everyone’s passion for the lost and the fact that, despite having at least four denominations represented, we were unified as we sought the Lord together.
A few weeks later on a Friday night, our family went to Hand in Hand for some more prayer and fellowship. It was awesome to see all the Hispanic kids and their parents and we felt energized by the new friends we were making. I remember talking with Bob but getting pulled away by the girls. We told each other we’d talk later, but, only days later Bob was killed in an accident and many people’s worlds were turned upside down. We began to see how huge of an impact Bob had on the community through the response to his death. He truly was a Godly man of faith and I was inspired by the stories I heard from his friends and family.
Danyelle and I began to pour our energy into Hand in Hand and became board members. Along the way we became great friends with Blanca’s son and his wife, Tayler and Manfredo, and together we shared our lives and ministry. It was a wonderful time of growth in the Lord as we learned from each other. God even allowed us to rent the house next door to them (and Blanca as well, since Manfredo and Tayler lived with her) and we realized that God had fulfilled the dream we had in the past of living in community with friends who shared our vision for ministry. It was an awesome thing!
Bob’s death left a void at Hand in Hand since he was the only man among all the women who helped out there. I realized that a man was needed to minister to the many men who came in for food so I had my work schedule rearranged so that I could work every Monday during the evening and spend the day at Hand in Hand. It was awesome to be able to take part in the food pantry ministry because I got to know a lot of people and speak into their lives about the Lord. It was also nice to be able to help carry boxes, stack cans, and whatever else I could do to take the load off the ladies.
During one Friday night meeting, I sat in a circle with several men and found myself guiding the conversation about spiritual things. It was a very diverse group of guys. One was fresh out of prison and homeless. Another was homeless as well and looking for work in the area. A third man was new to the faith after struggling with alcoholism. As we talked, I was concerned by the general lack of understanding of the Word. I had to constantly direct the conversation back to the Bible because some of the men claimed to have knowledge of it but their words told me otherwise. After realizing that we could be there all night discussing things, I suggested we start a Bible study. We all agreed that Tuesday nights would be a good night, so we met that following Tuesday.
Because I suggested the study, I became the “leader.” I was a little nervous about it at first, but God always gave me what I needed and each time we were encouraged by how He worked through what we read and discussed. I continue to lead the study almost a year later and am so grateful to God for his guidance and grace to me. I’ve seen men come and go, but we have a solid core of guys who are such a blessing to me.
There is one thing I regret about the Bible study, however: it is an English-only study. Twice, a man who spoke only Spanish came because he had to work every other day but Tuesday and he was really looking for some fellowship with other believers. I had Juan, a good friend originally from Mexico who is fluent in English and Spanish, translate as much as possible, but it was very hard for us to communicate. The guy didn’t come back after his second visit and I felt so bad about it. I wanted desperately to reach out to him and the many others like him who are very far from home and hungry for the Word of God.
Yes, there are plenty of American men who need the Word around here and I have a heart to share Christ with them as well, but I have always been drawn to marginalized and overlooked people, so I am drawn to the Hispanics who live here in our country. (A book that has strengthened my desire to reach displaced people groups with the Gospel is “Scattered to Gather: Embracing the Global Trend of Diaspora” which can be downloaded HERE.)
Well, if you have read this far through my novel, thank you! I really want to communicate in detail what God has done in our lives so that others will see that it is not us coming up with the idea to go to the border. Stay tuned for the rest of the story…