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home : columns : columns October 15, 2018

7/29/2014 12:57:00 PM
Marked by Mexico
Freshmen Boaz Johnson and Jaden Condel, and sixth-grader Nate Weber (dressed as super heros) play fútbol with orphans in Tepic. photo by Kit Tosello
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Freshmen Boaz Johnson and Jaden Condel, and sixth-grader Nate Weber (dressed as super heros) play fútbol with orphans in Tepic. photo by Kit Tosello

By Kit Tosello

There's a character in C.S. Lewis' story, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," an awful, whiney boy named Eustace who turns into a dragon while thinking selfish thoughts. Panicked, Eustace tries to scrub off the dragon scales, and he succeeds - to a point. But there's always another layer of nasty scales under the one he just removed. His only hope is to allow the great, resplendent lion, Aslan, to remove the stuff.

"I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off."

I read those words while serving on Vast Church's mission team to Tepic, Mexico earlier this month. They took on significance during the trip.

Just this morning, peering into my uber-magnifying mirror in the comfort of my own bathroom, I spotted a teeny bit of dried yellow paint in my hair - a tangible reminder that just a couple weeks ago I was pressing a paint roller against the knobby stucco of La Fuente Church, under Tepic's blazing sun. I started to remove the speck, then changed my mind and left it there. I wondered, Am I marked, in lasting ways, by my experiences in Mexico?

I hope so. All 16 of us dearly hope so.

Each of us gave different reasons for signing on. Erik Himbert longed for "a deeper sense of community with our global brothers and sisters." JamiLyn Weber hoped to gain fresh wonder "at God's mercy in using me to be His hands and feet." Rachel and Abraham Gonzalez, who moved here from Tepic four years ago, were bursting with anticipation to lead a team from their new church family in Sisters "to connect with and love on our family in Tepic."

As for me, I wanted to affirm my 15-year-old daughter's enthusiasm for going and experience it with her. And something else: A voice in my spirit asking, "Are you afraid?"

"Yes," I answered.

"That's a good sign."

Riding around Tepic in non-air-conditioned vans with temps over 90 degrees and humidity hovering at 80 percent, we quickly ran into the main obstacle to effective ministry: ourselves. But we looked past our discomfort to the work at hand, shed a layer of "dragon skin," and bonded.

Partnering all week with La Fuente Ministries to love on village children in Valle de Nayarit, we performed our repertoire: Spanish songs, games, and a skit. It didn't matter to the kids that we don't speak much Spanish; we spoke the universal language of fun. We twisted balloons into giraffes, painted butterflies on faces, and kicked a soccer ball around.

Right away, our seven teenagers from Sisters expressed awe that these poor children, who lack all the trappings of our I'm-so-bored, entertain-me Western culture, have a talent for being happy with nothing.

In advance, Abraham challenged us to engage with those we met. He told us, "Love is a conviction, a commitment to be the person God called you there to be."

Over fútbol, sixth-grader Nate Weber gained a special amigo, a boy from the orphanage named Ociel. Nate says, "It changed my life to know I had a friend that I could change his life."

On Day Four, I officially abandoned my comfort zone. We arrived at juvenile hall under a deluge of rain for the assignment I feared. Above tall fencing topped by razor wire rose a guard tower; rainwater spilled from rooftops. We huddled outside, waiting to enter. When the guards announced that we would not be allowed in due to the weather, I was secretly relieved. But an hour later, the sky went all blue, and we were in.

The plan was to play with the young inmates in the rec yard. To communicate, with or without words, that they're not invisible; that our presence is proof that God sees and loves them. The girl inmates joined us for volleyball, making an effort to act like there was nothing wrong with this picture: they're imprisoned among other damaged children, being entertained by a bunch of Gringos who don't speak the language.

Abruptly, we were told our time with the girls was up. I realized my fear was gone, but doubt had replaced it.

How could our brief visit make a difference? We persuaded a supervisor to allow us to pray for them. I took the hand of a girl named Cari, who I'd been chatting with. I'll never forget how, while Abraham translated our prayers, it felt natural to periodically squeeze Cari's small hand to communicate encouragement. Or how, at the end of the prayer, she squeezed mine back, hard, then rolled into my arms and began sobbing.

I don't know what wrongs Cari has done or what wrongs have been done to her. But I know what it feels like to hold her when she breaks down, her petite shoulders heaving. I remember the warmth of it, with her dragon scales melting all over the place and mingling with mine. It's as if where pain and love collide, God is most present.

It happened, too, for members of our team who spent time with hospital patients in the ICU:

For Steve Draper, a survivor of childhood cancer, whose heart tore over a young boy with a stomach tumor. Later, Steve laughed while a little orphan girl painted his fingernails pink. But we could see it - he's been marked.

For Boaz Johnson, a Sisters High School freshman, when confronted with a gravely ill baby: "He was hooked up to machines and there was blood on the blanket; I thought he was going to die right in front of me." Teammate Mick Black shared with us later that Boaz spoke a concise and powerful prayer over the child and his parents.

And for Rylee Weber, also a freshman, who found confirmation for her dream to work in medical missions someday, while holding a desperately sick infant in her arms.

I got to watch my daughter, Chelsea, discover an affection for the Mexican people and their language, and witnessed the other teammates I haven't yet mentioned - Jaden Condel, Micaela Ransom, Nina Horner, Daniel Aguirre and Blake Weber - serving their hearts out.

So I think we have been marked, but not by things we did. It's the new tender areas, where we allowed our hardened scales to be gauged away, that mark our individual stories, within the greater story of what God is doing around the world.

For more stories, visit the team blog:

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