By the time November 1st rolled around we were pretty well settled in with our rig and established into a routine at the training center for Way of the Cross. Halloween was a non-event which was refreshing. We had stocked some healthy treats just in case there were trick-or-treaters, but ended up eating them ourselves over the next few weeks.
The October update mentioned the 45 or so concrete and wooden benches in an area in the shape of a cross with three crosses set up at one end. The benches are used by people for devotions, etc. We replaced a number of boards that had rotted. After that we painted all the benches white. Then the slow work began – repainting the letters of the scripture verses that had been carved on many of the benches. After a bit of experimentation we ended up with Juanita filling in the letters on the backs using black permanent marker since paint runs on vertical surfaces. The brand we found that worked best came in a three pack from the Dollar Store so for every black pen used a blue and a red pen were added to the inventory. Somebody was glad to get them.
Paul painted the letters carved on the horizontal surfaces of the bench seats, carved verses on a couple of boards using a Dremel tool and even managed to creatively correct a few spelling mistakes. It can be a bit tricky to correct something carved onto a board.
There were a lot more backs than seats that had been carved so Paul spent some time doing a few other repairs around the training center while Juanita soldiered on with bench backs. After that we painted the interior of the two outside bathrooms, added new light fixtures and mirrors, redid the caulking in the showers and generally brightened them up.
The highlights of the month were not necessarily the work done, but a sermon we heard and a trip to Aldama. I’ll tell about the sermon and a little bit leading into the Aldama saga, but then the rest of the story will be from edited e-mails Juanita sent to friends, family and church family.
The sermon was about Psalm 23 and the phrase, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,” and about Jacob near the end of his life addressing his sons in Genesis 49. Tradition has it that a Jewish man would carve the milestones of his life onto his staff as a memorial of what God had done for him. The pastor handed out five foot pieces of white PVC to each person there. The pipes were already labeled with each one’s name, and we were encouraged to go home and write the milestones of our lives onto the “staff” and to bring back our homework and be prepared to stand up in the next church service and talk about what we had recorded.
It was a revelation to me as I considered events before I was born and events when I was born and in my childhood and beyond. Typically if I give a testimony of God’s work in my life it centres on the time of becoming a Christian in 1974, but His hand of grace and deliverance at every stage of my life from before birth to now is a greater testimony yet. Hearing others describe what they had written of God’s milestones was both interesting and encouraging.
Aldama is a Way of the Cross (WOTC) base camp about sixty miles north of Tampico, Mexico. Somebody who’s life had been touched by going on a short-term mission trip there had asked to use the facility for their marriage ceremony and a WOTC staff person was going down to help. There were a few other things to be done and some measurements to be made, plus we were considering taking our rig there to live and work for a few months when the Harlingen base camp became a full SOWERS project in January and we had to leave or risk discipline. Shortly onto the one lane, thorn bush lined, gravel road we concluded that this road and our rig would get along famously, but likely to the permanent detriment of our rig’s integrity. But I’m getting ahead of the story which Juanita will tell below. I wanted to interject a story related by the WOTC staffer who was heading up this expedition.
He had just returned from Africa and was involved with a mission’s outreach providing dental services to needy people in the bush. The group trained ten people as dentists for a total of six days. The trainees were primarily chosen for being bilingual. They needed to be able to understand the training and the missionaries and to communicate with the patients in South Sudan, currently known as New Sudan. After this extensive six day training they went forth and did extractions and some fillings which included injecting the freezing, drilling out the cavity and putting in a filling. Don’t think I’d want to be a patient of these fast track dentists, but people lined up to get their dental work done and overwork due to the demand was an issue for these volunteers who were giving up their weekends. Eventually some of them started charging enough that they could quit their ‘day’ jobs and what they charged was still a small fraction of the alternative available dental care.
The following is from Juanita’s e-mails to friends and family.
Hi all, Since we were gone to Mexico for a few days things have piled up here so will start with giving you a rundown on the Mexico trip during break time and will continue some at lunch and some later. Here goes.
Thursday morning bright and early our driver picked us up and took us to the WOTC warehouse where we were to meet others going down and have devotions before heading out. We were a group of 5 - another couple and a single. Even though three of us had gone down to the border before to get 6 month visas, we had to stop at the border because two were only getting seven day visas and that does not take so long.
Two hours into Mexico we stopped for lunch and since the group was very small we actually stopped at a restaurant instead of the usual WOTC tailgate sandwiches.
We ran into a lengthy section of road that was being upgraded which meant single lane (but traffic both ways) and this single lane was sometime on the right side of the road and sometimes on the left. Part of the road was being marked for the white line (two men with a hammer and nail like marker with little protection).
Next stop was the Tropic of Cancer marker (big orange ball that Paul will probably include in an update later.) When we turned off the main highway to go on to the Base Camp it was immediately obvious that we will not be taking our fifth wheel down there. This was a dirt road with vegetation rather close on both sides, much of which bore thorns.
Arriving at the Base Camp we observed thatched roof buildings with some rather lovely flowers and quite a lot of green grass as this was one of the wettest years they have had in a long time. It did not take long to see many spiders, praying mantis, cock roaches, fire ants - and various unidentified things. I do not do bugs so you can imagine how thrilled I was. Since we had stopped at a restaurant for lunch it was just fine with everyone to have sandwiches and chips with a salad for supper. Someone in the group put together wood for a camp fire and we sat around it and got to know each other a bit. Then it was time for bed. We actually had beds (twin pushed together) with good mattresses for the nights sleep was restful .
Lunch time so will continue a bit.
Friday Morning Paul (with help) was doing measurements to check out the possibility of adding shower facilities and outhouses for the 2008 Pastors conference that will take place at Aldama. There should be somewhere between 800 and 1000 pastors. Right now this place is ready to house maybe 100 or 200 people.
After doing measurements and taking a bunch of pictures to support ideas our part there was finished. I did forget to say that the other people with us did not speak Spanish so Paul was also acting as interpreter. The care taker does not speak English.
One of the reasons for the other people who were along was a destination wedding that was taking place there. The Bride has been deeply impacted by the ministry when she has been there as a Med Fest in 2006. There is a 3000 acre ranch close by whose owners often do things for WOTC. One of the people with us was going to do some picture taking and video for them as their ranch is being developed to also house people to use it as a vacation spot with activities from horse back riding to hunting and maybe as a destination wedding facility. The Owner was planning on going to the airport in Tampico with one of the WOTC people to pick up the wedding party Friday night but in the meantime was going to take this photographer around the ranch to shoot pictures so Paul and I were invited to go along. That experience in itself was an adventure. At times we were driving through grass that was up past the windshield so the Ranch owner had a ranch hand riding in the back of the truck giving directions. You can see a bit of this ranch as www.ranchoelrayo.com
The wedding was to take place at 1:00 Saturday but plans were flexible so the ranch people invited the wedding party to go horseback riding before the wedding. This they did and the wedding actually happened about 5:00 with us going up to the ranch house after that for wedding cake and punch.
The wedding party departed for Tampico and we had a camp fire, went to bed and that was another day. Next part later.
Lets get this trip finished up
Sunday morning we had out Sunday Morning service and then joined Don and Ginger Smith (ranch owners) for a hike/drive to a lava flow area that has a lovely swimming area with water fall. We enjoyed the hike and saw some cactus that part if the cactus is used as a cancer cure. The Mexican that was with us said that Bayer Pharmaceutical Company keeps about 100 scientist in the area checking out local remedies and analyzing them.
We went back to the Base Camp, cleaned up, threw together sandwiches and headed North. No problems until we got about an hour away from the border. Then the van started missing and dying. The guys thought it was a dirty filter of some sort and when the van finally breathed its last gasp tried to take care of the problem. We were trying to make the border before dark.
We pushed the van off the road (two lane, no shoulders) and Paul started taking things apart, checking them, crawling under etc. A police man appeared. Paul had to talk to him as no one else spoke Spanish. Meanwhile the group leader tried calling back to Harlingen to see what to do. The Director was in Oklahoma. There were four cell phones in the group. Only one with real international calling ability and after a short information conversation to the TrainingCenter it died (discharged battery). Fortunately one of the other phones could receive calls so using this method our situation was relayed and two men from Harlingen started down.
The Police man got tired of sitting behind us with his lights on and offered to tow us to a gas station where we would be off the road and in a lighted area. When we got there the phone with the uncharged battery was charged and our location sent out. Shortly thereafter the WOTC mechanic arrived pronounced the van very ill and towed us back across the border and to the Training center where Paul and I stay. The training center is 30 miles from the border so this too was fun.
We are back alive and well with more stories to tell and waiting to see what else is happening here. This week 15 semis are arriving with beans. Four of the semi loads have been given to Way of The Cross in exchange for the other 11 being stored in the warehouse. The four semi loads will be repackaged and sent down to the flooded areas in Tabasco, Mexico. The arrangements are being made and the people here are asking God for the opportunity to share Christ with the people who will be receiving the food.
All for now. Juanita
DearChurch family, God is so good. Sorry to be so long in writing but we have been putting one foot in front of another since arriving here. We are at Way of The Cross (www.wotc.org) in Harlingen, Texas. This is usually a SOWERS project which means they usually have anywhere form 4 to 8 extra people helping here for the months of October through April. For some reason it did not get listed in the SOWER information for October through December this year. Before leaving Canada we contacted the director here to see if that meant that no help was needed. That was the first that he was aware that it was not listed. To make a long story short, we are it for three months.
Our first large project was refinishing all the benches in the cross garden - about 40 - A lot of them have scripture verses carved into them so after replacing rotten boards, priming and painting we are at the part of painting individual letters. Meanwhile, we have a list of other things needing done: plumbing problems in a couple of bathrooms, and in two kitchen areas; boys and girls bathrooms that need repainted, light fixtures replaces and everything primed and painted. This is for starters.
Everything here gets started and then put on hold while other things happen. In January there will be a Med Fest in Aldama, Mexico and a major Pastors Conference there in February. The facility seems to house about 200 people and the Pastors Conference will have about 1000 pastors. The director sent Paul and I down with another couple and a single when there was a destination wedding happening there. Paul's job was to check out the possibility or constructing toilets and shower facilities for the Pastors conference.
I do not do bugs and the training center here in Harlingen has a number of them. The amount here is nothing compared to the ones at Aldama. After encountering two inch cockroaches and various flying and not flying things I went to one of the houses to use the bathroom facilities. There sitting on the toilet was a frog the length of from the bottom of the palm of my hand to half way up a finger. Needless to say I chose to use another bathroom.
I also discovered chiggers. They bite you, you do not feel them and a day or two later you get pustules that itch like crazy. I seem to have acquired a bit over 50 or them. Now, after the fact I also discover that "Off" and "Deep Woods" keep them away.
Like I said at the beginning - God is Good! On the way down Paul noticed a bulge in one of the trailer tires. He replaced it with the spare and we have since purchases 5 new trailer tires. When putting on the tires he discovered a broken shackle link. He will be replacing all of those too. God has protected us from accidents on the road by showing Paul the developing problems.
Our time down here is still in a state of flux. We believe we will be here at Way of The Cross at least through December and possibly down in Mexico January and February. January and February are still not confirmed as we cannot get our trailer to the base camp in Aldama so would have to make other arrangements. Please pray that we would see clearly where God would have us.
We covet your continued prayers and will try to get more timely information to you.