It is so easy to be complacent about our lives. I mean, it takes absolutely no effort to stay put, to take for granted all the many blessings, great and small, that are showered upon us daily. Convenience and abundance and safety and expectations of good health...we simply take them as our due because, well, it's just such an effortless way of living. Sure, we can be thankful; it's easy to be so in our comfortable lives. For the most part, our lives are not usually that difficult except for the daily dramas of our own making. That is not to say we don't experience loss and heartbreak or unexpected illness or anxiety over our future -- I am not making light of these things. I just think as a whole we don't appreciate that we are covered with blessings solely by the grace of God.
It is nine o'clock on Sunday morning in Piedras Negras, Mexico, a border town in Northern Mexico in the state of Coahuila. Our mission team heads to Aleluya, our little church away from home, a tiny Methodist iglesia (church) in a rural part of town. Our van goes down a long, dusty dirt road, white, powdery clouds rising in our path in the bone dry summer heat. The chalky dust permeates everything; at the end of the day you can feel it on your skin and see it on your clothing. When we arrive, we hear praise music coming from the open doors and windows of the little church. In the distance, a rooster crows.
It is my third visit in a year to Aleluya. The congregation is small and very poor, but big in heart and very rich in spirit. The most striking thing I always notice is the presence of children of all ages -- from infants in their mother's arms to beautiful pre-adolescent girls who dance with colorful ribbon-adorned tambourines and long flowing white dresses throughout the service. These families are large and closely-knit, the love between them very apparent. Their poverty is tangible but their faith and love for El Senor (God, the Father) just takes my breath away...
After a few songs of praise, the pastor asks if anyone wants to give his or her testimony. Our friend, Katt Lovejoy, the young teacher with whom I work, is standing in front translating for those of us whose Spanish is somewhat lacking. After a couple of people stand and ask for prayers and express sorrow over some trials recently encountered, a lovely young mother named Vicki stands up in front of the sanctuary. There is an almost ethereal quality about Vicki's beauty. She is young, slender and graceful in movement. Her hair is worn short, unusual for this culture. She is a few months pregnant, and it is already obvious on her petite frame.
Those of us on the mission team wait expectantly for her to speak. We know about the tragedy that has recently befallen Vicki and her family. You see, just a few months before, back in February of this year, the small, two-room house in which the family lived burned and Vicki's infant son perished in the fire. It was a bitterly cold winter morning. Fernando, Vicki's husband, had left for his work in town where he drove a taxi all day. The wind was unusually strong and while Vicki and her three children slept, a gust of wind drove the fire from the wood stove into the house. Vicki awoke to black smoke and fire all around them. She ran out to get water from the hose, but the water had frozen in the bitter cold. She ran back in and was able to get her son Pedro and her daughter Abby out, but could not find the baby in the black smoke. Pedro had suffered second-degree burns to his face, head and hands. Abby and Vicki also were burned on the neck and face and head, but not as severely as Pedro. A neighbor heard the screams and ran over to help, but the fire and smoke were so intense, he was also unable to rescue the infant. Not only was their small home and few possessions totally destroyed, but Vicki and Fernando lost their baby son.
The little community of Aleluya and Hands & Feet Ministries worked hard to help the family get the medical attention that they needed and began to contribute their time and efforts to building them a new home. On this Sunday morning, I am witnessing the most amazing demonstration of faith as I hear Vicki stand before her friends and in her soft, beautiful Spanish say to us that we should remember our blessings and praise God for His mercy and goodness. She tells us that she is grateful for the new life growing inside her, for the little angel who is in heaven with the Father, for her son Pedro whose life was saved. She thanks all of the church for helping her family recover and for building their new little house. "Mi casa es la casa de Dios," Vicki says, "y su casa tambien." My house is God's house and your house, too.
After the service I tell Vicki that her testimony blessed me. She smiles and tells me to share her story with others so that they might know the Lord and His love for us all. I can in no way do her story justice, but hopefully, it will touch your heart the way it has touched mine.
Please visit me at facebook.com (Mary Elizabeth Cauthen) and see my photo albums from my Mexico mission trips. You can see Vicki and Pedro in "Vaya con Dios, Part II) and pictures of other Aleluya families in "Vaya con Dios" and "Mission: Mexico." You may also visit Hands & Feet Ministries' facebook page to learn how you can be a part of our ministry in Piedras Negras and Nava, Mexico.