Repost: A story from Mexico

Sun, Nov 27th, 2011 @ 1:04am
Originally posted on Mar 17, 2007.

I wrote this right when I got back from Mexico so I wouldn't forget, but I didn't post it cuz it seemed a little too serious… and lengthy… but here it is…

So on the Tuesday night we met this fellow from Project Amigo. Huey was an animated passionate fellow who knows God's grace and follows His voice. A French Canadian dude who now lives in Saskatchewan and works until he makes enough money to come back down to Mexico to help. He had an amazing testimony and has been a Christian for 5 years. He has some wonderfully encouraging stories which included an awesome worship time he experienced at the jail he visited earlier. It sounded fantastic. He volunteered to bring us to see the “ranch” and also volunteered to show us some of the more shanty/slummish parts of town. So we arranged to go see it the next night.

So the next day after a hard days work, we got back to the orphanage where we were staying and Huey got in his truck and we followed in our passenger van. After a bit of driving we started to get to what seemed like the edge of Juarez. Kind of like entering the countryside leaving Calgary. But we weren't leaving Juarez, we were just entering the outer wasteland of it. It was very dusty and it was starting to get darker out. Silence fell over us as we tried to absorb what we were seeing. Basically as we drove, the houses got worse and worse until we were seeing houses which were built from palettes, wood planks, cardboard, tin and whatever trash could be salvaged into building material. Anything that could be used to make walls, was used. Most of the houses were separated by a small grassless yard which resembled a junkyard with trash littered randomly. While we drove, the sun was starting to set and the sky was starting to turn red. The whole thing was so surreal.

As we continued to drive, I felt this hollow feeling in my stomach. A hopelessness, or darkness that just surrounded us. Everything looked so grim and I couldn't imagine what it would be like living in the area. There weren't people around, just structures that seemed almost abandoned because of their quality, but showed clear signs of use. The odd scruffy homeless dog wandered down the street aimlessly. The only ounce of hope we saw in the place was the odd Casas Por Cristo house that was in the area. They stood out like luxury in a neighbourhood like this. Inside our van we were higher that most of the structures and as far as our eyes could see, there was an endless horizon of these houses, or rather shanties and I was glad we were in the van. It brought a sense of safety and separation from our surroundings.

After a bit more weaving through this area of dirt roads, we approached what looked like a mini fortress, a dark castle in the midst of the wasteland. We could see barbwire around the top of perimeter walls and as we approached the gate we realized this was our destination. The top edge of the front wall, where the gate was, had broken glass embedded in the top, clearly put there as makeshift barb wire. When we were let in the facility, I had a sudden sense of danger like we were in an unsafe place. My spider sense was tingling like crazy.

As we drove in, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a small chapel inside the facility and through the windows we could see many young Mexican men singing and clapping. It was loud and greatly contrasted what we had experienced driving to our destination. It was a relief to see such life in such a desolate place.

When we got out of the van, a Pastor greeted us. We were in a safe place. I was mistaken, this was not a jail, the Pastor clarified that it was a rehab center for drug addicts and alcoholics. The perimeter wall was not put there to keep people in, but rather, to keep people out. He brought us on a short tour of the outdoor grounds as he wanted us to see the grounds before it got too dark. There were small enclosures for pigs, rabbits, chickens, and the like, built from various wood planks, palettes etc, the same stuff the locals used to build their homes. The rooftop of the enclosures was made from the top section of an old school bus. I assumed the animals were used for food, but the Pastor explained that the recovering addicts actually took care of the animals as a way to reintroduce them to responsibility and for therapy. By this time, the sky was bleeding red as we walked back through the complex.

He brought us back to the chapel to join the worship service. The pastor said a few words and thanked us for visiting as it showed support and it showed that outside people care about them. Then after a few prayers a single guy with one electric guitar led the group in a few choruses. He played basic rhythmic chord progressions but I was blown away at the intensity and passion of the young men singing and dancing and praising the Lord with all they had. Through out the singing, there was shouting of phrases like “Gloria a Dios”. That was one of the few things I could make out with my lack of Spanish ability. I didn't understand the words in the choruses but my heart worshiped and my lips prayed for this place and it's people, the addicts and the volunteers. I couldn't help but wonder if they knew, and were thankful for, God's mercy and grace more fully because of their situation.

We continued on our tour and saw the rooms where the recovering addicts stayed. He explained the various room uses, a bit of the history of the place and how much it has grown over the last 23 years. They get no funding from the government and the place was run by volunteers, much of who were once addicts, who had been nursed back to humanity by this place. The pastor explained the need for blankets and food and how they shared with the surrounding community even though they had so little themselves. A barrel of delivered water costs $1 dollar and most of the people around the area can't afford water on $30-40 weekly salaries. So they try to help the community as much as they can.

Then we went into the area they referred to as the hospital. There were 4 beds and this is where people are first brought when they come to the facility. We quickly realized it was detox. One fellow there had been run over a car when he was drunk, apparently back and forth several times by punks. The pastor explained that they do all they can to help, but they aren't doctors and they aren't trained for medical stuff. They do their best. My heart was wrenching at this point and I knew we had to do something to help.

When we left the facility, the sun was gone and the sky was black. You could see the stars so clearly, because of the lack of lights in the neighbourhood. As we drove off from the rehab center, I had come full circle and realized that this was not a dark castle in a wasteland but rather, it was a strong tower or lighthouse in the middle of what seemed to be an area completely controlled by Satan. The “ranch” and Casas Por Cristo houses were not just buildings. They were signposts of hope and love in a dark, dark place.

When we drove away, one member of our group mentioned how we had each had an ice cream earlier that day and how that could have bought 20 barrels of water for the community there. A silence once again fell over the bus as we tried to comprehend the difference in our lifestyles. A moment passed before I sheepishly suggested donating some of the leftover fundraising money or buying some stuff for them from the market. Our group later decided to divvy it up between the rehabilitation center, orphanage and Casas Por Cristo.

Now I am writing this, back in Calgary, and the whole experience is so clear in my mind still. The whole experience was so surreal. I mean I have seen pictures of shantys before and know how poor some of these neighborhoods are but being there and seeing it in person was unreal. And the poor people there are different from the street people we have in Calgary. In Calgary, we have the drop in center and the mustard seed. People can get free food and water to drink. The poor people in Mexico are good people. They are a grateful people. They help each other out even when they have so little to share. They work hard. They just haven't been given the opportunity. In Calgary we have so much, but we do so little to help. They fight for a living, we fight for luxury. But this is the way our world is. Do I care enough to do anything about it?


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