Posts Tagged ‘foreign cultures’

Always On The Line by Jan Beiler

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

“Lord, please let her answer,” I begged. Blood oozed from the scrape on Micah’s temple and a knot was rising on his forehead. I sat on the edge of the bottom bunk bed with a cold wash cloth in my hand and tried to calm him as he thrashed from side to side.

Hot Mexican sun poured through the only window in our boys crowded bedroom. A fly buzzed about, bumbling against the window pane and then darting in to investigate the smell of blood. Phil Hackman, long time friend and board member, sat on the other bunk bed poking numbers into a phone.

Thankfully we had a better phone system by this time.. My Phil stood at the end of the bed holding a church phone directory. “The number you have dialed is no longer in service at this time. If you need assistance….” My heart sank as I heard the faint voice at the other end of the line.

What should we do? Would it be worse to take Micah out over the rough roads to the doctor or run the risk of something serious going on inside him while he tossed about on his bed in our little village of La Esperanza?

The morning had started out calmly enough. Angie Mobley, a friend of ours who was visiting from NC, and I sat at the table sipping coffee and chatting. In the laundry room, Francie stood at the washing machine, fishing towels out of the wash tub and arranging them in the spinner. Valley, Angie’s sister leaned against the freezer, waiting to hang them out. The girls planned to go horse riding as soon as they finished the laundry.

“Hey Mom!” nine-year-old Micah called through the kitchen window. He galloped into view, pulling on the reins of a tall yellow steed. They stopped in a cloud of dust, a huge grin lighting his face. “It’s Kaloka’s horse. He said Francie can use it to go riding but I’m going to ride it now.” “You be careful,” I cautioned.. “He’s tame, Mom. You don’t need to worry,” Micah assured me. “Come on, let’s go!” He dug his heels into the horse’s flanks. The horse pranced past the window. A moment later Valley appeared white-faced in the kitchen doorway, “Micah’s lying in the middle of the road. I think he got thrown off the horse,” she said. I lurched for the door, fear squeezing my heart..

In front of the public school, next to our house, Micah lay sprawled in the middle of the road, the horse a diminishing speck. My feet flew across the bare, rocky soil, as I whispered a disjointed one liner, “Lord, help us. Lord, help us.” I’ve never been good in emergencies and when there’s an injury, if a Bandaid or a Tylenol doesn’t work, I don’t know what to do. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to move someone who had been in an accident for fear of damaging something inside. With Micah lying in the middle of the road, we didn’t have a choice.

There followed a frantic few minutes in which Micah, who didn’t seem to know where he was or what had happened, fought us off as we tried to help him. I could easily imagine terrible damage to his spinal cord or his brain. Especially his brain when he kept jabbering about a white bird and struggling to point at some invisible object. Would our energetic, enthusiastic Micah ever be himself again?

Someone radioed for Phil, who was working at the neighbors about a mile away. With him came Phil Hackman and Joe Miller, board members here on a business trip. By the time the men arrived, Micah lay on Deryk’s bed. The outside entrance door stood open, begging for a breeze and a little more light. I held a drink to Micah’s lips but he pushed it away. He was still flailing about in spite of my best efforts to keep him calm. I felt so helpless.

The adults in the room continued to discuss our options. We didn’t know if he needed medical attention or not, but between us and the doctor’s office lay two hours of driving time, half of it through rivers and up over rocky hillsides. Even on the plateau where the road was relatively straight there were washboard ridges that rattled a person’s teeth. If only we could get a hold of Michelle, I thought for the hundredth time.

Michelle, a member of Phil Hackman’s church, was a nurse.. Michelle had also spent time in La Esperanza. If any one could make an informed guess, it would be Michelle. Phil Hackman laid the phone on the bed beside him after another fruitless try. “I know we’ve all been praying,” my Phil said, “But Joe, will you lead us in prayer together for direction?

We all bowed our heads and Joe asked God to show us what was the best thing to do. As he calmly put words to the frantic scramble of petitions in my head, I could feel the tension begin to drain from me. I knew God was there with us in that stuffy little bedroom. Maybe we couldn’t contact Michelle, but with God the line is always open.

I didn’t know how this episode was going to turn out. Would Micah survive? Would he be crippled, or brain damaged? I knew that God could raise him up immediately, like he had done with Jairus’ daughter, if He chose to do so. I laid my hand on Micah s chest. His heart beat had slowed considerably although he still moved his head from side to side. “It’ll be okay,” I whispered.

Phil Hackman looked up. “You know, I wonder if I’ve been dialing Michelle’s old number? She just recently moved into her new house. I’m going to call Heidi and find out.” A hurried phone conversation with his daughter ensued, and in a few minutes Phil was scribbling a number on a scrap of paper.

Even if you had Michelle’s correct number, she was a hard person to contact. If she wasn’t at work, she was out mowing her lawn, or off checking on some ailing neighbor. We finally tracked her down at Miss Susie’s house. “It’s a risk,” Michelle said after she weighed our story against the terrain. “At this point, I’d say you’re better off to stay home, but keep a close eye on his pupils. Make sure they are reactive and if one reacts differently from the other, you ‘d better take him to the doctor. Or if he has a severe headache, it could indicate his brain is bleeding.”

I quailed at the thought of reading the signs. Where’s the line between a headache and a severe one? Suppose I didn’t pick up on his eyes not dilating together? I sat by Micah s bed after the others had lingeringly departed. He had fallen asleep and now that he wasn’t writhing and twisting, he looked so small and innocent with his dark head against the white pillow. My heart hurt for the little fellow who was so often in trouble. What would an active child like Micah do if he had to be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life?

You know, I reminded myself, God didn’t dramatically raise Micah up when we prayed. But He did help Phil think of trying Michelle’s new number. And He did allow Michelle to advise us. I just know He’ll continue to help us. All that night and all the next day Micah lay in bed, lethargic and uncharacteristically patient. He didn’t want to eat and his siblings and I tried to think of things to tempt his appetite to no avail. We had to keep urging him to drink so he wouldn’t dehydrate. Five-year-old Donovan hardly knew what to do without Micah to shadow. He dug in his treasure container for a match box truck. Maybe that would spark an interest in playing. Micah smiled wanly, took it and parked it on the bed beside him.

On the afternoon of the second day, Micah wanted a Popsicle. Our neighbor, Beti, sold popsicles for fifty centavos each. How gladly I dug the coins out of my purse. That evening as I was pressuring beans for supper, I heard a squawk in the bedroom and Donovan charged into the kitchen. “Mom, Micah won’t let me have my match box truck. He says I gave it to him to keep.” Oh, praise the Lord! I rejoiced. We have our Micah back!

HAVES and HAVE NOTS by Starla Goodwin

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Have one iron.

Iron my veils.

Iron the seams on a dress I’m sewing.

Don’t always iron much else… Sometimes iron shirts.

One iron.

Little Fransisco comes to borrow it- Borrows it Tuesday.

Gone Wednesday, Gone Thursday, Gone Friday.

Gone until I send a son for it,

Or til I catch Fransisco in the street And send him home to his grandma To get it for me.

One iron.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Ha… good thing our clothes Are permament press..

Good thing to be good neighbors.

One iron.

They have a little old shack And ironed creases in their pants.

We have a big old house, And a few wrinkles..

One iron.

Once I lived where EVERYBODY had their own iron

Here – some do, some don’t.

I do.

Wish I had one to give to my neighbor- But maybe sharing is better.

“Freely ye have received, freely give.”    

Stripped of Pretense by Jan Beiler

Monday, July 18th, 2011

 

 

The black Angus cow turned her placid face toward us, thoughtfully munching sage brush. A spindly legged calf pushed against her udder.

A low growl rumbled in the throats of our two dogs.

Tigre! Grizzly! Stay here!”

The sun peeping over the bluff cast a rozy glow over the Mexican hillsides. Phil and I, breathing deeply of the crisp, pure air, had been hiking over the rocky terrain in a companionable mood. This was one of my favorite times of the day. With all eight of us crowded together in our small house, there wasn’t much privacy. The walls of the house were made of thick adobe but the crooked doorways made eavesdropping easy – even if you weren’t trying to listen. I got tired of whispered conversations.

Now that we took these early morning walks, we had plenty of time to talk. Plus we couldn’t go far in any direction without going down one side of the mesa and up another and maybe we’d even lose a pound or two.

I loved the country side. Scrubby little spruce, twisted by the ever present wind dotted the landscape. Fence posts made from gnarled limbs and small trees and strung with rusty barbed wire staggered along beside the road. Wood smoke tinged the air and in the distance roosters crowed.

Ranging black Angus cattle grazed on sage brush or gathered in the riverbeds for water. Long-eared jack rabbits, frightened out of their hiding places, zigzagged off to safer parts.

Tigre and Grizzly, our two mutts, loved these morning walks as well as we did. At the first squeak of the screen door opening, their ears would prick and they would be on their feet. By the time it banged shut, they’d be on the door step, grinning and wagging their tails.

The two dogs loped along beside us, past the neighboring corral and down into the arroyo. As we started up the other side, the dogs spotted the cow. She stopped chewing and raised her head warily.

Both dogs took several prancing steps toward the cow.

No, Grizzly. No Tigre. Stay here,” we said. The dogs trembled and whined in visible effort to control that inborn thrill of the chase.

Good dogs,” we encouraged, stroking their heads.

Suddenly the temptation was too overpowering for Grizzly. He gathered his strength into a tremendous bound and took off after the cow. The Angus snorted and thundered away, tail high, small calf sprinting behind.

Woof, Woof!” Tigre barked, running a few steps ahead and then looking back at us. Do you see what that bad Grizzly is doing? he seemed to say.

He waited for us to catch up, and fell into step, bumping into my leg, touching my hand with his cold muzzle.

Woof, Woof,” he confided. I would never do such a thing. I’m a good dog.

Phil and I looked at each other and laughed. You crazy thing!” I said. “Do you remember yesterday how you chased Nuko’s dog? You wouldn’t let him alone until he was inside the yard gate. Grizzly was the good dog that time.”

They’re like we are sometimes, aren’t they?” Phil said. “Can’t stand to see someone else get away with what we’d like to be doing.”

Yeah,” I agreed. “And in God’s sight, stripped of pretense, I’m sure we look just this silly.”

Part of The Package by Jan Beiler

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Splat!  A drop of cold water hit me on top of my head, right in the part of my hair.  Splat.  Another one hit me on my arm.  Splat. Splat.  Two in quick succession landed on my shoulder and my back.     “Disgusting!” I mumbled to myself around the froth of toothpaste in my mouth.  “I need an umbrella in the bathroom just to keep dry while I brush my teeth.”

Before we moved into this house in La Esperanza, Mexico, the former renters took the wood fired water heater along with them.  I hadn’t ever seen the likes before, but a little door beneath the tank provided access to a fire pit.  Put in a few sticks of wood, light a fire, and presumably the water in the tank eventually would heat enough for a tepid shower.     Actually there wasn’t much original equipment in the bathroom.  Phil had built a door first thing. He had leaned it against the wall until he could purchase hinges to install it.  One of the children accidentally knocked it over and it fell on top of the commode, breaking that fixture.  I was secretly relieved because I had dreaded cleaning the ancient receptacle, stained as it was.            The sink hung precariously from the adobe wall of the shower.  Four-year-old Merideth, hoisting herself up to wash her hands, had permanently dislodged it.  A sink in the shower has its own set of drawbacks, but there weren’t a lot of options when we  replaced it, because the shower took up three-fourths of the bathroom.

The shower consisted of a two-inch drop in the concrete floor, a drain, a shower curtain, and a tiny window.  An oil lamp and a bottle of Pert Plus sat on the wide adobe window sill.  But it was an indoor bathroom and I was glad about that.     The new gas water heater Phil installed worked wonderfully.  On these chilly autumn evenings, a hot shower in the unheated bathroom was amazingly comforting.              One always had to be wary of the village water system shutting down or of depleting the hot  water  before the last member of the family had a chance to shower.  But still, it was a thing to relish.                          Mornings in the bathroom were not as nice. Condensation from our good hot showers the night before, froze against the metal roof/ceiling.  In the morning, as the sun warmed the metal, cold droplets rained upon hapless victims in a most annoying fashion.     As soon as he could, Phil fitted Styrofoam sheets up against the metal. That largely took care of the problem except one place where two of the sheets didn’t fit quite tightly enough.  Moisture tended to pool up and leak through the crack.

Well, you know what? I said to myself one day as I wiped a puddle off the floor.  I always wanted a cabin in the mountains and now I have one.  This is part of the package.        I thought about packages.

A big package had come from our relatives with gifts for all of us at Christmas.  Meri delightedly unwrapped a ceramic tea set. One of the cups promptly fell on the concrete floor and broke.  Donovan eagerly opened a set of John Deere match box toys and set up farming.  Chad didn’t know what to think of his gift of a book on astronomy until Auntie displayed the pull out charts and graphs.     With a package that comes in the mail, one can either accept or reject the contents.  Life isn’t quite that easy.  Some things we don’t have a choice but to accept, for instance Parkinson’s or cancer.  Other things we accept because it is important to us to have God’s blessing on our lives.  Like caring for a crotchety relative who used to yell at others when he was in his prime.

Our package in La Esperanza, contained a house that was too small and a leaky bathroom.  But it was also comprised of black faced cattle and cute, spindly-legged calves, horses of varied descriptions; the Llavero, the zorse (a mule with zebra-like markings), and a donkey that begged for bubble gum.  It included the musical yipping of coyotes, the speedy road runner, and the darting jack rabbit.

Our package held the bluest of blue skies just overhead. The craggy bluff straight out from our kitchen window, and wide open trails to hike on crisp, clear mornings, were part of it too.  But most of all, it contained a ranch full of dear friends whom we had grown to love, and for whom we prayed daily.  There was Nena, whose eye glasses had only one temple, Casi Miro, who sometimes gave his age as fifty and other times eighty, and shriveled Angel, who talked to himself as                                                                                                                                                                      he patrolled the range.  On the other mesa lived Estella who had such beautiful flowers growing in her patio, and Jesus and Lola, who loved to serve.  And others – too numerous to mention.

A New Year, And New Steps Jan Beiler

Monday, January 24th, 2011

“Shhh! We have to be quiet! I hissed.  “Richard and Esther are trying to sleep!”

It was New Year’s Eve.  All seven of the La Esperanza youth were squeezed around the table playing games with our family while 2006 ebbed to a close.

The only problem was that Richard and Esther Hostetler, our honored guests from Texas, preferred to start their new year well rested.  We had given them the girl’s room which had a thin, very un-soundproof, plywood partition and a book case blocking an erstwhile doorway.

We had learned to know the Hostetler’s twenty years earlier, when we were muddling through our first adoption in Honduras, and they were terminating missionaries.  I well remember the day Esther and I were working together in the kitchen and she said, “Sometimes I wonder if being here was worth all the investment of these sixteen years.  Then I think of The Last Day and I know that when we see the Hondurans we have influenced, pass through those pearly gates, I will know it was.”

The Hostetler’s had gone through some bumpy times in Honduras.  When they arrived there as a young family, it had been an Amish community.  Long before we came on the scene, the settlement had accepted cars and electricity and more recently it had weathered a church split.  Richard’s family put themselves into the work, loving the natives without reserve, teaching, nurturing, and caring. No doubt they struggled at times with the frustration of not being able to accomplish all of their vision.  Perhaps there were misunderstandings with co-workers, or maybe they battled loneliness.

I knew about frustration because we were still groping for the elusive language.  As to loneliness, I had discovered a depth I hadn’t known existed before.  There were times in the past year when our best efforts hadn’t been good enough, and how can you do better than your best?

We wondered sometimes if our paltry contribution to the work was accomplishing anything at all for eternity?   We loved the natives, but we certainly didn’t have any heroic conversions to our credit. No non-heroic conversions either, for that matter.

How long would we remain here in Mexico? What did the Lord have for us?  I didn’t know the answers to any of my questions, but I could look back and see that God had been there all the time.  The loneliness had compelled me to reach out to Him.  The misunderstandings caused me to search my motives. The shadows helped me rejoice in the sunshine.

There were times in 2006 when we seemed to be in a round room with a dozen closed doors. But always, just when we had to make a decision, we could perceive a faint ray of light shining through a crack in one of those doors.  When we gave it a tentative nudge, it had swung open a bit more until we could sense the direction we were to go.

God hadn’t promise we’d know the end from the beginning.  He only promised to lead us one step at a time.

“Wake up, Mom, it’s your turn!”

“Yeah, and it’s almost midnight,” Phil said, glancing at his watch.  “If we’re going to pray in the New Year, we’d better get started.”

A feeling of security enveloped me.  We may not have chosen the same way to welcome the New Year that Richard and Esther had, but we both knew by past experience, that we could go into 2007 with joy. Knowing that whatever came, God would be there with us.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.  Isaiah 43:2

It Is Well By Jan Beiler

Monday, November 29th, 2010

“Nuko called me a pig!” my nine-year-old son whom I will call Jerry, burst into the house, letting the door crash shut behind him. “I forgot to turn off the valve and the water ran out on the ground. Nuko yelled at me. He said I was a stupid pig to let it run over.” Sparks of fire flecked his eyes.

Our neighbors had a water tank on a metal frame above their house. While the pump was running, they could open a valve and fill their tank. On this day they had asked Jerry to close the valve when the tank was full, because they needed to leave for town.

“But, Mom,” our next older son reported. “Jerry said Nuko didn’t have any right to poke his nose into our business.”

“Oh, Jerry!” I gasped.“Did you say that?!”

“Yes and he deserved it, too. He can’t go around calling me a pig.”

“I’m not saying he was right, but that didn’t give you license to do wrong. You were disrespectful and unkind. What do you think this does to our witness? You’ll have to apologize.”

“I can’t do it, Mom,” Jerry wailed. “They’ll laugh at me. I know they will.”

“I’m sorry, son, but you should have thought about that before you smarted off to Nuko,” I said. “Here’s a cookie recipe. You help me mix up a batch of these now, and we should have them done in time to take some over and apologize to him before supper.”

Glumly Jerry broke the eggs into the mixing bowl while I unwrapped two sticks of margarine.

I lifted the sugar canister off the top shelf and handed it to him. “Measure out two cups,” I said.

I could picture Nuko, our neighbor, with his baked brown skin, missing front tooth, and snapping black eyes. Nuko, with his purple striped shirt, and jeans that were a little too tight to button.

Nuko was in charge of the village water system. It was his job to start the engine that pumped the water from the river to a tank high on the hill. From there it flowed by gravity to all the houses in the village. Almost every morning the tank was empty.

We kept one ear tuned for the sound of the pump as we stacked the breakfast dishes in the sink and sorted the laundry. Sometime after eight o’clock the chugging of the engine meant Nuko had eased himself down over the bank behind his house and started the pump. In about two hours we would have enough water to wash dishes and fill the tub of our wringer washing machine.

Yes, Nuko was in charge of the village water and maybe in charge of the village itself.

One scorching day we told the children they could fill the *pila with water and splash in it for an hour or two. It wasn’t long until Nuko rattled up in his Ford F150 with its black fender, blue hood and green body. “You’re wasting water!” he scowled. I tried not to think about his well watered patio.

Nuko scolded our boys for playing in the field across the road from our house. The field actually belonged to Antonio, the neighbor who lived behind us. Antonio didn’t seem to mind if the boys chased along the cattle trails that wound through the field and up over the mesa.

Sometimes Nuko’s wife, Idalia, walked beside him while he rode his skinny mare to check on the cows. Idalia pried the wire loop off the top of the gate post and dragged the heavy contraption aside for Nuko to ride through. When he was safely inside, Idalia hauled the gate into place and strained to wrestle the wire back down over the post.

Although it didn’t excuse our children, the way he treated his wife made it hard for them to respect Nuko.

Underneath his crusty exterior, however, lay a heart as soft as a marshmallow. I’d seen glimpses of the softness when his eyes rested upon his small son Fufi.

I’d seen it the day the mad cow got loose and charged toward our house. Nuko’s frantic yells brought me running outside in time to see Donovan riding his trike down the road in the path of the oncoming cow.

The black Angus cow bellowed and threw her head from side to side. Nuko and Antonio, mounted on horses and swinging lariats pounded along behind her, trying to get close enough to put a rope around her neck.

Later, after Donovan was rescued, and the cow safely corralled, Nuko stopped by our house. “Are you okay?” he asked Donovan. He squatted down beside the child who was driving his truck on a dirt trail just outside the back door. Something almost tender had exuded from him that day.

No, I wasn’t worried about Nuko laughing at Jerry.

“Is that all, Mom?” Jerry asked. Flour dusted his dark shirt and drifted into little mounds around the mixing bowl.

“That’s good. Let’s drop them onto this cookie sheet and when this batch is baked we’ll walk over to Nuko’s.”

Twenty minutes later the two of us were standing in Nena’s kitchen. Her eyes lit up at the plate of cookies we set on the table and she turned to the stove to heat water for coffee. “Have a seat,” she said, waving her hand toward a chair. I sat and Jerry, with a sick sort of look on his face, leaned against the cupboard where Nena’s collection of dishes was displayed. We talked about the intense heat and wondered if the rains would soon start.

Nuko ambled out to the kitchen and propped himself against the counter. After a brief exchange I told him Jerry has something he needs to say.

Tears filled Jerry’s large brown eyes. “But, Mom, I don’t know how to say the words in Spanish,” he whispered. Of our whole family, this child had picked up Spanish the quickest. He could carry on a conversation with anyone and the natives said he didn’t even have much of an accent. Somehow the words for an apology got stuck in his craw.

I drew him down onto my lap. “You can do it,” I encouraged. “Say, ‘Lo siento…’”.

“Lo siento…” eyes on the floor he struggled the whole way through the halting confession.

Nuko’s eyes were suspiciously moist as he laid a hand on Jerry’s head. “Esta bien,” he said. Their eyes met for an instant and a brief smile passed between them. Nuko patted Jerry’s head as he sauntered through the kitchen and out the door. Jerry hopped up and followed him outside.

I sighed with relief. It is well.

*pila – a large concrete receptacle often used for washing

What Makes the Difference? by Jan Beiler

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

High on the mesa, beneath the clear blue of the Mexican sky, are crumbling remains. Years ago the owner of a silver mine lived in this very spot. With him lived his twelve wives, and no one knows how many children.

I stood in the center of the adobe courtyard and wondered how it must have felt to be one of those wives.  The courtyard wall had been the outer circumference of the living structure.  Rooms, not accessible to each other, opened into the yard.

In the center stood the remains of something, was it the cooking ring?  Did the wives take turns patting out tortillas on this flat rock and heating them over the fire, each for her  own brood of children?        Did the favorite wife have priority?  Did a less favorite wife cast dark looks as she shushed her hungry, crying toddler? Did each woman gather her children into her cubicle as the evening shadows fell and echoes of yipping coyotes on the trail of a jack rabbit, rolled in from the hills?  Did she hope her husband came to her that night or did she fear that he would?

What about the patriarch?  Did he ride his mule home from checking on his mines, and look across the hills at his vast land holdings, feeling like royalty returning to his humble subjects?  Or did he ride home with slumped shoulders wondering how he ever got himself into this mess?  The whole set up was so far from God’s plan for a home…  how could it have been a happy situation?

I thought about humble Jesús, faithful native member of the church, descendant of the silver mining genitor.  Jesús, who limps into church at nearly every service.  His black, thick framed glasses, held together by a length of lime green yarn. Jesus, with his tee shirt with the slogan ‘Ernesto Sigalo for presidente’, highly visible through his thin dress shirt.

Jesus, who halts painfully through the reading of his verse in Sunday school and who waits quietly while one of the young fellows helps him find the number in the song book, but joins in singing with full, rich fervor.  Jesus, who, right on cue, shuffles to the back of the auditorium, grasps the wooden offering box, and carries it to the front row. He faithfully attends it the whole way to the back, nodding agreeably as the coins plunk inside.  After the service, it is Jesus who shakes hands with everyone, and makes each one feel like the most important person present.

I thought about how it would feel to be the wife of Jesus.  He doesn’t have a silver mine as his grandfather did, just some cattle, and a smattering of turkeys.  He doesn’t have vast land holdings to gloat over, just a narrow strip of rocky soil. He isn’t rich and he isn’t polished, how can he be so happy?

What makes him provide a Christmas turkey for the missionary’s guests from the states?  What caused Jesus and his wife, Lola, to count out enough money from their meager savings to buy a block of cheese as a love gift for the missionaries?

Why is it that their home is a place for anyone to come with their troubles? Where, no matter who you are, you’re treated to a cup of coffee, a warm smile and a listening ear?

I can still see Jesus and Lola sitting together in their sunny kitchen, after the last drop of coffee, rich with sugar and creamer had disappeared and the last *sopaipilla had vanished, and they were satisfied they couldn’t get us another thing.

“Could you sing for us?” we asked.  “The song about the ovejas pedidas?”

Lola chuckled self consciously, and looked at her hands in her lap.  Jesus cleared his throat, threw his head back and together they launched into the song of the lost sheep.  What makes them have such a burden for the lost?

Could it be the joy they have experienced at being rescued by the Good Shepherd??? They haven’t forgotten the  ancient Jeep Wagoneer rattling into the village of La Esperanza all those years ago bringing the gospel to fan the flickering flame in their hearts.  The flame of longing for something better, something that would make a difference.

*Sopaipillas are deep fried tortillas which are rolled in a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while they are still warm.  With honey drizzled over top, they are delicious.

Chicken is…Just Chicken Jan Beiler

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Those chickens must’ve had to work for their living, I thought as I looked at the scrawny chicken drumsticks for sale in Hermanos Castillos.   I turned away from the display.  Much as I longed for the taste of fresh chicken, it wasn’t worth the price they were asking.  Converting pesos to dollars and kilos to pounds it would have been over a dollar per pound… unreachable on a missionary stipend.

In the mean time, Dad and Mom came for a visit.  Dad had been the Bishop over the Mexico  churches for many years, so, like it or not, we had to share them with everybody.  Still, they were my parents and when it was time for their return flight, we were privileged to take them the six hours to El Paso, Texas to the airport.

As we neared the border town of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Mom dug around in her ample purse and pulled out fifty dollars.  “Here,” she said.  “I want you to go to Walmart and stock up on meat.”

Such riches!  I picked out several ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters and three five pound rolls of ground beef and I think I even bought a ham.

Gratefully, I stored the meat in the freezer in our little house in La Esperanza.

Phil was adding a second story to the Pastor’s house.  Dave and Phyllis’ family of ten had crowded into the three bedroom, one bath house for the last five years.  They frequently hosted large groups of visitors, who stayed for weeks at a time. It seemed the addition wasn’t happening a minute too soon.

A work day was scheduled.  Folks were coming from the Pedernales mission, and three men from the states had arrived to help with framing.

“I’ll bring the meat for the casserole,” I offered.  “I have all those leg quarters.”

Phyllis planned to make pies.  Pies were her specialty.  The tender crusts melted in one’s mouth and the chocolate filling with real whipped cream from Naomi’s cow, would be sure to make every worker glad he had come.

The bone to meat ratio is high, even on chicken from El Paso.  The early darkness of winter had fallen by the time I finished picking the last piece of chicken off the last bone.   The mixing bowl full of succulent meat was a treasure to gloat over, especially when one is in the habit of eating beans.

A kerosene lamp flickered on the table, not quite able to dispel the shadows in the corners of the room.  I pushed the cookie sheet full of bones off to one side and turned to the cupboard for a container in which to store the meat.

“Chad,” I said over my shoulder to my eleven-year-old son, “Take this stuff out to the dogs.”

“This?”  Chad asked.

“Mom,” Francie said at that precise instant, “do you want me to start bathing the little ones?”

“Yes,” I said to Francie.  I was still rummaging in the cupboard.  In a kitchen as small as mine, everything had to be stacked and packed so that getting a container was not a light matter, especially in a dark cupboard.

There!   This one looks like the right size, I thought, seizing a square, six cup Rubbermaid with a matching red lid.

I turned back to the table.  Where was the chicken?  I moved a lid and a basket of tea towels, placed there in my quest for a container.  I looked on the chair at the end of the table and on the bench by the wall.  The only sign of chicken was a silver pan full of bones.

“Where is the chicken?”  I asked as the horrible reality began to sink into my unwilling brain.

“Chad, WHAT did you give to the dogs?” I asked.

“The chicken,” he said innocently.  “I asked you if that was the pan I should take out and you said ‘yes’.”

“I said ‘yes’ to Francie,” I moaned.

“Well, I kind of wondered,” Chad replied.

“You kind of wondered?” I choked.  “How could you not know?”

Never one to accept what he considered undeserved blame, Chad shrugged and said, “I’m sorry, but I asked you.”

I slumped onto the kitchen chair.  All that precious chicken!  Brought clear from El Paso, cooked and picked off the bone for two lousy mutts! I felt like I could not accept it.

In the end I didn’t have any choice but to accept it.  I grudgingly carried the chicken scraps out to the dogs, and watched resentfully as they pounced upon the spoil. Low growls rumbling in their throats as each warned the other not to take more than his share.

I fried hamburger for Phyllis’ rice casserole and tried to figure out what was left to be thankful for.

We still had plenty to eat, nobody was hurt, and, after all, chicken is… just chicken.

Frenos Calientes by Jan Beiler

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

The setting sun cast long shadows across the narrow highway that hugged the craggy mountainside.  Our van crept down each steep decline, rounding tight hairpin turns and struggling up to the crest of yet another ridge.   Sheer drop offs fell away from the side of the road, way, way down to the rocks below.

The van was packed to capacity.  My brother Dale’s family of five, from NC, and seven from our family had left home long before dawn that morning.  A tray, attached to the hitch of the van, carried a small stack of firewood and a disco* which we had used for cooking lunch at the Thousand Foot Falls.

Three little Indian boys had lurked on the outskirts of our lunch time gathering, savoring the fragrance of potatoes and hamburger sizzling in oil over the fire.  A mangy dog with one blue eye and one green eye salivated in the near distance. We had prepared plates of food for the boys and inadvertently spilled enough to make the dog happy before hiking to the falls.  Indian women sat on the blankets they’d spread over rocks, displaying their woven baskets and shawls.

After leaving the falls, we had driven another couple of hours to the El Cerrito mission among the Tarahumara Indians.  That had been an interesting experience, hearing about the challenges those missionaries face – a fire, a baby without a home, a sister who faces opposition from her family, and a bad case of homesickness.

And now, tired to the bone, we were heading home with our capable nineteen-year-old son, Harlan, at the wheel.  Suddenly, at the bottom of a mountain, in the middle of a curve where the ascent of the next mountain began, the van stopped and Harlan said quietly, “We don’t have brakes.  When I step on the pedal, there’s just nothing there.”

For an instant not a sound could be heard except maybe my heart thumping in my chest.  No brakes!  Somebody would be coming down the mountain behind us in a minute – we couldn’t just sit there! There was certainly no place to pull off beside the road but how could we negotiate all those curves without brakes?  I thought about the family whose bus had crashed down the mountainside in Honduras after brake failure.  The parents had died.  I thought about our two school-aged sons who had stayed at home. “God help us,” I prayed.

Phil and Dale and the four teenage boys climbed out of the van to take a look.  The brakes were hot as asphalt on a summer day.

“We’ll have to go on,” the men decided.  “Let’s just keep our eyes open and pull off to let the brakes cool at the first place where there’s enough space to park.”

Slowly the van eased up the mountain.  Inside, all eyes were glued to the shoulder, looking for a place to pull off.

“There’s one,” Harlan said.  “I doubt we’ll do better than that.”

The men decided the best thing was to drive past and back onto the rock table beside the road.

“I’ll get out and motion you in,” Dale said.

“Grab a chunk of that firewood to chock the wheels,” Phil suggested.

Since we were going uphill, it wasn’t hard to grind to a halt but my heart fluttered in my throat as Harlan inched backward onto the handkerchief-sized piece of real estate.  What if the chock wouldn’t hold us?  What if the bank caved away?

I’ll never forget Dale standing there in the dusk with a chunk of firewood in one hand, signaling with the other, and the relief that washed over me as the van came to rest, free of the road, and high above the valley.

We climbed out, stretched our stiff joints and peered down over the precipice.  Through the scrubby trees we could see a sprinkling of adobe huts clinging to the steep mountainside.  Dogs barked. The lonely wail of a guitar wafted toward us.   Real people lived here.  I couldn’t help but wonder what hopes and fears made up their lives as they eked their sustenance from this barren soil.

The chill evening air nipped at us and we drew our jackets closer.

“Let’s build a fire with the leftover wood,” Phil suggested.

The men laid the kindling and placed the wood, teepee style over the small sticks, blowing the flickering flame to life.

Meanwhile my nephew Anthony gathered small rocks.  “I need to set up a marker for time to come,” he said, spelling out the words, ‘FRENOS CALIENTES’ (hot brakes) with the rocks.

Sitting there in the glow of the fire on that rocky mountain ledge, helpless to improve our situation, but saved from harm, God suddenly seemed very near.

“Let’s sing,” I suggested.

Together, our voices rang out over the still valley, echoing off the rocks, and rising to our Father, “Oh, Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…   Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God, to Thee, How great thou art! How great Thou art!”

*A disco is a blade off a farm disk, with the center hole welded shut and three short legs welded to the bottom.  Place the disco over the fire, pour a puddle of oil into the center and cook finely diced potatoes and hamburger in the oil until tender.  Serve wrapped in a tortilla with refried beans, guacamole, peppers and onions.

More Righteous Than I by Jan Beiler

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

There had been lots of hurdles in the seven years since Rhonda and her husband, Kent, had come to the mission field. First of all, they’d had to learn the ropes themselves; such things as cultural differences, which practices to avoid, and which to pursue.
Then had come the relationship challenges with others workers. About the time they’d get used to working with one set of people, those folks would terminate and another set would take their place. Tall, thin Carl and his short, frizzy-haired wife, Anna, had come just over a year ago.

Rhonda shifted the baby on her lap and turned her head toward the open truck window for a whiff of fresh air.
This child smells like it hasn’t had a bath for a week! She thought.

Unpleasant odors associated with Carl and Anna were nothing new. They assailed Rhonda every time she walked into her fellow missionaries’ home. Her hands fairly itched to get a bottle of Mean Green and attack their bathroom.
Rhonda had actually even dreamed one time that she was teaching them how to use deodorant.

The Anderson’s zeal was as overpowering as their presence. Just now, as they rode toward the mission headquarters for a staff meeting, Carl leaned forward from the back seat of the crew cab and tapped Kent on the shoulder.

“I’m going to propose mass tract distribution,” he hollered over the noise of the engine and the open windows. “We need to be reaching more people.”
A muscle twitched in Kent’s cheek, but he nodded. “That’s what staff meeting is for,” he yelled back, “to exchange ideas and figure out how best to extend the kingdom.”

Muscles weren’t just twitching in Rhonda’s stomach. They were knotting and cramping. We’re not reaching around to all the needs now, she thought. There’s a steady stream of people who already come to our door.

She thought of Idalia, who needed so much nurture in her choice to follow Christ. She thought of Beti, who didn’t want to be a Christian but who came nearly every day, just to talk. She thought of Yesenia, who was counting the cost. And there were others. Every day there were others. How’re we going to stretch farther? Maybe if we never cleaned our house…

The baby had fallen asleep. Rhonda laid his sweaty little body across her lap. He’s kind of cute, really, she decided, brushing a damp curl behind his ear, but I wish I’d brought another dress along. I’m going to smell like him all day today.
“I think we have time to stop at the Post Office and check the mail,” Kent said.
“I’ll go in,” Carl volunteered, pushing his door open as the truck slowed to a stop.

A moment later he returned, riffling through the stack of letters in his hand.
“Seventeen!” he announced. “Anna, we got seventeen letters, plus it looks like our rent check’s come.”
Casually he tossed a letter into the front seat. “Here’s one that came for you,” he said.

“Did you only get one letter?” Anna asked as she tore open an envelope.
Rhonda fought down a surge of annoyance. “We’ve been here so long, folks have forgotten about us,” she said dryly.

Anna, busy devouring a letter, looked up and giggled. “People back home really miss us. They tell us they just really want to stay involved in our lives.”
Rhonda forced a laugh but she couldn’t bring herself to look back at Anna.
Oh, stop it; she scolded herself, as a dart of guilt stabbed her conscience. Love bears all things, believes all things… But it wasn’t that easy to stop.
In fact, she didn’t really want to stop. Rhonda recognized it by the surge of delight she felt at a conversation she overheard between the director, Brother Amos, and Carl.

She really couldn’t help overhearing. She and Kent stood in the food line for lunch and it wasn’t moving very fast. Brother Amos and Carl were planted off to the side of the line, but not far enough.

“Carl, I understand you went to the airport last Sunday to pick up the guests from Ohio.”

“Yes, we did. It just didn’t seem like the thing to do to make them wait until after the church service at Saragosa. They hadn’t ever been outside the US and it seemed like we should look out for them.”

“ That may be true, but do you remember we as a team discussed this issue? All the unit leaders agreed that church services should not be interrupted to accommodate Sunday traveling.”

The food line moved on and Rhonda couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation. He had it coming, she thought. It’s not the first time they’ve bent the rules to accommodate their viewpoint.

She remembered the time the Anderson’s had decided to exchange their little gas refrigerator for a nice big electric one and send their “old” one to another mission in the boonies. They’d made the decision on their own in spite of the board having just cautioned against living above the native’s life style.

One of the items on the business agenda for the afternoon session was the VS Youth outing to Lake Azul.
Going to Lake Azul in the beautiful foothills of Aguas Calientes was the highlight of the year. One of the missionary families always chaperoned. This year the vote  was between Carl’s and Kent’s.
Rhonda wanted to go. It had been five years since they had accompanied the youth and it just seemed like the rigors of everyday life could be relieved by a refreshing trip to the Lake. Besides, she enjoyed the youth. They were interesting and fun.

She and Kent had talked about it at home earlier. “I don’t think I can vote for Carl’s,” Kent had said. “I hope it’s not carnality, but in my mind they aren’t qualified.”

Rhonda shifted in her seat as Brother Amos said, “Well, we’ve come to the final item on our agenda. Who shall we appoint to chaperone the youth this year? I believe it’s between Carl’s and Kent’s.”
Carl cleared his throat. “I’d just like to say something here.”

Rhonda stiffened. Probably wants to say that the youth like them so well they want them to be involved in their lives as much as possible, she surmised.
“Go ahead, Carl,” Brother Amos held his pen poised above his paper and looked across the circle at Carl.

“It’s not that Anna and I wouldn’t enjoy going along on the outing, but we feel Kent and Rhonda should go. We’ve only been here a year and I’m sure they need a break more than we do. We’ve talked it over and we’d like to recommend that they be sent.”

Rhonda felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. Why, he’s more righteous than I! she thought.