Posts Tagged ‘mexico’

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!

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.”

Beyond Myself Jan Beiler

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Do you feel nervous?” my friend Phyllis asked.

“Not especially,” I answered. “It’s probably nothing serious, but a person can’t help but think of the possibilities.”

“I know,” my other moral supporter, Naomi, said. “Life goes along but you know one day it could change, just like that.”

Bright Mexican sunlight slanted through the window in the doctor’s waiting room and lay in an oblong block on the white tile floor. I flipped through a magazine and thought about why I was here.

I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about myself until one morning while combing my hair. I had leaned in toward the bathroom mirror to examine a dark spot on the left side of my face. Whatever! I thought, it’s not a spot, it’s a shadow! Sure enough, there was just enough of an indentation for my cheekbone to cast a shadow on my visage.

We had a fellowship meal at the school that same week.

Esther, who sat across from me in the circle of chairs, said, “Did you get hurt?”

I looked at her blankly.

“I just thought it looked like you have a bruise on your cheek,” she explained.

I didn’t like the shadow but I was too busy to spend much time looking in the mirror or thinking about dents in cheeks. I had cinnamon rolls to bake for my village route, long lines of laundry to hang out and children to supervise.

The next time my Mom saw me, she noticed it right away. She kept casting worried glances in my direction and finally she said, “I wish you would get your face checked out. That dent could be cancer or something.”

“No, Mom,” I said. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious. I don’t have any signs of ill-health.”

“Well, I don’t like the looks of it,” she replied.

Mom can be a trifle dramatic and I suspect she had something to do with my generous brother Wes’s concern. “Look, Jan, I’ll pay your expenses if you’ll go to the doctor,” he said.

The indention was getting larger and deeper, and Mom was planning to come for another visit. And that is why we now sat on hard chairs in a sunshine yellow room, awaiting the results of the CAT scan.

In spite of myself, my heart thumped vigorously and my palms felt sweaty when I actually sat on the examining table. What if I have to take radiation? What if part of my cheek needs to be removed?

The dapper little doctor entered the room, picked up a sheaf of papers and smiled at me. I tried to read his smile. Was it sympathetic?

He studied my face critically for a moment and then rattled off a string of Spanish to Phyllis who had come along in to the examining room to interpret.

Phyllis studied my face and said, “Yes, I see it, too.”

I felt like the only one at the funeral who didn’t know who had died.

He says your left side is higher than the right – your chin, your cheekbone, your eyebrows. Even your nose.”

Am I evolving or what? That was the vague question I couldn’t think to formulate.

The doctor consulted his paper again. I watched his expression. He looked up at me and smiled. “It is not a problem,” he said in halting English.

“Your cheek is like a pillow,” Phyllis interpreted. “Sometimes the stuffing gets thin and mashed down in a pillow and that is what has happened to you. The normal fatty cushion has become compacted which makes a hollow in your cheek but there is no sign of any foreign matter except this small cyst.” The doctor showed me a tiny circle on the paper.

We will test it to see if it is malignant but I am quite sure it isn’t,” he said.

Relief washed over me and I realized I had been more concerned than I had acknowledged even to myself.

One would think, when the results of the test came back negative, I would have been so grateful for good health it would override any other emotion. In reality, the more time passed, the more self conscious I became of my dent. An imaginary sensation of heaviness tingled on the left side. I dreaded meeting strangers, especially attractive ones, and always found myself fingering my dent self consciously. After church when I visited with my friends, it seemed their eyes fastened on my dent. Unconsciously, I began to drop deprecatory allusions to my dent. Unconsciously that is, until my brother-in-law pointed it out.

You draw too much attention to it,” he said.

I realized he was right and began to swallow the comments that lurked at the edge of my voice box. I didn’t let them escape but that didn’t make them dissolve. I had to figure out a way to deal with it.

Thankfully Phil continued to assure me of his love, although even before the advent of the dent I hadn’t had any beauty to spare.

Company arrived in the community. At church on Sunday I kept sneaking fascinated glances at the visiting lady who radiated sunshine. I was drawn to her. Her smile was so infectious that it took me a moment to notice how badly pocked with acne her face was. Hmmm!

She’s so interested in others she doesn’t even think about herself, I decided. Maybe there’s something in this for me.

I took a deep breath and turned to shake hands with the lady’s beautiful daughter. “Hello!” I smiled my best smile. “Welcome to Mexico.”

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

HOME, Where the heart is. By Jan Beiler

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Chalk board green paint with splashes of blue, peeled from adobe walls. I could see traces of sodden clouds through the vacant stove pipe hole. The unpainted, pock marked concrete ceiling, seemed to press down upon me. The whole place had a shut up, damp smell.

Housing on the La Esperanza Ranch in Mexico was limited to three options. A tiny four roomed house belonging to Consuelo, and filled with an accumulation of ceramic praying hands, china dolls, and pictures of Jesus, or, the abandoned public schoolhouse, or Antonio’s leaky roofed house which we were now examining.

I would have gone crazy within twenty-four hours in Consuelo’s house. Our family of eight would be jostling things off shelves and sweeping up debris from the outset.

The public school had plenty of space but I couldn’t come up with a single idea for making the drafty edifice homey. The windows , corrugated fiberglass panels that had to be wrestled open along rusty metal tracks just so one could see outside, were enough to make me faint-hearted. The restrooms were two cubicles with outside entrances, just big enough for a commode, with barely enough space left for an occupant.

In Antonio’s house, each room opened into the next, without so much as a door to separate them. The last of the six rooms was the chalky pink bathroom (at least it had one). Mouse dirt littered the commode tank. The shower and the sink shared quarters.

My husband, Phil and I looked at each other. I had always wanted to live in a purple adobe house. This one wasn’t purple but it was adobe and it had nice wide window sills. I liked the log ceiling beams. “It’d be fun to see what we can do with it,” I said.

Realistic Phil said, “It’d be a lot of work. For one thing, it needs a new roof right off the bat.” He waved a hand toward the puddles that seeped across the floor, “See how it rained in here last night?”
“You’re good at fixing things,” I said. “And look, since there’s no electricity and no plumbing except in the bathroom, we can pick whichever room we want and turn it into a kitchen. Not just any renter can do that.”

God wanted us on the ranch, Phil and I agreed. We had to live somewhere. Now we had to make a plan. A partition here. An opening there. Block off this entrance with a piece of plywood and a book case. With plenty of plaster and paint on all surfaces, it just could be quite livable.

Every nail and stick of wood with which to improve our house had to be brought from Cuauhtemoc, a two hour drive on rough, rocky roads, through stream beds, over cattle guards, up mountains and down into valleys. Black Angus cattle roamed the hill sides, jack rabbits with long ears sharply erect, darted in zigzag lines for cover, and road runners trotted briskly along, minding their own business. An occasional coyote slipped through sage brush and disappeared.

Phil set up shop in the back yard, covering his tools at night with a blue tarp. He, with help from our neighbors, fastened metal on the roof, patched plaster and replaced ceiling beams. We bought cheap kitchen cupboards that a fellow missionary had in storage, filled in the stove pipe hole, cut a window over the sink, and built doors.

The older children helped work on the house and the younger ones took every available opportunity to run like wild things over the mesas or play in the sand in the arroyo. Our three dogs promptly made enemies with neighborhood dogs.

We rolled gallons of white paint on thirsty walls. At last, I put my roller down, rubbed the small of my back and scrutinized our work. The rooms seem airier, and the ceiling not so low. I couldn’t wait to arrange furniture, put down rugs, hang pictures and curtains and place our own familiar dishes on the newly crafted shelves.

In the flickering lamplight of that first meal in our new home, I looked around the table at the dear faces of my family and thought, This house is tiny and inconvenient but my loved ones are here. If home is where the heart is, then this is home.