Friday, July 11, 2008

Six Hours South

I have just returned from a quickie trip to the border, to deliver a load of tables and chairs to a Methodist church in Matamoros, Mexico.

My church buddy Nick, my older daughter and I hit the road early Thursday morning. We had to meet Pastor Roberto in Brownsville to drop off some soccer balls at a "safe house" where he stores items that he gradually takes across the border. Then, it was off to the "frontera."

Pastor Roberto had the insight to hold a prayer meeting earlier in the week to lift up the sticky wicket of trying to cross with 7 6-ft tables and 125 metal chairs. For whatever reason, the Mexican Government likes to make it hard on those who want to help the people of Mexico. I don't get it, but hey, they've got their prerogatives, I suppose.

After his prayer meeting, Roberto felt led by the Spirit to go to the border and talk to the Customs officers there. As "chance" would have it, he met with a compassionate soul who said "just this once" they would allow the Americans to cross over with the tables and chairs, after paying the usual taxes.

When we reached the border on Thursday, there was the government official Roberto had previously met. He was very gracious and moved us through the line very quickly. $47 and about 30 minutes of bureaucracy later, we were across, thank you Lord!

The next challenge was taking our shipment to a nearby metal works warehouse, where they would be stored until Roberto's church, which is still being built, was complete. We unloaded the chairs and tables, leaning them up against rebar and various steel products in the warehouse. The locals stared at the odd site ... an Anglo man, "middle age" woman and teen carrying chairs and tables through the mud to their final resting place. I had half a mind to offer them $20 to help us, but decided that "sweat equity" was an important part of what we were experiencing on our trip. I even tried to explain this phrase to Roberto, who nodded and smiled with feigned interest.

We drove by Roberto's construction site to see the progress of his church. The previous summer, our mission team had helped to pour concrete and arrange rebar on one side of the church's foundation. Now, they have all sides of the foundation poured and have made good progress on four walls, which of course are constructed of large concrete blocks (think cinder blocks).

We were treated to a wonderful home-cooked meal and the usual hospitality from members of Roberto's church at a special dinner he arranged for us. He thanked us again for our church's generosity in donating the chairs and tables and then gathered his congregants around us, who offered prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for his provision at the border, etc. They placed their hands on us and prayed over us as well. It was sweet and powerful, to say the least.

We were living in luxury this trip, staying in a nearby hotel instead of sleeping on air mattresses at the local church that typically hosts mission teams. Sure, the beds were hard as rocks, but we had air conditioning, cable TV and modern plumbing. I was in heaven -- evidenced by the fact that I slept like an absolute ROCK.

The next day, it was off to El Buen Pastor, to join another missionary team from Austin that was eating breakfast and packing to leave. We ate pancakes and scrambled eggs. I had asked Roberto the previous night, would the sweet kitchen ladies please make us pancakes? I don't know whether he relayed the message to them or we lucked out, but it was another delicious meal. I even teased the ladies, "Manejamos seis horas para sus pancakes" (We drove 6 hours for your pancakes.)

We made a brief stop at the church of our buddy Inez (whose world-famous sense of humor I would also gladly drive six hours for), to see the progress of another church being built. Inez' wife is the pastor of this church. The old church is a dilapidated wooden structure that the termites have made mince meat out of. The new church, constructed again of concrete blocks, is being built around the old structure, with the idea that they'll eventually tear the old structure down. Fascinating!

Crossing the border back into the US was easier this time. They even asked, could they put a "training aid" on Nick's trailer to give the drug dogs some practice. We said, "sure." We figured it might buy us a little more grace in getting through the line more quickly. Then I asked Nick, "What if the next drug dogs at the later check point pick up a remnant of the scent?" LOL.

About 15 miles north of Brownsville, we were pulled over by the police. Seems Nick was speeding just a tad. He had forgotten to plug his radar detector back in after crossing. I had been reading the psalms earlier and still had my Bible nearby, so I opened by Bible and placed it across my lap. Nick explained to the officer we had just returned from mission work in Matamoros. I offered up the best, pious smile I could muster. He let us off with a warning, thank you Lord.

I really missed not having a work team in Matamoros this summer. I have grown very attached to the brothers and sisters there. I was so thankful that this opportunity came up to visit with them, even if it was a quick trip.

The churches in Matamoros never cease to amaze me. The people exhibit the kind of radical hospitality our Bishop speaks of. They are kind, patient, gracious, generous, godly and joyful. We Americans could certainly take a page or two from their book!

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