Wow—it has been such an amazing trip so far it is difficult to put it into words. From the minute we began it seems to have been loaded with powerful interactions with God and others.
On our way down (July 14) we ran into a hitchhiker who needed to get further down the road. In praying about it I felt that we could help him without compromising the safety of our crew, and we had some very illuminating conversations with him about life. All of a sudden, it sounded like someone hit us as a car passed us, so we pulled over. It turned out that the treads had entirely come off our rear driver’s side tire, and our passenger helped us change it out. As we were changing the tire he smoked a cigarette, but I thought I smelled something strange about it. Sure enough, as we continued down the highway he showed signs of having taken something—agitation at sound, aggravation over bumps in the road, a vacant stare and mutterings. It became apparent to those sitting near that we needed to pull over and let him off. Interestingly enough, as I needed to figure out how to tell him that he couldn’t ride with us past this stop without angering him further (whatever he had taken had him very agitated at this point), we sprung a major leak in the fuel neck (the part form the gas cap to the tank). Since he could see the fuel shooting onto the ground from the hose as we fueled, he didn’t want to ride with us for safety, so we were able to part ways peacefully. After I had finished repairing the leak to the best of my abilities, he returned. Since we were now only going to go into Oklahoma City and couldn’t drop him off in the country outside it, he didn’t want a ride from us. He also seemed to have come down off whatever he had been on. What he actually wanted to do was to apologize for having gotten angry earlier. He said he’d been trying to change his life and become righteous but had been struggling for a long time. As we chatted more, it became apparent that he genuinely wanted to be on a path towards change and was striving as best as he knew how. After getting him some food we were able to pray for him as he walked off to camp, and then we limped on into Oklahoma City with the little bit of fuel we had been able to get into the tank.
This interaction with the hitchhiker was a very powerful example of how God can use the bad for good; the fuel leak actually was very much needed so that we could safely split ways with the hitchhiker, this man was 100 miles closer to home and had received food and prayer, we had help changing a tire (he gave us the idea to use a block so the jack would reach), and this interaction prepared us spiritually for much of what we would experience at Joe’s in Oklahoma City and even the stories we would hear in Juarez.
Yet our interactions the first day weren’t over. At Joe’s Addiction in Oklahoma City, we talked with Chris (a local ministry leader who has been a believer for almost two years). He told us a recent story about how God had powerfully used him and his abilities to help a local named Mike receive disability pay. Though this sounds like a simple story, you HAD to be there to hear the emotion in his voice, feel the way the Spirit touched our hearts, and see the way that the groups’ eyes lit up. God powerfully encouraged us by the way He was working in that situation.
The next morning, the Spirit again touched our group as Jamie (one of Joe’s owners) shared how God has been moving in the community. I could see several in our group almost crying at points, and I myself held back tears a couple of times as Jamie shared how the Spirit moved in the lives of those in the community there. Many of the stories were very similar to the situations the children at the home often come out of (sexual abuse, neglect, violence, drugs), and the connections were very obvious. Throughout that entire day as we worked at Joe’s, many individuals in our group had powerful conversations that God moved in… but I’ll let them share about them.
July 16 was a LONG day of driving, but after some good conversations about the home and the church here we had supper and got to play with the kids. Many of them remembered us and were VERY glad we were here. It was good to be with them again.
July 17 after church service (which was powerful in itself—one can always feel the Spirit move mightily during praise and worship at this particular Mexican congregation) we had ANOTHER powerful conversation. Joel (the principal at the home) shared with us the story about how he had been kidnapped for ransom and beaten last October. He spoke of his faith and how he knew many were praying for him. Even after being tortured, he said he slept deeper and more peacefully than he ever had before. He shared that this experience brought his faith to life for Him and really showed Him God’s presence and providence. Even more, seeing that most of his abductors were local teens inspired him for his work at the children’s home by showing him how VERY critical what they do is if the cycles of darkness are ever to be changed. Our discussion with Joel was deeply encouraging.
That night we again played with the children and got to know more of the new faces of the home (while enjoying our interactions with the old ones).
Today (July 18) was powerful in different ways… but I will let the others share more about that (Dawn just did in the previous post—you should read it). In general, our interactions with the children were very good and very touching; it shows clearly in their faces that many are extremely happy that we still care about them and remember them. I thank God that we can be here for them and with them—our little brothers and sisters.
Finally, I want to quickly mention two pertinent things from today. First, when we went to a local store at the base of the hill we found out that it had been shut down. After talking with some locals, it turns out that the owners had been threatened and didn’t have protection money so had fled. This was actually very sad for me as I have had good discussions with that family each year that we come back. It continues to highlight the difficulties in everyday life in this place.
Second, we had a couple of great conversations with Becky, an El Paso student who is here for a few weeks. It is very apparent that God is using her to serve and build bridges between El Paso and Juarez. Her heart clearly belongs to Jesus, and her passion for others and God is inspiring. She shared many things with our group that inspired us and encouraged us, and we are very thankful for time that we get to spend with her.
Thank you all for your prayers— If you want to share something with us, encourage us, ask us to pray for you, or ask us questions email us at Uniteeph4.email@example.com and we can hopefully respond on this blog. Please keep praying—it has been VERY important already :) --Brandon