POST: JAN. 13, 2018
by Andy Rotunno
MEXICO: THE RIGHT PLACE
Our team's first stop was in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, January 2-10, 2018. This part of our outreach was added at the last minute, but it was exactly where God wanted us. On our first morning in San Luis we prayer-walked through the dusty little neighborhood around the church, then we met with Pastor Adan Garcia, our host at Living Word Missionary Center on the south side of the city. He challenged us to consider the gospel the most valuable thing we could give to the people of the city, more than food, quilts, clothing, or money. He said, "It is the gospel that will make a real change--the change that this city truly needs more than things." This was so important for our team to hear, since we had come with a truck stocked with Gleanings food, quilts, and building materials (not much money).
Next we met with our friend Elsa Oralia Cruz to strategize and plan for a week of ministry around the city. Elsa had a packed schedule ready for us. First to the city dump, then to a home for disabled elderly, next we would share at a men's recovery center, and finally we'd come back to Pastor Adan's church to speak at the evening service--and that was just the first day! At first I began to wonder what difference we were going to make with such short visits to so many places and very little ministry time at each location. I had expectations and theories about missions methodology. Where was the time in our schedule for the relationship building and long term ministry connections? Well, we have been learning to "relinquish our rights" and this was my first chance. My prayer was "Lord, I just want to know we are doing the right things here in San Luis." So the Lord answered that prayer.
THE DIRECTOR'S SON
There were many God moments that showed us that we were in fact in the right place. The first way He answered that prayer for me personally was at the men's recovery center. We pulled up, got of our cars, and were led through a few tight doorways into a large open courtyard full of men. Young and old with lots of tattoos and weathered faces these men were seated very orderly in tattered pews ready for us to arrive. I was a little surprised and nervous when we walked in to the situation, but these men were full of joy and welcomed us with shouts and clapping. As soon as we had pulled up to the drive way my heart got heavy and started beating fast already. I knew I was to share my testimony. So, when I saw the men, each on their own journey of recovery, I heard God make it clear "Don't be afraid. Share your story with love." So I did. I asked a staff member to join me for translation to Spanish. We read "La Parábola del Padre Amoroso" in Luke 15, the parable of the loving father. Then I shared about God freeing me from addiction to pornography and the cage of fear and shame it brought over my life. Then I sat down. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed to have shared so personally with a crowd of rugged strangers attempting to listen in another language. We got up from our seats, served champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) and a special holiday sweet bread called rosca de reyes. I shook a few hands before we left. Then, as Chelsea and I had packed all the kids in the car and were ready to drive off, two men came to my driver-side window. I rolled it down for them and said "Thank you for welcoming us today." One younger man translated for the other older gentleman, "He wants to say that you were sent here by God today." Of course I was interested. Chelsea and I listened as he explained, "This man is the director of the ministry and he wanted to thank you for what you said today. It is no accident that you came today and shared your story and that scripture." He continued, "His son is fighting with the same problem and he has just come home to this recovery program with his father. God sent you today just for his son to hear your story. Thank you!" I smiled and said, "Thank God!" Chelsea shouted, "Yes, Jesus!" We had a long hand shake through my car window, then we drove away. "How cool was that!" Chelsea laughed. "I think we are in the right place!" I replied.
In the following days our team visited several other ministry sites where we shared testimonies, read scriptures, sang songs, shared meals, gave hugs, distributed food, and wrapped people in their very own handmade Gleanings quilt. There were so many beautiful moments in San Luis--I can't write about them all here. But, there is one moment that was truly heavenly, when the Lord put his personal touch on the entire trip.
We parked our cars on a dirt road outside of a brightly painted building. Dogs from the local streets greeted us as exited the vehicles. We walked into the building, a single room, large and open, with a table in the middle and a Christmas tree still decorated in the corner. All around the table were families circled about their adult child with cerebral palsy. These families were so kind and receptive to our team. Elsa began to share about our team and our desire to serve and love families in San Luis, then she turned it over to us for a word. Chelsea and Pauline (one of our team members) led introductions and a short presentation including simple songs and sign language. When Chelsea was finished she invited all of the families to introduce themselves. Martin, Sarai, Alejandro... Each family shared their names and a little bit about their child. Some of the individuals were in their 20s and 30s, and the oldest was 52 years old. They all wore big smiles, so proud to be introduced with their families. Then one girl at the end of the table, without her family there, began to speak softly, "Yo soy Myra." Several eyes on our team member's face lit up.
You see months earlier, before we even knew about Mexico, we were praying as a team. In the months leading up to our outreach we took time almost everyday to listen to God and take note of the things he was putting on our hearts. We began to form a list of scriptures, words, phrases that God had impressed on our hearts in prayer regarding our outreach. We even had special pictures and visions God had given us when we asked, "Lord, what is on your heart for this outreach?" One morning, as we were sharing our notes from prayer, one of our team members Sara Bartel said, "Myra... I don't know, I just felt like God was putting the name Myra on my heart. So, Myra." We wrote it down in our team prayer journal and moved on. But, you can imagine the excitement and anticipation that shot through the room that afternoon in San Luis when this petite Mexican girl with cerebral palsy says, "I am Myra."
One our Gleanings staff Rod Lawrence looked at me and said "Be ready!" and then he began to share about speaking a special blessing from the Lord. He turned to me and said "Go!" I knew at that moment that the Lord wanted us to show God's love to everyone at the center, but especially to Myra. We told Myra the story of how God spoke her name to us in prayer months beforehand. Our team gathered around her, took time to listen to the Lord in silent prayer, and then we began to speak words of blessing over her. "Your Heavenly Father sees you and he loves you. He hasn't forgotten about you, Myra. Your voice is important so speak what God is putting on your heart..." The blessings just poured out over Myra. As we prayed our group began to softly hum the tune from the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. We hummed the tune, then we sang various names of God over the tune, and finally we sang the chorus together over Myra. Our whole group was kneeling around Myra while she stood to her feeble feet. It was a beautiful moment; we all felt caught in the swelling tide of God's loving and close presence. Tears filled Myra's eyes, and ours as well. In the end she had a simple prayer request: "Please pray for God to protect my cousin Christian, he has a mental disability and he is lost because he has wandered away from our house. It make me very sad." We prayed with her.
After this special time of ministry we shared a meal with delicious home-cooked mole chicken and rosca de reyes sweet bread. We sat and talked with each family, hugged them, encouraged them and thanked them for their love and welcome. As we walked back to the cars our spirits were brimming with a sense of fulfillment and purpose as God had hand-picked this moment for all of us to experience Him draw near and bless Myra!
BIG TRAVEL DAY: DONE!
Four days ago we were in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.
We drove away from the little church and back over the border back into the U.S. on January 10. That evening we were hosted by our own church family at Village Church Burbank. Eliana and I shared at the Village Church Youth Group. It was great to be back. Many of our team members were busy at the laundromat all night. Then next day we were off to LAX to catch our flight to Greece. Airport security checkpoints with 5 kids, 7 carry-ons, a car seat, and a guitar can be pretty crazy. It was a long day of connections until we reached our final destination. Los Angeles to Paris, Paris to Milan, and finally Milan to Athens. When we landed it was a rainy night. our flights had been delayed a few hours and we had no way to contact our people who were scheduled to pick up all 16 of our team members from the Athens airport. We prayed, walked outside, and met Jannis and Peter, two Greek shuttle drivers who gave us a better deal and drove us straight to our AirBnB flats in Monastiraki, Athens. We pulled up to the graffiti-covered apartment building in a dark alley at 11:30 PM, still raining. "Where are we?" we all said! But we were so happy once we stepped in the doors. Our leaders, Stan and Nancy Bracy, had booked us beautiful little flats in the old city for the next three weeks of outreach. The kids were exhausted, but it was so worth it. We were finally in Athens as a family, ready to share the love of Christ.
PARTNER WITH US AS WE GO
- Team Unity: Pray for our team to be united in the love of Christ, in listening to and obeying His word, and being humbly submitted to one another throughout this trip.
- No Fear: Pray for us to be fearless in the love of God. On trips like this it is easy to get worried and fear traveling complications, sickness, new cultures and territories, what people may think of us, and so on. Pray for us to be bold as we serve and share God's love everywhere we are.
- Children Lead: Pray for us to let the children lead in this mission. We know that the kids will be able to minister God's love to people in ways we couldn't without them. We have never planned to drag them along on this missions trip with the adults as we attempt to do ministry. Pray for our kids to be clearly led by the Lord, and for us to encourage and support what God wants to do in and through them.
- Humility and Vision: Pray for us to serve with Christ's humble attitude (Philippians 2:1-11) and to see people the way God sees them. We are ready and enthusiastic, and we have lots of plans for ministry, but our one desire is to be available to whatever God wants to do. Our team's purpose is to go and be humble servants, good listeners, caring and kind, valuing each person we meet as we know that each one is made in the image of God! Pray for us!