Mexican sunshine broke through the open windows of the brick church. Chairs rattled as they were unfolded and placed in rows on the dirt floor, and Donato stood next to Victor, both of them holding microphones and wearing warm smiles. Victor looked into the tired, dazed faces of his guests, all of whom were still wondering what a Boquillas mission trip would bring. “Today, we are practicing for Heaven,” he proclaimed in Spanish. As he would do all week, Donato spoke into the microphone translating Victor’s words. He was right.
Like a father grilling steaks in the backyard, God was leaning over, wearing His “BEST DAD EVER” barbecue apron, to give us a warm, sizzling taste of the amazing meal He has waiting.
This was a taste of what is to come, and we didn’t know it then, but we would be getting tastes like that all week.
A few days later, in the cool of the evening, David White set up his projector on the same dirt floor to start our Bible study. We read the verses out loud, one voice speaking the words of God in Spanish and another in English. After the readings, David had some questions. “When have you struggled?” he asked, “and where did you see God at work in the midst of it?” Except for some baby birds in the ceiling and some dogs barking outside, it was quiet.
Finally, Mark Stephens raised his hand, and everyone turned in their seats. With a cowboy kind of tenderness, he thought for a moment, and said, “When Scotty was a few months from being born, I prayed, asking for a son who would be healthy and would love God with all his heart, soul, and mind.” He stopped, leaning back in his chair with a father’s smile, and waited for Donato to translate. Spanish speakers nodded, and he continued, “I am sure it was the Holy Spirit, but I heard a clear response in my heart saying, ‘What if I just give you a son who loves me?’” As he finished that last question, his eyes filled with tears, and he waited again for the translation, but it didn’t come. Donato was crying too. Finally, wiping the tears from his eyes, with a trembling voice, Donato got the words out in Spanish. We were all sniffling and blowing our noses, and then Mark explained that God has used Scotty with his Down Syndrome to teach him and Beth that sometimes His greatest gifts come in packages that are hard to open. We all sat, basking in the wonder of the moment, when Victor started speaking.
Donato listened and turned to Mark to translate: “He says that he remembers you sharing your story years ago, and when he heard your words and watched you and Beth love Scotty, it made him want to be a better father.” When he finished, Victor turned in his chair to face Mark and said in English, “Thank you.” The cool breeze blew gently through the room that night, but the refreshment we felt came from something much stronger. We felt the presence of God. We were tasting what was to come.
The next morning as the sun baked the little dusty town, Audio Adrenaline’s “Big House” echoed through the streets calling the children to the “cancha” (basketball court). With the bright eyes of little girls looking up at them, women from Boquillas and Colorado Springs read stories and worked on crafts all designed to remind them they are precious to God. That’s when Isabel’s eyes lit up. She was holding a frame she created with Psalm 139 at the bottom, but the frame now held a beautiful picture of herself. Sheryl took the picture, but Isabel treasured it knowing that someone treasured her.
Outside, God was using the hot cement playground to breathe the coolness of His love into the hearts of the Boquillas boys. Little Lupin jumped as high as he could to give Steve a high-five, and Jose Luis threw the football with Johnny. “Aqui, Aqui!” they shouted, calling for the ball, begging for a chance to be noticed, to be reminded that they, like the girls, were indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
While the boys threw footballs and the girls worked on their origami cranes, five men stood on ladders painting the school. Sweat soaked their bandanas and t-shirts, but they laughed as they passed blue and white paint joking about their sore backs and wobbly ladders.
Men with shovels and yellow suits worked in the heat just outside the school, but every now and then, one or two took a break in the shade to watch the kids play. One of them motioned for Will to come to the fence. “What are you doing?” he asked. In his best Spanish, Will told him, “We are painting and playing with the kids to let them know Jesus loves them.” Taking off his helmet to wipe the sweat from his face, the worker took in Will’s words, and then looking back at the playground and the shouting kids, he said, “That never happens in Mexico.”
Like all of us, like all of the kids playing, like the men painting and laughing from their ladders, the young Mexican worker got a taste of something good.
That first Sunday when Victor told us we were practicing for Heaven, he read aloud, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Then, Salvino, an old man in the community but a brand-new man in Christ, gingerly made his way onto the stage. His strong, wrinkled hands, the hands of a farmer, strummed the strings of his old guitar.
As he played and sang in Spanish, standing in the sunlight of the makeshift stage, we struggled to sing along. It wasn’t a sound worthy of an audition at an upscale music conservatory. Still, to the God who brought us all those miles to know the hearts behind the smiling, humble people of Boquillas, the singing coming from that little brick church could rival even the greatest voices at Carnegie Hall.
We may not have known exactly what Salvino was singing, but his eyes were filled with a message all of us could understand—although this world is hard, there is a hope, and the Father who offers it, smiles when He sees His children together.
Written by Erin Ahnfeldt
Erin teaches English at Doherty High School, and he and his family attend Pulpit Rock. Read more from Erin on his blog where he writes about seeing God in the public school classroom and in the every day.