2 YEARS IN MEXICO
On October 26, it will be two years since we moved to Mexico. How time flies! I still remember the day we crossed the border into Tijuana, Mexico. We had one contact, a pastor of a tiny church that we knew. As we came into Mexico it was getting dark, and we had no idea where to stay or what to do. We stopped at a pay-phone and called this friend of ours, and he answered! Within 10 minutes, he met us at the gas station and escorted us to his house, providing us with a room and hospitality until we could find another place. It was 5 days later, on Oct. 31st, that I preached my first sermon in Mexico in the church that this man was overseeing. And within the next few days, I had preached in a couple of other churches as well, seeing the hand of the Lord at work.
But despite being in my element of preaching, I had suddenly found myself in a whole new world, completely different from anything I had known. All my words had to be translated as Lina faithfully acted as my mouthpiece to the people. I could no longer communicate as freely as I’d like. The food was strange and different from my typical Ohio-style dinners of country-fried steak, corn on the cob and mashed potatoes! And tortillas with every single meal? –How strange, I thought! Corn tortillas, flour tortillas, even red chipotle tortillas and green jalapeno tortillas! And, when we get tired of tortillas, they can even fry it and then call it a “tostada”! I stood out like a sore thumb, and heard my fair share of words like “gringo”. The social customs were different, and everybody had to be shown extra warmness and greeted when I walked into a room (in Mexico, it can be a big offense if you don’t greet everyone in the room personally, even if there’s 10 or 15 people!). The language was so difficult for this high-school dropout that failed Spanish class in high school that I had quickly despaired and stopped trying to learn it, relying on my wife always to translate and focusing my time on other things.
And there was my biggest mistake. Now we had preached all over, yet it was always through the translation process, and largely still is. For over a year, I had not committed to language study, nor tried to absorb what I heard others speak. And so in the language process, I have lost over a year. I didn’t start really studying Spanish until January of this year, 2009. So, as I could be semi-fluent by now if I had studied the entire time, I am still very limited in my communication abilities and have to devote myself for hours every day to study it. Language is such a huge barrier and it’s difficult to break through it. So this is my greatest regret thus far, and I’m laboring to conquer it, growing slowly but surely.
Now you have to consider that I never attended a mission school to learn about how to be a missionary, nor did I ever study missiology or missionary methods for embracing another culture and reaching the people on their level. My whole theology of missions was to GO and PREACH, have Lina translate, and trust the Holy Spirit to back it up with power and give the increase to our labors. And the Lord has certainly used this! But there’s still that barrier until I’m able to speak fluently with the people and I am seriously laboring to break through.
But on a more positive note, as I look back on these last 2 years, it has been an amazing adventure. I have stories to tell that would fill a volume of books. And I could testify all day and all night to the Lord’s faithfulness to us since being in Mexico. We have been able to preach the Gospel to a countless number of people in this country. The Lord has opened doors, closed doors, guided us and even miraculously provided for us. We did not raise a support base before coming to Mexico as almost all missionaries do prior to leaving their home country, we just went and the Lord provided. It’s amazing. We have lacked nothing we need for 2 years and all this apart from popular missionary fundraising methods. Many times we don’t know where support is going to come from, but it comes by the hand of God’s faithful provision every time, and it’s always just enough for what we need to do!
I think of our journey thus far: the bustling city of Tijuana, and ministering in a slum village to poor families and children and drug addicts. I remember preaching in a drug rehabilitation center every week ministering to some of the most burnt-out drug addicts I’ve ever seen in my life (and I say this as one that spend a couple years in Detroit among the homeless ministering to them!). I remember feeding and giving Bible studies to poor children that though they lived with their parents, they were at the same time abandoned by their parents. I remember traveling to Oaxaca, and preaching in the market of a city there, and then traveling to a group of un-reached people that speak their own dialect and being able to share the Gospel with several there who spoke Spanish. I remember the small towns of Guerrero, the cowboys, the guns shots piercing the silent countryside every night interspersed every now and then with the sound of the “hee-haw” of a burro, the goats and chickens and herds of cows marching right down the street in front of our house. I remember preaching in the churches there, and visiting people in their houses to share the Good News with them, dealing with mosquitoes by the thousands and insects that I never knew existed in addition to combating frequent illness. I remember showing the Jesus Film to our village where nearly the whole village showed up to watch it and heard us preach the Gospel afterwards. And now I think of our time in Guadalajara, this huge city, ministering in the city, open air preaching, and ministering to the church, teaching and endeavoring to see the Body of Christ brought to maturity and fullness in Christ. This is God’s work, and it’s a wonderful privilege to be allowed to have a small part of it. I’m not worthy to be an ambassador of Christ, but even so, I thank God for the precious blood!
As I’ve been thinking and seeking the Lord, I believe He has not only been refining and purging me, but also giving me more vision for Mexico. This includes too much to share right now, but one thing we want to do is find a solid Christian orphanage in need that we would be able to help and to generate some support for. There are tons of abandoned children in Mexico and ministry to them is a great need and one that the Lord is behind. I hope to search around in the near future in the attempt to locate and identify such an orphanage somewhere around here. Please pray that the Lord would lead us to the perfect place.
We are still holding our youth/singles meetings every week at the church here. I have started a series of preaching expositionally through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7). It has been a great blessing to minister to these young people and to study this discourse of our Lord in depth as I prepare to preach it. After a month of preaching on it, we are still not even half way through the Beatitudes. The Lord’s hand has been in it. We are praying that the Lord will open doors for us to build more relationships with young people in Guadalajara and enable us to preach the Gospel to them. We are also preaching and teaching in the Evangelism class every weekend.
We are also still evangelizing in the city. A man I talked about several months ago that was diverted from suicide through our preaching and is now seeking the Lord instead of killing himself is still coming around. We sit down with him on the side and give him personal Bible studies when he comes. We have had many great conversations with people about the Gospel and have been able to preach to many.
I have been devoting much time lately to studying Spanish. I had hoped to be fully conversational and able to preach by myself by 2010, but it doesn’t look like I will quite meet my goal. While I can conversate with people, it’s still on a basic level, and not where it needs to be to minister effectively, to understand everything and to be understood in everything.
There is so much more I could share but I don’t want to give personal information about people and situations we find ourselves in.
DANGERS OF DENGUE
There is a plague of dengue fever going around right now in Guadalajara. I marvel that the news has not been covering it and warning about it like it did the “swine flu”, but then again I know who the news is run by. We know a number of people in our personal acquaintances who have contracted the virus. For those of you who don’t know what Dengue is, it is a very serious virus that is contracted through mosquito bites. There are currently two different strands: one is the regular one and the other causes hemorrhages. The regular kind puts you into a bed for 8 days of torment with a high fever and has killed young children and the elderly. The other kind is even worse and is very life-threatening, causing not only a fever for so long but it severely reduces your white-cell blood count and causes blood hemorrhages. And it’s only just a single tiny little mosquito that causes such devastation. One little bite could kill within 10 days. But the bad thing is, the more people who get it the more it spreads, because when a mosquito bites someone infected with it, then that mosquito becomes contaminated and spreads it to others. And there is no medicine, antibiotic or remedy for it. There are several in our church alone who have caught the virus lately. Please pray that this thing stops, and that we wouldn’t catch it! We do not fear, knowing that all is in the Lord’s hands, but it is wise to pray.
In Christ –Josef Urban