Monday, November 17, 2008

The Soldier, the Hospital and Rene

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It was an accidental meeting, I guess – at least I hadn’t intended to stop by. I was at the apartment of Marco and Betty, the pastoral family for our Spanish congregation at El Paso 1st Church of the Nazarene when Pastor Marco introduced me to René, a Mexican man who had been around the facility for a few weeks – helping with the duct work for the furnaces and doing other odd jobs.

Marco introduced me to René and told me his story. There were no jobs for him anywhere, yet he needed to provide for his family. René had obtained documents to enter the USA for work some months or years earlier and had been living in Colorado and later Lubbock, TX. Forced to leave his wife and young son behind in southern Chihuahua since they did not have documents to enter the USA, René worked long enough to earn sufficient money to hire a “coyote.”

In the Southwest part of the USA, a “coyote” is a person who smuggles people illegally across the Mexican border into the USA. The “pollo” (pronounced “PO-yo,”/English translation: chicken) can pay the coyote upwards of $2,000 to be guided illegally into the USA. Well, this particular coyote that René hired was truly corrupt and dropped his wife and little boy off in the middle of the Mexican desert. Upon taking their money, he told them they were in Arizona and then deserted them.

With only the clothes they had on their backs, this young mother and her five-year old son found their way to Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas.

Again on this particular day, René was trying to find work, both in Juárez and in El Paso – to help buy clothes and food for his family. When I met him, René was not the kind of guy who was asking for a handout. He wasn’t coming for welfare assistance. He was simply asking for work so that he could provide for his family. He said, my skills are in construction but I’ll do anything – I’ll wash someone’s car, I’ll pull weeds, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Almost as a side thought, Marco interjected, “Did you hear about Sandrita?” Sandrita is the 6-month old baby of Cosme (pronounced “KOHZ-may”) and Sandra, a young Mexican couple who have been attending El Paso 1st Church of the Nazarene for a while. They committed their lives to Christ and were baptized on the Centennial Sunday of the Church of the Nazarene. Since Baby Sandrita was born in Mexico and doesn’t have documents yet to enter the USA like her parents and her two brothers do, they have been limited in coming to church as a family.

It was during this week that baby Sandrita was diagnosed with leukemia – blood cancer.

The structure of the Mexican health care system is comprised of three components: the social security institute, governmental services for the uninsured, and the private sector that is financed almost completely from out of pocket money. The latter is primarily the system that has the most qualitative care yet is the least common amongst the people who largely live in poverty.

The disappointing news was that she was indeed in a government hospital in Juárez where the doctors were unable to administer intravenous medicine – her veins were too fragile. Surgery was necessary to set up a central line for her chemotherapy.

I immediately asked Marco if we could go visit the family in the hospital the next day and we set the plans for Thursday, the next day. We would go visit Sandrita in the hospital and then visit René and his family – to encourage them.

There were three of us – Marco, Gavin – another missionary, and myself. As we left the church parking lot, I prayed that God would allow us to be a blessing to as many people as He chose for us.

When we crossed the border into Mexico I immediately noticed the difference in law enforcement from when I had last crossed three months prior. Due to the 1,200 (+) murders that occurred in Juárez over the previous 10 months due to warring drug cartels and corrupt law officials, the Mexican military was once again raising security measures.

Since we were in a van, the soldiers directed us to pull off into an area where they could search our vehicle. We got out and waited for the searchers to direct us back to our van. In less than a minute, we were back in the van when one of the soldiers with his machine gun approached Pastor Marco in the driver’s seat. He asked, “Are you a Christian?” Marco replied and the soldier, with fear in his voice told how he was so worried about his family in Mexico City. It’s very common for the drug cartel to pay off law enforcement officials in order to get them to work for them. If they turn against the cartel, they will find their family and will threaten to kill them if they don’t join them. This soldier was a Christian and said that his job prohibited the soldiers from leaving the base outside of their patrolling times (if they went off base, the cartel could get to them and threaten them or pay them off) – so he couldn’t go to church. He asked if Marco would pray for him.

At that moment, I saw God.

As we drove away from that soldier, we marveled at how God brought him to us. There was no external indication that we were “Christian.” No church name on the side of the van; no religious t-shirts; no flashing neon signs; nothing. Only God.

When we arrived at the government hospital, we learned that this type of hospital does not have public visitor access. Each family admitted to the hospital receives one ticket to admit a guest. It appeared that if the hospital did have public access, it would soon be swamped with people packing the halls and patient rooms.

From outside of the hospital, Marco called Sandra, the mother of Sandrita. The baby had just gone into surgery so Sandra, who was completely alone, came outside of the hospital to meet with us. Right there, in the midst of the groups of people waiting immediately outside of the hospital’s doors – family members, friends, and people coming to visit patients they cared for – we gave encouraging words to Sandra, read Psalm 91, and prayed with her.

Psalm 91 (NIV)
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge-
10 then no harm will befall you; no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."

So, there we were – with this mother…unsure of life or death; disease or healing…all alone.

I shared with her these words: “Sandra, I have three children in my home – they are all in God’s hands. Daily, I place them in the hands of God. I also have two children who are safe in Heaven. They are in the hands of God. Whenever we are in the center of God’s will – surrendered to Him…that is the safest place to be. The safest place to be is in the hands of God.”

“In the midst of your suffering today, God is suffering with you. While you are weeping, He is weeping with you. Later, when you hold your precious baby girl, you can rest assured that He has been holding her all along. While you can’t be with her in the surgery room right this moment, God is with her holding her and comforting her.”

As the young mother wept, she said, “I know God’s peace – He is in control.”

I saw God.

After we left Sandra to return to the waiting room of the hospital, we were on our way to visit René and his family. I felt impressed to ask Marco to find out where Cosme (Sandrita’s daddy) was working.

Cosme could not get off work to be with his wife and daughter during the surgery. Cosme works for an American company in Mexico. He’s a line supervisor for a company that manufactures home security systems. To take off work would mean he would jeopardize his 100 pesos per day (less than $10 USA) income he needed to maintain in order to provide for his family.

We found out where he worked and met him at the security gate outside.

It was noon.

Alone, there at his factory, Cosme had been watching the seconds tick by so slowly and menacingly - waiting for 4 o’clock in the afternoon when we he could rush to the hospital to see his baby. He wasn’t even certain that the little girl he had held that morning would still be with them by day’s end.

Right there, we shared many of the same words we had just moments before shared with his precious wife.

Psalm 91:1 - “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

We prayed. He wept. And then he said, “I know we are in God’s hands.”

I saw God.

When we arrived at René’s borrowed house, we were graciously invited into a small room furnished completely with two borrowed metal folding chairs and a small wooden end table loaned to him by Marco. On the small, rigged-together counter top, a “hot plate” burner with one pot and one pan along with a couple of plates and cups were all the contents of their meager kitchen. No refrigerator. A sink. A couple of golfball sized apples sat in a cardboard box on the floor. The bags of rice and beans Marco and Betty had provided to them were not visible.

In the next room, a mattress they had found discarded somewhere was laying on the concrete floor as their bed.

The clothes they were wearing.

A car…their most valuable possession.

No job. No food. No money. No heat for the cold, desert-winter nights.

We had gone to visit for a couple of reasons – to encourage this desperate family and to reassure René’s wife that he had indeed been looking for work in order to provide for them.

Undoubtedly, after going through the trauma she had faced, this survivor wife had mounting frustration with their life situation. She was angry with her husband and was questioning what he was doing throughout the day. We told her that he had met with a Nazarene pastor’s wife who managed a local fast food restaurant in El Paso – after completing a food-safety course the next Monday, he would be eligible to work in her restaurant.

This skilled construction worker was going to flip burgers in order to provide for his family. He wasn’t asking for a handout or trying to manipulate a foreign government’s welfare system – he wanted to work – for his family.

I’m nearly certain that once he earns enough money, he’ll attempt to get his family into “the land of opportunity” once again. I wondered at that moment if I might not do that same desperate thing in order to provide for my family.

We brought words of encouragement – the same words I had already offered to Sandra. The words offered to Cosme were now offered to René, his precious wife and their five-year old son. I told this mother, “Whether you are desperately alone in a desert or living in prosperity – God has not forgotten you. He loves you and wants to offer you His mercy.”

Psalm 91:15 – “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

As we all joined hands and prayed together; they wept.

I saw God.

When we reached the hospital once again, our plan was to call Sandra and have her meet us outside once again. We wanted so badly to go inside to pray with baby Sandrita and offer comfort to Sandra there – so she wouldn’t need to leave the bedside of her baby.

As we walked from the van to the hospital entrance, we had just stepped on to the curb when a car pulled up and a woman got out of her car to approach us. She asked, “Are you Christians?”

This was the second time this question had been asked during the day.

Marco responded and she asked if we would go with her to pray with her brother who was in a diabetic coma. Marco explained to her that we did not have a pass to get into the hospital. She replied, “That’s okay – I have an extra!”

Immediately we marveled at how God brought this woman to us at just the right moment that we needed Him.

Right then, OUR plan was to have Marco go in with this woman while Gavin and I would wait in the van outside. Pastor Marco would go pray with this man and then go meet with Sandra.

Marco left to go call Sandra in order to find out where she was in the hospital. As soon as he left, another young lady appeared out of nowhere and asked us, “Are you Christians?”

Third time.

Her brother had been in a fight when he was struck in the head with a baseball bat. With bleeding on his brain, he was surviving on life-support and in a coma. She desperately wanted someone to come pray with him.

Marco returned – we explained that we did not have a ticket for all of us to go in, but Marco could go with her to pray with her brother.

She said, “That’s okay, I have a ticket and can take one person.”

I saw God.

As we approached the hospital entrance, the guard became distracted – he didn’t even look at the tickets!

We went to the young man with the head wound first. As we walked to his room, people were lying in hospital beds in the hallways throughout the hospital. Very little medical equipment was visible. Limited hospital staff was visible. The floors were unclean.

As we entered the room, his shriveled body surviving with the help of the ventilator was “frozen” in place. Marco spoke with this visibly unresponsive 22-year old young man. He said to him, “God loves you and wants to offer you His salvation. All you need to do is recognize His love for you and receive the grace He offers to save you.” As Marco prayed, he asked God to give us a sign that this man was able to talk to Him and wanted to receive His grace – at that very moment, the ventilator’s alarms made a series of erratic beeps. With tears running down his cheeks, Marco later commented on what had happened and said that God comforted him in that moment – as if the young man was asking in the quietness of his condition to receive God’s grace.

Psalm 91:2 – “I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

I saw God.

When we went with the lady to pray for her brother with the diabetic coma, he was the image of someone lifeless. Another sister was standing next to him weeping uncontrollably. José Francisco needed God’s grace.

Marco shared the same words that had been repeated throughout the day. In the hands of God is the safest place to be. You are not forgotten.

Psalm 91:11-12a – “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands.”

Peace came over the sisters.

I saw God.

Not knowing where to find Sandra and hoping to not be excused by hospital security – for being in a restricted area of the hospital, we walked onto the floor of the hospital as if we knew where we were going.

Walking past the security guard – who happened to be reading her Bible – and the two ladies engaged with their work behind an information desk, we walked directly towards a door where Sandra suddenly emerged from. As if each movement had been choreographed by God and without saying anything, we walked with her directly to the small glassed-in room where Sandrita was sleeping peacefully.

The procedure had been successful and the chemo-therapy would begin first thing in the morning. I noticed that there were no monitors and no medication or fluids being administered to this precious little girl.

Ten miles north, this baby would be swarmed with nurses and an intensive care unit staff to beat all. God knew exactly where Sandrita was – she was right in the center of His hand.
As soon as we finished praying with Sandra once more, the Bible-reading security guard appeared and asked us to leave. It was so peaceful.

I saw God.

As we left the hospital, Marco jokingly told me to hide the Bible I had been carrying throughout the day – otherwise we may never get home.

Later that night, I gathered my family around – they needed to hear how we had seen where God had been that day. We marveled at how God brought the soldier to us at just the right moment. We marveled at how God brought the two women to us at the hospital. We marveled at the promises of God through His Word.

I couldn’t finish the story before my kids were trying to run throughout the house gathering up clothes, blankets, toys, their birthday money and food to help René’s family. They wanted to put action to the compassion they were overwhelmed with.

After praying together as a family, we let them.

Each of us prayed:
· For the soldier
· For Sandra
· For Sandrita
· For Cosme
· For René and his wife
· For Jofi (René’s son)
· For Cosme Jr. and Isaac (Sandrita’s brothers)
· For the man in the diabetic coma and his sisters
· For the man with the head wound, our new brother in Christ
· For us – that we would be faithful to join in where God was working.

That day, I saw God.

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