Continuing reflections on my recent visit to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Here are some of the sounds that marked the trip.
When settling into our stay in Nogales, our team was instructed that breakfast would be at 7:30 AM. We started to talk about what time to rise and shine. I set the alarm on my phone for 6:55. There would not be a day when we needed the phone to wake us up - it served as a call to depart the warm sleeping bags and get ready for the day.
At 6 AM, or there about, the sound that pealed back the blanket of sleep was the sound of trucks buzzing up and down the street. Roger Brookens and Brian MacDonald both have experience driving semi-trucks. On Monday morning they described hearing a Peterbilt struggling to climb the hill in front of the church. The precise make of trucks didn't make an impression on me, but the sound of traffic dramatically increased compared to the rural setting we're used to.
Truck Mounted Advertising
To go along with the the vehicles there was a sound that cascaded over the mountains and filled the valleys, a sound that emanated from certain vehicles - it was the sound of advertising. We heard it at the church, but saw it up close on our trek to Blanca's store. Coursing the roads were small pick-ups, Ford Rangers, Dodge Dakota's, Chevy S-10's, Nissan's, etc - with bull horn loud speakers mounted on their hoods. It was reminiscent of the Blues Brother's film when they mount the huge loud speaker to the top of the car. In Nogales, the trumpeting trucks advertise a host of products, most of it was lost on our English ears, however one truck was obvious - it's bed was filled with bottled water.
Hearing and seeing such sights created a sense of surprise and joy at engaging in a different, yet similar culture. This joy lead to smiles and then laughter. Laughter was the predominant and central sound that filled the air. Our team laughed with and at one another. Our hosts laughed along with us, and on many occasions we provided them reasons to laugh. Roger and Joel, our father and son combination, engaged in a conversation that was reminiscent of the "Who's on Third" bit, except their conversation wasn't made up. Taking in the whole conversation was Pastor Juan Carlos. Brian said he found the routine so hilarious he laughed hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
The kids laughed at us. They laughed when we played along. They laughed when we, or I, tried to work with the Spanish language. Damian, Jessica and Cynthia - three kids who were around during the week tried to teach me to say the word for drums, to no avail. In their attempt they'd express frustration that I couldn't hear a certain sound and then repeat it, yet their frustration would eventually turn to laughter. They really laughed when I said "freezo" for cold, when the word is "freo". They weren't the only ones laughing, our team gave me some ribbing for adding O, to English words in an attempt to communicate.
Though we stumbled some in our language skills, laughter proved to be an avenue to communicate above the barriers of Spanish and English.
No Laughter here
While we laughed much, there were some sounds that were disturbing.
On our arrival day we dropped our luggage at a missionary's home in Arizona and walked across the border to do a little tourist shopping. We were told that before the current spate of border violence that we've been hearing on the news, these border shops would be brimming with Americans. At about 5 PM on a Saturday night, they were not. Some shops were closing down, others were about ready to open. The one item most of us came away with from these shops was Vanilla.
Vanilla was not the main attraction or the main offering of these shops. What I mean by offering is that, we didn't need to enter the shops, we were approached with questions from the owners. They would approach you on the sidewalk, or in the street with questions or comments, "What are you looking for?" "What are you after?" "I've got good stuff." These were mild compared to the other questions, which came from a world without the light of Jesus. We found out in bold terms that women were for sale, and in the border shops at 5 PM, women were being peddled more than other wares. One particular question that stands out was, "You like my sister? You want to see her naked?" Not only were women for sale, but by our observations, so were young girls.
In that place, there was no laughing. My heart filled with great sorrow as I saw two older American males convey to a proprietor that "they wanted to see the pretty young ladies."
This year in America we should begin the remembrance of the great civil war that ripped at our country and a central piece of that war was over slavery. Listening in the border shops, we came face to face with a slavery that continues to this day. The sound was not sweet, it was not encouraging, but I'm glad I was taken there, because we cannot ignore, or overlook the travesty, the evil that goes on in our world, that we ourselves have some form of participation in.
Sounds of Hope in Darkness
Mixed in with the sounds of the district was the sound of Missionary Brian Yost's voice, greeting shopkeepers by name. Not all shopkeepers in the border area run brothels, some are there to market unique works of the crafters of Mexico. Brian, who lived in Nogales for 18 months, and has taken many a team into this area has developed friendships with some of the shop owners. Some of those owners are members of the Free Methodist Church in Nogales. They live in a dark place, but it is not a place without a witness to the light of Christ, it is not a place Jesus has abandoned. Reflecting on Brian's interaction and the Gospels, I recalled Jesus' eating with Matthew(Levi) in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus took great criticism because he eats at a tax collector's home and among other tax collectors. Jesus replied, I didn't come for the healthy, it's the sick who need a doctor. Brian and the others are bearing the light of Jesus into a dark place, a place where Jesus calls disciples from and to.
Along with that sound of hope, was the sound I heard when I visited a federal prison on the south side of Nogales. When I arrived at the chapel which rested within the prison yard, those who were inside were singing songs to the Lord. Their songs were loud and filled with joy.
As I was introduced and preached to the assembled men, I heard proclamations of Amen. I heard questions and comments from a group of guys who study their Bibles often, who take Christ to places in the prison that no chaplain or evangelist could go. They sang, they prayed, they studied - not for the exercise of it, or as a pattern of life, they worshiped and studied because in that place they had discovered the truth that we on the outside often fail to acknowledge, that their true protector is the Lord himself.
Bring on the Gas
Another sound of hope in the midst of darkness was the click of a gas heater being turned on. The Church we worked at is located among a people that are working to create a better tomorrow. Some are living in block houses, but hundreds live in shelters like one we visited, that is 15 feet by 15 feet. Inside was a lovely family. Throughout our stay the temperatures reached a 40 year low. On Thursday night 4 of us were blessed to accompany Pastor Juan Carlos to this home and bring a heater where all the kids were piled into one bed in hopes of staying warm. The sound from that home was one of thankfulness, blessing and prayers, for new day.
There are other gas stories, but I'll leave those to other story tellers . . .
Want A Sucker?
Shelly Miller, the lone woman of our team, has a gift for caring and connecting with children. Before we crossed into Mexico we stopped at the Wal-Mart in Arizona. Shelly picked up a big bag of dum-dum suckers, the kind you get at the bank. Throughout the week one of her favorite refrains was asking, "want a sucker?" She had great joy when we visited an orphanage home run by the churches in Nogales and asked if the girls could have a sucker.
With suckers, laughter, good food and amazing people, one of the things devoid in our hearing was complaining. Oh we might have had a different idea or two about how the work was going to be done, or questions about things that we didn't understand, but they took the form of an inquisitive mind, of finding the similarities and differences in culture, of celebrating the creative work of God among people who have much to teach us and share with us - like how to clap on 1 & 3, while we clap on 2 & 4. One of our team took a cold shower because the pilot light blew out due to the fierce winds; it was all part of the great adventure.
Barking like Dogs
As a 20 year old I was hired as a Youth Pastor at Amboy Friends Church in Amboy, Indiana. While there I heard stories from some of the old timers about how they would visit the Wesleyan-Methodist church on Sunday evenings in their youth, the 1920's. They recalled the Wesleyan-Methodist's exhibiting interesting, if not strange, behavior when they were "blessed." They described how they would run around the church building, run across the tops of the pews, or howl like dogs.
Saturday, on our way home, two of our guys who had a great time, who snored in concert during the night, were feeling giddy. I'm not sure if they were giddy about going home, or thrilled to have experienced what we had gone through, but they began to bark like a couple of dogs. I never thought I'd hear such a display in my years, but there it was, in the Denver airport, barking like dogs.
If you think their barking was strange, you should have heard the attendant at the door who helped us board our plane. United Airlines has a comic gem working for them, he received a round of applause following his instructions on how we were to proceed to our plane.
These are some of the sounds reverberating, sounds of joy, of need, of hope. Over all these sounds I am reminded of the songs of worship sung on Sunday, songs like we sing in America, they sing in Spanish; songs that unite our hearts to all those who sing to the Lord, and one day we'll all sing before his throne the great songs of the redeemed, and all things will be made new.