First Days on Foreign Missionary Fields
FIRST DAYS ON THE FOREIGN MISSIONARY FIELD
One cross, a small bridge over an unexceptional river, but it is like opening the door into another world. When one crosses the line from the U.S. and finds himself in some small border town of Mexico, the contrasts are shocking, shanty town, unpaved streets, undernourished children playing in the mud, and pigs wandering in and out of the houses. Then there are contrasts within the Latin countries themselves. Some cities have great modern buildings on wide avenues with plantings of palm trees and flowers, a few very rich and millions of the poor.
An American immediately finds his mind in a whirl, wishing he were the governor to initiate big changes, or a philanthropist with unlimited wealth, but the young missionary soon learns that when he has material charities to disburse, it seems like throwing it into a bottomless pit UNLESS there is first a spiritual change. When there is that spiritual transformation almost at once the other material aspects of a family will begin to better. Most of the extreme poverty is related to sin, crime and ignorance. When God's Light enters, all begins to change. There will soon be no more sin and crime of course, but also the ignorance will be replaced with wisdom, better health and improved economic conditions.
So, we do not get side-tracked on civic or political activities, but head for the gospel field in Sonora, to help with an interdenominational campaign in the stadium or bull-ring.
We went out two by two, door to door, testifying, leaving tracts, personal witnessing and giving invitations for the coming meetings. I myself knew no Spanish except what I had been picking up in a few weeks, but I went along with other national believers, or with my own friend who had accompanied me from the U.S. who interpreted for me when I wanted to say something or when I was preaching as a visitor in one of the churches. We also gave invitations to the churches to participate in the open air, in one of their little outreach meeting places on the outskirts of town or one of the outlying villages.
The visit to the jail was as shocking as other contrasts from places in the U.S. I had made pastoral visits to men and boys in jail from Los Angeles to New York, but had never seen anything like these Mexican jails before. Instead of a great stone building, the jail was tar paper, pieces of tin, rusty tin roofing and little more, the whole area surrounded by high barbed wire fences patrolled by guards with guns. The men could carry on their trade there, fixing shoes, sewing, making toys for relatives to sell outside. They mostly had a few pennies to buy and sell with, selling also hot food to supplement the meager monotonous beans allotted from the jail cooks.
Yet whatever the contrast of external conditions, I soon realized the fundamental situation was just the same as that in the U.S., that these men were there because of sin and crime. Mostly they are hardened habituals in both places, who will not accept anything of the Gospel that depends on love and purity. Yet, in nearly every meeting there comes forward out of the crowd one or two precious souls genuinely repentant, sometimes a youth still in his teens, sometimes an rapidly aging and broken men. What a thrill to see someone in such conditions begin to melt the stony hardness replaced by tears, and then that sorrow replaced by faith and joy. A man seems to be given not only a new heart but a new face as the Light of the Lord shines on his countenance.
Later, we hear that one of the large congregations in the city which had intended to participate in the campaign had decided not to do so saying, "It is doubtful if that campaign is really Interdenominational. It is in charge of the Free Methodists and they are not even pentecostals as we are. Also, they are putting up a new larger church building, so that it is apparent the campaign is to get new members."
The next Sunday I went to that church, was not invited to say anything, so I sat humbly back among the others in the congregation, but praying for some opening. When the singing began someone noticed I had brought my accordion and invited me to participate in the music. Then came a foot-washing time. That was new to me, absolutely a first for me. I sat, very observant, wondering what I was supposed to do. I saw that three or four folks would go forward to sit while three or four others were given basin and towels. The latter would take off the shoes and socks of the one sitting down, although few of them had anything but sandals without socks. When one person had washed the feet, they would change places and repeat, the men on one side and the women washing each others feet on the other side of the church. I felt strange and nervous, but screwed up my courage and went forward, was seated down while an elderly brother in poor and somewhat worn and ragged work clothes washed my feet.
When finished, he in turn sat down and I washed his, by then being an expert having carefully noted how it was done. I, for some moments, was rather amused by the situation, but then my man began to cry. What was that all about? Was I doing something wrong? But soon he stood up and began to testify, "When I saw this fine, educated and rich American washing my feet, ME, a poor Mexicano camposino, I felt like it was having the Lord Jesus Himself do it. It is, it is all just too..." He could hardly go on for emotion and tears.
Then I was more embarrassed than ever with all the attention and Christian love poured out upon me, and undeserved, because the difference of class which so moved the camposino had never even entered my poor American classless mind. I had suffered the embarrassment of participating in a ceremony strange and unaccustomed, but not because of some class pride.
When I was invited to speak, I told that I was there, not as a Free Methodist, not as a Pentecostal, but as an unattached servant of the Lord Jesus, that it was my dream to see more love among the brethren, more love and participation between brethren of different denominations. Neither Peter nor Paul had shed his blood for our salvation, neither Methodist nor Pentecostal tampoco, but the love our Lord and only by His blood can we be saved.
I said, "It may be true that the Free Methodists will get a few more members out of the campaign then your group. What of it? Why not praise the Lord for EVERY soul won and saved for Jesus sake? Anyway, then, in your campaigns later on, the Free Methodists and others will participate to help you."
At the end of the service many gathered around to speak, to give me Latin embraces, hugs while patting on your back, AND promising they would be helping in every way possible with the campaign.
All of this being spoken too fast for me to comprehend except that my friend, Reynaldo, was right there to keep up a rapid-fire stream of interpreting for me into English.
When the campaign was about to begin, there arose a new complication. The old piano they had was both out of tune with itself and way out of pitch to be used with the other instruments, such as the marimba of Gene of HCJB. He is a famous marimba player, but I forget his last name. Anyway, when they could not get a piano tuner in all Sonora, they were frantic, till I said I thought I had a tuning outfit in my equipment. Then they wondered if I COULD REALLY USE IT, IF I had one, but by the next day all the musicians pronounced it satisfactory and a miracle. Then another complication, some had heard me playing the piano after I had tuned it, and evidently they had gone on at great length that while the gringo maybe could not play that accordion so well, on the piano he was celestial like nothing they had ever heard. They said that I must be the official pianist for the campaign, but I saw the poor regular pianist when they were trying to dethrone him, how hurt he was. So I declined that. I would like him to have his great moments of glory and I would ask the Lord to give me my recompense in souls, many saved and perhaps some I had personally spoken to and prayed for.