It is hard to believe that I have been in Guatemala a week as of tonight. A week since the sheer ugliness of the border crossing, into what I consider to be the most beautiful country on earth. Yet almost another week before that when Kevin VanWyhe and myself left Michigan with two very overloaded vans and the flat bed truck which carried one an and towed the other. The weeks before we even left for Guatemala and all the incredible things that God brought together in such a short time. Many incredible acts of God, most of which HE allowed you the privilege of accomplishing through prayer, giving, and acts of service to HIM!
This was not just a simple drive to Guatemala with a couple of newer vans, but an incredible strategy of warfare for generations to come, a spiritual strategy implemented and led by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who an know of those who will be rescued by HIM through these vans? Who can put a price on NOT spending days every week just keeping those old ans going and missing opportunities to minister in HIS precious name? Who can know the thousands of hearts and souls that will be won for HIM by getting to villages other missionaries simply can’t? Who can know, save our Lord? But, this I do know, without you and your prayers, interceding on our behalf, none of this could have come together like it did, and/or been fully implemented like it now is.
There was really nothing to the drive itself, something some of our intercessors do for a living day in and day out (although probably with air ride suspension and seats). As we neared the Michigan/Indiana border the skies began blackening and we ran headlong into a hail storm which though pounded us heavily did no damage. The skies then lightened only to darken again, pounding us even more. This was simply the sign of things to come and was indeed repeated (though not with weather) as we hit the U.S./Mexico border and again at the Mexico/Guatemala border. We made the Texas/Mexico border after pushing hard through the U.S. only to be hit with a tramitor (one who handles all the confusing paperwork of the border crossings) who had not done anything in advance as was promised us even though we had faxed our entire inventory list and all other documentation ahead of time. The morning soon faded into afternoon and then into the next morning. It took changing tramitors, and keeping the pressure on by literally following his every move so our paperwork was not just shuffled aside. We then were told it would take a $1,500. bond for all the stuff we had packed into the vans. This we would get back, if we made it out of Mexico with all our stuff intact. What a moment when we were handed the paperwork and were told everything was set, but it was already afternoon! The short drive to the border, last fuel stop, and a few pictures, and then the realization that NOT all the paperwork was given us…another wait so the papers could be brought to us. The drive from the last fuel stop to the border was less than a mile, then with the border right in sight, we were directed to a long line of waiting trucks, buses, all with vehicles in tow and stacked wherever/however they could. Some of the sites of these “arraignments” were not only a sight to see, but brought us a lot of entertainment for the next few hours as we again waited at the border. Finally, we crossed the Rio Grande and were the next truck up for the entering Mexican customs, but one of our VIN numbers on our vehicles did not match the paperwork. Another wait, a stones throw away as truck after truck came around us and crossed into Mexico. Finally at 4:42PM we were across and rolling, without even a look inside our vehicles by the Mexican officials.
Most of you followed us via “Track the Truck” which we will leave active for a little while longer and is accessible through www.paradisebound.org so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I can’t help sharing some things that touched our lives. We pushed hard the first day in Mexico, or what was left of it. Good roads and little traffic helped, poor road signs and a poor route set by our tramitor in Texas hindered. We pushed well into the night, something you should not do in Mexico, but being covered by your prayer and the presence of other trucks still on the road kept the outskirts of Tampico in our sights, expecting to find a hotel there that was NOT a “by the hour” establishment. We missed the first one, so when the second decent looking hotel came into sight, we quickly pulled in, only to swing around in the dusty parking lot and accelerate south once again. The front of this hotel was attractive. Brightly light, some nice landscaping for adornment, appealing. As we pulled into the parking lot around the back of the hotel, we got a glimpse of what was inside. Around every window was a brackish stain, some running down, others seemed to float upward on the wall. All landscaping and adornment, all appeal ceased to exist on the sides and behind the beautiful front. As we pulled out and back onto the road, I couldn’t help but think of how so often my life and the lives of so many church goers are so appealing on the front, but so stained once inside. So nicely adorned and light up, only masquerading the darkness and ugliness so close behind. I am just so incredibly thankful that our Savior, once he pulls into our lives does not, when He sees our stains and darkness, pull back out. He instead looks for those very stains, that very present darkness so that HE can take residence, not just for a night but for eternity! Ever cleaning, ever preparing us for presentation to His Father. It is NOT about the front my friends, not even about the inside, but instead Who is inside our hearts that matters.
The second day beat us within the truck as the roads were tough and our goal long. Some how the bridge and road engineers in Mexico need to work together, not in feet but in inches as most of the bridges remain quite a bit higher than the roads leaving a large bump to get onto the bridge and an almost “Dukes of Hazard” jump to transition back onto the road again. I think we even got a little “AIR” with the ‘ol GMC one time. Not knowing the mountain pass we had climbed and were now on the threshold of descending, plus being already well into the night and pretty beat up, we opted to stop short of our goal the second night. Good thing, because the hotel I thought I remembered at our goal for the second night was not there when we passed though the next morning. Pushing hard again, we literally made a “run for the border” as a friendly gas station attendant about three hours from the border told us that they close the border early on Saturdays. We indeed made the border before they closed, only to find out that they stop processing paperwork two hours before that. There was no option but to wait once again … wait for Sunday. We however were drawing way too much attention. At times the crowds around and looking through the windows of our vans and the “not so nice” little border town was overwhelming and we thought of leaving the border and coming back in the morning, but the line behind us kept growing and we were about 5th in line, so against our better judgment we stayed. Good thing, by morning there were fifty or more “arraignments” behind us that we could see, and twice that many wrapped in a big “U” through streets of
the town we couldn’t see.
Sunday dawned with blue skies and hope for an early crossing out of Mexico and into Guatemala, but the skies blackened quickly and the hail began pounding soon thereafter as the first “official looking” person told us we would not be able to leave Mexico because we had 5 titled vehicles (don’t forget the 2 donated motorcycles tucked in the van), the limit was 4. Your prayers, the right people in our path, a little “lunch money” and shortly after noon we crossed the bridge into “no mans land”, the couple hundred feet between the river and the Guatemalan customs and immigration. We tried our best to stay in the street and in the middle of everything happening, feeling, and having been told everything was in order. I guess the police there knew better, and the soon ushered us into a large staging area/parking lot. Waiting again. Loosing quickly what little trust we had in our tramitor, things started to get ugly as they returned after a couple hours with a document stating we would have to pay over $2,000. in tax, just on the truck besides everything in the vans. We didn’t have that much. With the unexpected $1,500. bond at the U.S./Mexico border, having been told by our Guatemalan lawyer that the tax would be around $500, and not wanting to travel with too much cash, we simply fell short. We made some deals with our tramitor, lowered the price, but it would take everything financially we had with us, and quickly. The ugliness, corruption, and darkness seemed to close in around us throughout that Sunday afternoon as time kept ticking away. We knew you were all praying, yet the war in the heavens was intensifying for the souls these vans and the supplies within them would carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to. This was not the border; this was the frontline of an ever raging battle between good and evil.
Computer system crashes, lost paperwork, lost tramitor for a time (with all our money, titles, and passports), our strength was fading fast now and so was daylight. Then 15 minutes before the border was to close for the night, we were told we would not be able to cross with the truck. However, we knew that the two vans had been cleared, so with some very quick scrambling we backed the truck up to a ramp God had provided and unloaded the van off the truck so we could at least cross with the two vans. It took everything we had with people running this direction and that, but the clock ticked past 7PM and the border closed. We were in line however and they called us forward. One look inside my van, the first in line, and a bunch of Spanish words coming from the mouth of the official which I have never heard before but could only imagine from his expressions what they were… I knew we were in trouble. Our tramitor though for the first time was
on top of it quickly and with a defiled gesture from the official, I was released leaving Kevin and his van to pass through. The official did not even look in Kevin’s van but soon motioned him on…the storm intensified.
Throughout the afternoon, with all the delays (real or purposely placed) we watched as a small gang formed around our tramitor. Many of those who knew full well what we had in the vans, and the tramitor knew specifically from our inventory list everything totaled (most of it donated), with the vans and truck included around $72,000. of value. As they walked through the streets they would line out, and people certainly knew to move out of their way. As the afternoon played out, we both began wondering if it was all a set up, waiting for darkness before the enemy played his gangly hand. As we pulled out of the Guatemalan customs, the last stop, our fears were realized … the tramitor and his little gang began piling into our vans. Kevin was immediately on his radio to me at the same time the tramitor and his brother gave me orders of what to do. “We are going to my house” he ordered without compromise. Several very tense moments of engagement followed within my van and an entire week of your prayers was played out in that moment by thee ALL powerful, ALL mighty God. I still don’t remember all the words spoken, but I remember the intensity of that moment and the engagement of one warrior’s eyes to another’s. An intimate moment soul to soul. With words alone, not mine, but all the words uttered in your prayers, our Lord convinced him that we were NOT going to his house, instead that we were indeed leaving without any of them in the vans. They miraculously got out of the vans as quickly as they had entered, the electric locks slammed down and we were moving. This time making a “run from the border”.
We watched our mirrors closely, and as our storm lifted the actual weather in Guatemala turned into a torrential rain, a blessing. With that rain, we knew all the police stops and bandits that potential lay ahead or were following behind would loose heart. About 40 minutes later we joined with our mission van from Chimaltenango and 4 guys whom I had called to come meet us when we began sensing that things were not right that afternoon. The rain lightened, then stopped. We made the mission base around midnight our time, 2AM EST. We were welcomed with open doors we quickly drove into and open arms of many in Guatemala who had been praying as intently as you all were. The table was set and we soon partook of an incredible meal, but not before an incredible “Guatemalan prayer” of thanksgiving.
Though the enemy lost this battle, the war still rages for the hearts and souls of many. We received several more little jabs as we missed Kevin’s fight the next morning due to heavy traffic, but after 4 hours had him on his way. The following day the truck recovery from the border went without a hitch and it was only our tramitor and his brother that now remained. The truck, even though 15 years old performed flawlessly throughout the week, with a few minor adjustments when we would hit unmarked speed bumps or those “Dukes of Hazard bridges”. I think though the angels and the truck were simply tired. I could see the yard we were going to store the truck at, b/c it is too large for our gates, a couple hundred feet away when the truck died. One of our old red vans to be replaced graciously pulled the truck that had brought its replacements the rest of the way. A simple o-ring had given out on the fuel pump, but we soon had it up and running, much unlike what would have happened had it blown in the middle of Mexico late at night.
A special thank you to Kevin as he, his church and his family have been an intricate part of Paradise Bound for so many years now. A special thank you to his wife and family as they allowed him to go, knowing we were going into battle, knowing we were covered in prayer and everything that means. To Heidi who also has given up so much life for our calling in Guatemala and who with Malachi, Ben and Haven will join me here Tuesday.
The list of those we could thank for prayers, giving, and service to our Lord to bring all this together could never be fully assembled. Those praying in the U.S. and Guatemala reached well into the thousands, probably more, especially on that Sunday we crossed into Guatemala and when we needed prayers the most. God had timed out perfectly our trip, our agonizing waits, the good roads, the bad roads, everything to fill that battle field on Sunday with your prayers and HIS victory!
What is a week of my life compared to eternity for someone else who WILL be reached by these vans and those group members within them carrying the Gospel over the next ten years? For that matter, what is any of our lives compared to eternity for someone who will be reached by Jesus Christ? Through this victory may we be confirmed to give everything we have and are to the very ONE who gave everything He had for you! The battle still rages, more warriors are needed, victory is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ!
IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO? IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
I love you all,