Last Wednesday, two days after Christmas, I joined a group of five other people on a four-day trip to Reynosa, Mexico. Our purpose was to bring backpacks filled with school supplies across the border and distribute them to families in the more impoverished areas of the city. The first and the last days were solely spent on driving, as the trip from Oklahoma to Reynosa is around 17 hours. Thursday and Friday were spent taking the backpacks across the border in small batches so the border control would allow us to pass–I made a personal record of ten trips across the border in two days. We brought the backpacks to a local church where we organized them and prepared them to be passed out. The pastor and his family spoke no English, so it was amazing to be able to converse with them in Spanish and help to translate during interactions with the families. Bud and Ruth Bivens are a missionary couple who have been working in Mexico since before I was born, and they are some of my favorite people in the world. It was so encouraging to be able to spend time with them and listen to some of the many stories they’ve collected over the years.
The most heart-wrenching part of the trip was the handing out of the backpacks. Watching a father struggle to hold back tears after his children are given something so simple as a backpack really challenges your perspective on what really matters in life. Having a mother smile wide and hug you after handing her a gallon-size Ziploc bag full of rice and beans is not an everyday experience. This part of the trip is the hardest to put into words, I think because there is something almost sacred about the experience of fulfilling the call of James 1:27 in such a direct manner. There is no difference between me and the people who I am handing backpacks to except for the situations we were born into, which neither of us had any power over. It is only by the grace of God that any of us are in the positions and situations we are in, and we should never take that for granted. This new year, I would challenge you to go deeper and deeper into a heart of gratitude. I would also challenge you to look closely at what good there is in your life and see how far you would have come if you had been born in different circumstances. Shaking your perspective of yourself in the world a little is good for the soul.
I created a video of my experience, which is a first for me because I’m much more comfortable taking pictures. The video is different, though, in that it contains only the parts of the trip where we were not handing out backpacks, because it doesn’t settle right with me to exploit the circumstances of others so I can get more Facebook likes or website views. I didn’t want the families we were speaking with to feel as if our mission to them was done only because we wanted to record the experience in order to feel a sense of personal fulfillment. They are humans and they deserve dignity and respect.
I’m honestly so grateful that I was allowed to go on this trip. It challenged my perspective of what I believe is important. I was also able to use the Spanish that I’ve spent years learning and speak and laugh with families. My favorite encounter was with an older couple from Altamira who I had a 30-minute conversation in Spanish with about the goodness of God in their lives. As we parted, the husband blessed me and said, “If you ever need a home in Altamira, you have one with us.” The Lord’s plan is so SO much better than mine, and as I look back I am able to see the beginning pieces of the story He is beginning to tell.