My JARON colleague, Kenton Rahn, and I arrived in Tehuacan on Friday, January 8 in the late afternoon after a 1:05 am departure time from Fresno. Tehuacan is a city of around 250,000 people in the southern part of the Mexican state of Puebla, located about four hours southeast of Mexico City or about an hour and a half southwest of the state capitol of Puebla. As you may remember, I have done ministry in this place with these people several times before.
Tired doesn’t describe how we felt after two flights (Fresno/Guadalajara and Guadalajara/Mexico City) then a bus ride to Puebla and a ride by car with friends to Tehuacan. While in Puebla, we were able to make a brief visit to a main hospital there where Betty Harris Lagunes is hospitalized with cancer. She is one of the key people on this end in instigating this JARON Bible Institute extension. It was very good for us to see her and to visit with her family.
Saturday was a settling-in and relaxing day for the most part. Even so, Kenton and I, along with Gil Hernandez, a former missionary in this city and one of our translator/interpreters, made a visit to a local radio station in order to announce the Institute classes for the next two weeks. We also had a counseling session with one of the students about some family issues he is working through. But, all-in-all, it was a day of recovery from the rigors of travel. In the evening we were part of a group, which went out for “tacos arabes” at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant very near the picturesque city square. It was a nice outing and time to be with good friends.
Most Mexican towns of any size have such a town center, or Zocalo, with the main Catholic church on one side, the city offices on another and shops of various types on the other two. Lots of people frequent the park which is in the middle and sometimes there are sellers of various food items such as tacos, churros, candies and ice cream, along with balloons and other trinkets for the kids. Once in awhile there is even music. It is kind of like a perpetual carnival—which is part of what gives Mexico its charm.
It was very cold while we were there: probably in the upper 40s or lower 50s–an unusual thing for that far south in Mexico. I am guessing that the outside temperatures were comparable to Fresno in January and it rained off and on. The problem is that almost no one has any heating system there since they would rarely use it. So, we were cold almost all the time. For example, one morning, I got up early to take a shower and waited maybe 15 minutes while the hot water tap was running for the water to warm up. It never did because the family we are staying with ran out of propane, so I took a very cold partial shower. However, I was really no worse for the experience.
After a rocky start, my Spanish rose to the occasion and even improved. I can usually converse at a very modest level with folks, which is nice since I don’t have to have an interpreter trailing me all the time. The food was delicious and, in some ways, very different from what many Americans would expect. Yes, we had tacos, but they were certainly not like Taco Bell. The tortillas are soft and the meat is either beef or pork with delicious condiments. Other dishes included lentil stew with large semi-sweet bananas (plantains) in it; a pounded chicken breast with a marvelous sauce over it, homemade cream of mushroom soup, and of course, the best fresh tortillas in the world. Locals boast that Tehuacan and its sister city, Coapan, are indeed the tortilla capitols of the world since experts claim that corn has been growing here longer than any other place on earth.
Sunday was a very full day. The morning began with a 15-minute drive to Coapan, where I preached a gospel message from Psalm 112. We broadcast the message from a loudspeaker located near the town center and the locals tell me that hundreds of people can hear what is said. On the drive back, we stopped off to visit and pray with a woman who is part of the translation team and who had surgery the day before. Then I was invited to speak at a church called Manada Pequena (Little Flock) on transformation from the life of Jacob in Genesis 31 and 32.
Monday we began the most recent series of JARON extension classes, including:
Church History—try covering 2,000 years of Christian history in five two-hour sessions through translation. Kenton and I taught identical sessions of each day’s material twice: first from 6:30-8:30 am in one church and then again from 7:30 to 9:30 pm in another location. I had been wondering whether the initial enthusiasm for this type of rigorous training would eventually subside, but so far it hasn’t. During the five days of teaching there were an average of more than 100 students spread out over the two daily sessions. Even though each day included the teaching sessions in the early morning and late evening, plus counseling, jail ministry and invitations to people’s homes— our health stayed good throughout. Thanks, Lord!
The next week our colleague, Gene Beck arrived with Wes Janca to teach five days on biblical anthropology (the study of human nature from the scriptures). The beauty of all this is that it is a group effort, including the team of Mexican believers who make this ministry possible and who carry it on all year round.
Some exciting things include the fact that our friend Enrique is using some of our JARON class materials in the jail each week to teach the prisoners theology. He reports that they are learning and looking forward to each lesson. Another student, Jose, has started a radio program in which some of what he is learning at the JBI extension is being passed on to the listeners. Others are taking what they are learning to the surrounding villages and towns to teach in churches and ministry centers throughout the region. These types of things assure us that what we are doing twice yearly in Tehuacan is worthwhile.
I need to say a word about the fabled Mexican hospitality. We were housed and fed by an amazing team of local believers. Over and over we were told by those who hosted us in their homes or for a meal that it was their pleasure to do so. If we mentioned anything that could be construed as a need, it was done without hesitation (which reminded us to be careful in mentioning anything casually for fear that it might be understood as a request). Maybe the best way to express my personal experience is to describe the contrast between our treatment going through security in Mexico, versus treatment upon our return to the United States. The entire tenor of addressing people in Mexico tends to be much more respectful. For example, the security official who inspected my luggage at the Mexico City airport and frisked me down did so with apologetic comments and great courtesy.
However, upon our arrival at LAX on the evening of January 16, we were spoken to very curtly on several occasions, the procedure for moving to where we needed to go was confusing and communicated in a way which I thought was unnecessarily rude. Even the restaurant personnel at the airport were apathetic and offered very poor customer service. I realize that this is LAX and that the security (and the nerves of people) are very tight these days. Yet I maintain that Americans are fast forgetting what they once knew about hospitality and courtesy. Mexico is still a wealthy country when it comes to such things.
Thanks for your prayers during the time we were there. Not once did we feel endangered in any way and we sensed the hand of the Lord upon us daily.