It’s been about a week since I got back from my latest trip to Mexico. I’ve gotten past the travel fatigue, but I’m still walking in the afterglow of the sights, sounds, and experiences.
When you mention Mexico to most Americans, the images usually conjured up are gleaming white beaches, the plush resorts to be found in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, casinos, spas, or golf courses. That wasn’t the Mexico I saw, or have ever seen. The Mexico I’m acquainted with is gritty. The people I’ve met and have come to know live in crude cinder block homes that sit atop huge landfills, which in turn are primitive attempts to mask the smell of tons of rotting garbage that’s been dumped beneath them. The people somehow manage to live on pennies per day, doing work that no “self-respecting” American would ever consider doing. Their intestines are filled with worms and parasites. Their afflictions are many.
That’s the Mexico I know. In many ways, it’s the Mexico I prefer. I prefer it, not because of its problems, but because it’s real and the people living in that reality respond to love. The Mexico of the resorts and casinos seems empty and plastic to me. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to believe that sitting by the pool, praying for 11 red or 34 black to magically appear on the roulette wheel, or anticipating the turn of a card to fill in a straight flush is about as futile and meaningless as life can get.
For four days our group of nineteen went from site to site, diagnosing, prescribing, dispensing, touching, hugging, playing, and praying. There were more than enough needs to keep us fully occupied for twelve hours or more each day. The work was occasionally interrupted by laughter or spontaneous cheers as something beyond our ability to explain occurred. There were moments when the overwhelming nature of the people’s needs would reduce us to tears.
The doctors, nurses, and pharmacist who were part of our team took care of the medical needs. They did an amazing job! The rest of us did the touching, hugging, playing, and praying. I especially loved being around the children. And, they loved being around me. I became quite good at face painting. I drew a mustache and goatee on a boy who appeared to be about eight years old. I nicknamed him “Snidely Whiplash.” I was quite proud of my work. I found a couple of small water pistols and engaged in mock gunfights with the boys. Every time I did my imitation of John Wayne’s walk they would laugh uncontrollably. That, in turn, gave me the opportunity to soak ‘em real good. I challenged a couple of six year olds to arm wrestling contests, which they won. Even teenagers gravitated toward me. I adopted two, calling one Butch Cassidy and the other the Sundance Kid. I think that surprised some of our group. Over time, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being a small town hair-shirted prophet. They didn’t realize that even a dour old man like me has his soft spots. On the way home, one of the team members expressed his surprise. I told him I was beginning to work on my epitaph. My first draft reads something like this:
“Kids loved him.
Politicians hated him.
All in all, a well-lived life!”
We saw things in Mexico one doesn’t see very often on our side of the border. I saw hundreds of lost souls saved. I saw a lame woman come into one of the meetings, struggling to move with the aid of a crude, home-made cane. I saw her leave without the cane. The joyful expression on her face was the only explanation I needed.
One of the beautiful things about Mexico is that the social environment seems far less rigid than ours. Everything’s done in the open. I saw an Aztec shaman trying to cleanse some demons from a guy in Mexico City’s downtown park. I passed by the “church of death” one day and lifted a drive-by prayer of exorcism as I did.
The openness of the environment makes the fight very easy. One knows what he’s up against. Our north-of-the-border demons are much harder to see. They wear a cloak of respectability and can be found in corporate board rooms and legislative chambers. They often wear Brooks Brothers suits. They have names like greed, envy, and lust for power. They have a tender touch, but they’re deadly.
The afterglow of Mexico remains, yet I know her needs are still acute. But, I also know there’s hope for Mexico’s poor and needy. As it’s written, “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”