As we approached this trip, I don’t think that any of us knew exactly what to expect. One of the common comments I made leading up to the trip was that perhaps it was more about my own heart shaping than any impact we could possibly have.
You see, I remember very specifically a number of years ago when in a moment of complete honesty I had commented to someone that I had some bias against Hispanics and in particular Mexicans. This had come as the result of experiences I had when I was younger and traveling to Texas frequently on business.
Obviously, I don’t know about anyone else but I wonder if many of us don’t have a group of people that we don’t have the best feelings toward. It could be another race or ethnic group or maybe this year in particular it’s the liberals we don’t like or the conservatives we don’t like. Maybe it’s country concert attenders. I don’t know. It usually comes out in statements like “well, they reap what they sow” or “if only they weren’t so lazy”
In essence, what I had done in my mind was strip Mexicans of their worth and value as God’s children because I had relegated them to a lower level than myself. Not an easy thing to admit but it is what I had done
So when the idea of the trip to Mexico came up and God kept impressing on me that I was supposed to go, I felt like Jeremiah Wright’s statement – maybe my chickens were coming home to roost.
So, a bit nervously, I went on the trip … and we saw and heard things that maybe we never wanted to see and hear. We heard of things that really can be described as nothing less than evil. And we learned some of the pressures that have created the situations there. One of those pressures is Americans thinking that Tijuana can be this place where they can go and party and do things they wouldn’t do at home and somehow it is compartmentalized from their lives here in the states. We also learned that there are something like 12,000 adult films made in the US each year compared to something like 400 major motion pictures. Part of that industry involves folks trafficked out of the Tijuana area due to its close proximity to southern California.
And yet in the midst of that, we found and saw so many people there whose lives are completely devoted – and I mean absolutely completely devoted – to restoring hope and healing to those in Tijuana who are caught up in the things we were there to study. God is so anxious to make change there – to win over evil – and working so hard. There was no way that, after seeing how hard God is pursuing these people, I could ever have negative thoughts about them again.
I saw first hand how God really wants relationship with all of us – no matter race, heritage, political persuasion or taste in music. I hope, believe and pray that this trip redeemed me from ever again looking at a group of people and seeing them with anything other than love simply because they are God’s children, the same as me.
I want to share one other quick story with you … I tend to be an early riser. I’d wake up most mornings sometime around 5 and head out to the little courtyard area in the orphanage to read or reflect or do some writing. The second morning we were there, as I sat outside on a little curb and did some writing on my laptop, a little boy came up to me. He was maybe 4 or 5. He was really curious what I was doing so I showed him and then he started running around the courtyard collecting old Hot Wheels cars and bringing them to me to play with. We couldn’t understand a single word the other one said but yet somehow we connected and at the risk of being late for breakfast, I played with him for about an hour.
Throughout our stay there, he kept popping up, usually quite literally because I’d just be walking around and suddenly I’d get tackled from behind and there would be my little friend. He’d usually have a car or ball to play with or he’d lead me to the swing set where he taught me how he liked to twist the swing in a circle and then let it spin out. I asked Ed with our group to try to find out what his name was and all the little boy would tell us was “Hombre” which didn’t make a lot of sense because I think that means “man” in Spanish.
So, we started asking around and at one point someone told me his name was something that sounded to me like Azrael … I honestly don’t think that was even remotely his name but I liked it because it sounded like Israel which reminds me of God’s promise and that just sounded right for the name of this bright faced little boy.
A couple of days later though, Martha, the orphanage director, was talking about a little boy there who, as she said, wasn’t “right in his head”. I couldn’t believe it was Azrael she was talking about but yet it sounded like him. She said that he was the grandson of one of their cooks and came to the orphanage with her. She said that you can’t communicate with him … that he doesn’t understand what you say and the things he says back don’t make sense. I hate to say it but this sounded like the conversations we’d had with him trying to learn his name.
I spoke to Martha again later about Azrael and pretty much confirmed that we were indeed talking about the same little boy. She told me that they thought he had been mentally scarred by things he had seen as a young child. Keep in mind he’s only 4 or 5 now. My heart broke when she told me this. And it’s still broken for my little friend I left behind in Tijuana.
We saw lots of huge stories of redemption in Tijuana … I’d love to talk all day about them but, at least on this first trip, the one that really hits home with me is my own redemption – my own setting free – from prejudice. May I live in a new reality that allows me to better carry God’s hope, restoration, love, and Kingdom to the entire world.