“¿Por qué estás aquí en Samachique?”
My friend Abraham asked me this question a few weeks back: Why are you here in Samachique? He and I have known each other for the 1.5 years I’ve lived in Mexico, but as our friendship has deepened, so have our conversations. Abraham is Tarahumara, and is the first of his people to have graduated with a seminary degree. His heart is to share the good news of God’s grace with his own people, in their own language and cultural context, which is always the ideal model for Christ’s love to take root in a community. Since I’m not usually a particularly reflective person, his question gave me pause. Why am I here?
The question, in fact, came at a time when some doubts on that very subject had been brought to my attention. A few weeks prior, I was invited to attend a small leadership meeting discussing the state of ministry as a whole in Samachique and surrounding areas. All of the other leaders in attendance had served in this region for many more years than I had, and I was captivated by their insights. Honestly, many of the points brought up at the meeting were focused on the barriers to the gospel that we see here. Some was not new information to me: that the Tarahumara tend to be closed to outsider influence; that some Tarahumara believe that to be a Christian means nothing more than to quit drinking; that many Tarahumara communities are so isolated that they have never been reached with the truth of Christ. But we also discussed at length the concept of discipleship among the Tarahumara, which I came to realize is nearly nonexistent in these remote communities. If we want Christ to be known in the Sierra Tarahumara, the leaders said, we need to raise up Tarahumara disciples who will disciple others from within and create a self-replicating movement. But given the scarcity of Christ-followers who speak Tarahumara, and given the complex cultural relationships at play, how can this ideal be reached?
Walking away from that meeting, my head was spinning a bit. I have been brought up with the foundational truths that God is completely in control and that he has promised to draw every people group on the planet to himself. These truths were emphasized at the meeting as well, and the overall tone was not hopeless. But I couldn’t help but wonder what God’s plan was to overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers that were discussed. I began to ask myself, “Have I been approaching my ministry role here the wrong way? Should I learn the Tarahumara language? Should I leave the hospital here and instead plant myself in the most far-flung village I can find, in order to build foundations of discipleship?”
In other words, why am I here in Samachique?
As I reflect on the past two months, some concrete reasons come to mind. The hospital has maintained a steady patient flow, and we continue to see dramatic transformations at the hands of our medical team, especially in pediatric malnutrition cases. Our long-term paralyzed patient completed one full year with us this month, and his life and recognition of God continue to stir thanksgiving in me. Like always, death in this region has continued to occur too often and too early. I am repeatedly brought back to an afternoon last week when I was listening with my stethoscope to a 1.5-year-old girl’s heartbeat, not knowing that she would be cold and still within twelve hours. Though I was not present for her passing, I absorbed yet another blow of frustrated grief, knowing that things should not have ended this way for her. In that moment, my friend Dr. Jessee Bustinza helped me to again process the harsh realities of this region and to remember that we cannot slay the complex beast of sky-high child mortality overnight. Another friend, Abraham’s sister Anita, was able to pray with the mother in her own language just after her loss, and she later told me that she knew God had placed her there at exactly the right time to provide the mother with Holy Spirit comfort.
And to be sure, God has a way of raising us up to serve in his perfect timing. I continue to be involved with the mobile clinic team, and I continue to believe that it can be stewarded in such a way that it becomes a vital piece of building trust in remote communities that opens people up to the gospel. Since taking over the child malnutrition project, I have also been developing my understanding of what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Child malnutrition is such an enormous problem here that I have been tempted to assume a rather passive posture in the name of “only God can handle this.” While that’s true, God’s design always has been to actively partner with humanity in bringing his goodness to earth, and I am learning to allow him to use me to take steps toward healing in this area, all the while completely trusting him with the outcome.
I’ve never been surer that God uses us in our inadequacy. Exhibit A: a few weeks ago, the young couple that leads the youth/young adult group with our church approached me and three others in the group to ask if we would prayerfully consider taking on a joint leadership role, still under their guidance but essentially running the group ourselves. For a long time, I’ve been the only gringa in the group, and I was deeply touched to be asked to help lead. The four of us have a vision to create a safe place where young Tarahumara and Mexican nationals can enjoy fellowship together and learn about the transforming love of Christ in a meaningful, personal way. Some group members are part of our church, while others have no belief background beyond what they’ve heard during our group meetings. I can’t tell you how humbling it feels to join in the raising up of a generation of hope.
At the leadership meeting I referred to earlier, one topic of discussion was the MP3 player project. We are convicted that every Tarahumara person should have access to the gospel through the scripture and worship music loaded on MP3 players that get distributed to the remotest areas. Three days ago, a team of men set out on an intense backpacking trip, loaded down with 300 of these MP3 players, which my friend Lalo and I spent many hours putting together. When I’m tempted to dwell on the challenges of discipleship among the Tarahumara, I am reminded that God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and that it never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).
These growing responsibilities of mine are part of why I am here. But beyond my role in these areas, I have been once again faced with one of my principal roles that I have often neglected: intercession. Reading Hebrews recently, I was in awe at the realization that Christ “always lives to intercede for us” (Hebrews 7:25). Rather than despairing of the many barriers that set themselves up against Christ, I want to come before the Father, face-down, hands-up, recognizing that the brokenness in myself and in the Tarahumara and in every human on earth is beyond my ability to fix. So, as Jesus asks God for grace over me, I ask for grace over my Tarahumara brothers and sisters.
Abraham’s question brought me back to the deep peace that I have in the midst of all the heartache that comes with living in this region. It’s a peace that comes from the simple fact that I know I am walking in obedience by being here. And despite my weaknesses and short-sightedness, God fills me to overflowing with his abundant kindness, so that I can pour it out on others wherever I go. He has called me; he is equipping me; he will prove himself faithful to me.
That’s why I’m here.