A Journey to Oaxaca

Jason and I stood in the cathedral built in the 1500s and beheld the medieval art on the walls with gold-leaf halos, the saints on the one side, and the many statues of Mary on the other. We made our way to the front and a man introduced himself and began to recount the history of the cathedral of San Pablo. He showed us the murals in the front of the church of Saint Paul, the apostle. How he was blinded and converted on the road to Damascus, how he recovered his sight, how he wrote letters to the churches, and how he was beheaded because of his testimony to Jesus. Yes, we were familiar with Paul. He then began to explain the customs of the people of Mitla, Mexico, the small, but ancient town in the state of Oaxaca. He described how before the Spaniards came with the good news of Jesus the people living there, the Zapoteco, had a way of life known as the Guelaguetza. In this philosophy there are two roads. One that leads to heaven and one that leads to hell. Those who do good go to heaven, while those who sin the big sins go to hell. The name of the town, “Mitla”, in the Zapotec language means place of the dead or gateway to hell. The philosophy of the Guelaguetza is one in which the people keep track of favors done for others. It is an exacting culture, where one must work for their salvation.

The sign outside of the church reads: “Mitla sacred city of the dead, the tomb is not final. The resurrection of Jesus.”

It is into this culture that we came for twelve days.

This year we invested in a family missions trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to visit our dear missionary friends, the Blyckers, to expose our children to life in another culture, and to serve others with the gifts the Lord has given us.

Looking like “gringos”.

One of our first experiences was to travel to a small mountain village named San Miguel. This village has a tiny church of 25 people, mostly Zapoteco. I had the privilege of hearing the story of its humble beginnings thirty years ago.

San Miguel in the evening.
We traveled an hour and a half into a tiny village in the mountains and served alongside the people of the only Christian church in San Miguel. We sanded the church benches all morning.

The ladies of the church made us a meal of mole after we painted and sanded at the church and we listened to the testimonies of the people.

Usually the women come to Christ first and pray for their husbands for years until they surrender their lives to Jesus. Many men struggle with alcoholism as Mezcal, a liquor made from the abundant agave plant, is available everywhere. A sad result of alcoholism many times is domestic violence. However, the power of Jesus freed several of the men in the church from their old way of life. Their testimonies of transformation had a profound effect on my children. Please pray that more of the men in this town hear the gospel and respond to Jesus!

Angela Blycker, Maximina, me, and Marina. Marina’s brother was the first to come to Christ all those years ago.

Shortly after our time in the village several of our children became sick and so that changed some of our plans for the week. One of the ministries Angela is involved with in Mitla is a girls’ club that reaches the young girls of the town with truth from the Word of God, crafts, food, and the opportunity to play in their yard (the only grassy spot in the area, due to the desert climate!) She and her daughter, Kiersta poured into these girls all year and taught them Psalm 23 and all about the Good Shepherd. She asked if I would share the gospel with the families at their last girls’ club, which I was honored to do. However, we had to push the get-together back because of sickness. At the time it felt like an attack from the enemy, and perhaps it was, and even on the day we had the party, it rained so much we had to use the local church facilities instead of the Blycker’s home. But God’s ways are always so much better than our own. What the enemy means for evil, the Lord uses for good. It was necessary that I had a few more days pondering the culture and way of life in Mitla because come Friday evening, the Holy Spirit empowered me with the wisdom to share the gospel simply and interactively and in a way that they could comprehend. I could absolutely feel the prayers that night. So thank you for praying! Several of the women prayed to receive Jesus! And because of the rain, the party was held in the church, and our prayer is that these families would feel comfortable attending services there. For many of these children and parents it was the first group meeting they have experienced since COVID shut everything down last year.

The girls and their families.

How can I adequately describe our twelve days there? It was a dream come true for me to take my entire family on a missions trip. To Mexico, which is one of the places I grew up and which has a deep, deep place in my heart. We were all stretched in our patience and love and self-control and upon our return found our little town of Madisonville so sparkling clean and nice, it blew us away. And HOT!! We were also overjoyed to be able to flush our toilet paper! We saw the Lord’s sovereign hand in the timing of our trip. We were supposed to have gone a year ago, but due to COVID our airline went bankrupt. Speaking of which, all of our COVID tests came back negative, which enabled us to get back into the States. So thank you for praying for that!

Here are a few other pictures of our journey to Oaxaca:

Oaxaca City. Tourist day.
Jason and Ben were able to give a teaching of a Walk Through the Old Testament to a rehab center and Jason shared the gospel there and several men prayed to receive Jesus!
Jason and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary with Ben and Angela.

We painted the outside and inside of Nancy’s house. (Nancy is the Blycker’s house helper. Their house had never been painted before.)
This is sweet Nancy. Her mother made the shirt I am wearing here.
Hiking with Thaddaeus.
Hiking with my dearest friend, Angela.
These gorgeous mountains are in the Blycker’s backyard!
Addie with one of the local artisans.
Jason and me. 19 years strong. I am so very thankful for this servant leader.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3-7

The Good Shepherd

I went out looking for the cows at exactly noon on Good Friday, the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross. I had let them all onto the back pasture the day before because the grass was greener and longer on that side of the gate and we had run out of hay. Being content with the lush and tender spring grasses, none of them made their way to the barn this morning, except the horse, when I called them in for feed. I wasn’t worried about it, knowing they had their fill of grass. But at noon I was concerned that they might find the low part of the fence and hop over onto our neighbor’s property. So I went looking for them.

This is our sixth spring out here on the land and every time, the season dazzles me. In winter I forget what lies dormant and forgotten in the earth. Then the land awakens with a newness that always catches my breath and still leaves me dumbfounded that resurrection is possible following the cold and death of the prior season. The vibrant colors of the flowers, the welcome warmth of the sun, and the bright green everywhere awakens the coldest of hearts. Hope is possible. It is tangible.

As I’d see them in the woods, I’d name the cows one by one. Mocha, Jingle, Shalom. Bobby Sue, Jack, Little Rascal. Around the corner was King, the horse. In the top part of the pasture I found Sam and Charlie, then Sweet Baby Rae, then Squanto. There was Milk Dud. But where was Annabelle? I made my way across the creek a different way than I had come and saw a pitiful sight. Annabelle was lying in the creek. Her head was back and her body was sprawled out. She had a long vine of mesquite thorns wrapped around her body. Having three-inch long, vicious spikes, the kids call them the Jesus thorns. Eery does not begin to describe what I came upon.

I raced to her, knelt in the mud and water, and lifted her head up by the halter that was still on her. Here we go again, I thought. She is the same cow we have struggled with all year. I prayed a brief prayer for wisdom and, knowing I couldn’t lift her on my own, ran back to the house to get some help. I returned with my boys and my in-laws and I instructed them to get behind her and push her to a sitting position. With all of us heaving and pushing, we managed to get her to sit up and begin to get the air out of her system. I had no idea how long she had been down. Whenever she had gone down in the past, we have had to place straps around her and lift her with the tractor. But there was no way we were getting that tractor down the steep bank of the creek and lifting her safely. I Face-timed Jason from work and there wasn’t anything he could do . But, to our utter astonishment, right after hanging up the phone, Annabelle stood up! She got up with her back legs, pushed herself to her front knees, waited a while, and then stood completely up. It was another small miracle. Another resurrection of sorts. Another answered prayer for these animals that I have been entrusted with.

This is the creek where Annabelle was lying.
Standing next to Annabelle after she miraculously stood up on her own. Her right eye is terribly swollen from lying in the creek.
A new perspective of the shepherd’s staff. The boys used it to drive away the other cows from Annabelle’s feed so she could eat.

Leading up to this day, the Lord has been doing a deep work in my heart. I found myself dealing with deep grief from the past that I hadn’t completely worked through. It seemed to come from nowhere and hit with such a tremendous force that it startled me, really. I began to seek out close friends and ask them to pray for me as I worked through whatever this was. It turned out that what I was dealing with were lies that I believed about God. Lies that affected my relationship with Him. Lies that He was malevolent and uncaring. But as I repented of these lies and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the truth about who He really is, He gave me so many scripture passages that speak of His tender love and concern for me. My favorite one He gave to me was Psalm 103:14: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

My care for these animals grossly pales in comparison to my Good Shepherd’s love for me. His eyes are laughing as he watches over his flock. Over me. He loves me and I know it. He holds my hand and gently leads me along the way I am to go. He protects me and stands in my defense. I am his and he is mine. He went to great lengths to redeem me, laying down his life. The Shepherd becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. My sins. And the sins of those who sin against me and against those whom I love. My Good Shepherd is the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the one who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one that was lost. He came and he found me.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23