The bright yellow bus clattered its way down the narrow rutted highway. A station wagon followed closely behind, not wanting to lose its way. It is unknown how this story might have ended had not the powerful hand of the Almighty kept close watch over the little group.
The bus and station wagon were filled with a mix of males and females, mostly 15 or 16 years old. Though the teens were from comfortable homes in Southern California, none had a cell phone or a hand-held electronic device. It was 1972 and such gadgets simply did not exist.
The teens entertained themselves in customary fashion - chatting, singing, playing road games, reading, and just plain fooling around. Also traveling on the bus were youth leaders and a missionary from the region. I was one of the teens traveling with the group.
Accessing the country through Nogales, Arizona, the final destination was Quechehueca, Sonora, Mexico, approximately 250 miles south into the interior of the country. The goal was to provide help for various churches and missions along the way. A little site-seeing was also on the agenda.
Two separate youth groups formed the team. The team had no trouble melding, except for one particular group of girls who complained constantly, gossiped continuously, and in general, created discord among an otherwise congenial group.
The team traveled along the Mexican countryside moving from church to church and village to village spending our time singing, talking, and interacting with the young people in the churches, laboring, and site-seeing in the villages. As we traveled, the scattered villages become ever more remote and rustic. The scenery, however, became ever more verdant and picturesque.
The group was absolutely captivated about two things - the extreme poverty we witnessed and the happy, delightful people we encountered.
Along the way, there were local customs to be savored in the towns and villages such as fresh corn tortillas served warm on the street corners, roasted beefsteaks brought straight from the ranch, and colorful keepsakes for sale in the marketplaces.
Nothing, however, gripped our attention like the Saturday evening we stopped in a small town at dinnertime. As the bus and station wagon pulled into a small grassy area, men of all ages circled the bus and the station wagon. They were pointing and gesturing, laughing and talking loudly. No town, thus far, had brought this type of reaction and all of us foreigners were clueless as to what was happening.
The missionary, however, knew exactly what was happening as he stepped off the bus with two other tall, husky males. After a few minutes of strong words and emphatic gestures, the group of men dispersed. Later, we were astonished to learn that the men had been bidding on the girls in the group. They had just been paid their weekly wages and they were certain the heavens had dropped a busload of females into the meadow for their personal enjoyment!
We slept in a variety of accommodations ~ an elegant hotel in Nogales, a local gymnasium, a wide veranda at the home of a church member, and etc. Some of the accommodations were quite fun. Others were bug filled adventures making it difficult to sleep.
The afore-mentioned girls became impossible when the circumstances were at all uncomfortable. Eventually, they were put in the station wagon with one of the strongest youth leaders who tried to curtail the trouble they kept stirring up.
After almost a week of travel, we arrived in Quechehueca where we were to spend several days helping the local mission church in various ways. We arrived at dusk. We were sleeping inside the extremely small church which looked as though it was barely standing. It had a tin roof and a couple of dusty windows while inside just a few meager light bulbs hung from the ceiling.
We spread out our sleeping bags and learned the “facilities” were an outhouse, several yards away from the church. Imagine the fuss made by the unhappy group of girls.
Settling in for the night, some of us heard a distance clap of thunder and wondered. Rain began to pour from the sky, rocking the tin roof with the force of a gigantic ocean wave hitting the shore. The building shook. The thunder was followed by humongous bolts of lightening chasing each other across the sky.
With each roll of thunder and crackle of lightening, the group grew incredibly still as we wondered if our quivering shelter would withstand the storm. The lights flickered and went out, leaving us in ink black darkness, except when the lightening flared into the night.
The storm lasted for hours. No one slept. In a corner of the church, several girls were sobbing. Like Jonah, they knew their behavior had caused so much friction that God’s work had been hindered. They begged God for mercy as well as loudly and publicly asking the group for forgiveness.
The battered little church survived the storm. We spent the following days laboring and our evenings worshiping with the congregation.
Our trip home was peaceful and uneventful. The contentious girls became model team members. I suppose they have never forgotten that treacherous night when the heavens declared the glory of God as His power was put on display.