Deep in the heart of Mexico, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, safely concealed in deep caves in the clefts of the rocks or in primitive, rough hewn houses, live the Raramuri Indians of Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico. For thousands of years they have inhabited caves, traveling up and down the winding, treacherous paths from canyon to plateau and back to canyon.
Most of these primitive people know nothing of Jesus other than a little knowledge that the Jesuit missionaries brought to them. They mixed Christianity in with their animism and witchcraft beliefs. Life has stood still in this unfamiliar canyon. The Raramuri still wear goatskins. They still run down an unsuspecting deer persistently, for days on end, until the deer drops dead from utter exhaustion. The Indians have a celebration feast to express joy at man's domination over the animals. No firearms are used here. They still practice human sacrifice to appease the ancient gods of ther polytheistic beliefs. These are people that Jesus died for 2,000 years ago, the Raramuri are ignorant of that very important sacrifice.
My mission there, along with another evangelist, Tom, and an unsaved pilot, Dave, was that of an advanced scouting team to penetrate the West Central
Rim of Copper Canyon and evaluate the needs spiritually and medically of this ancient settlement. This would prove to be a challenging trip for the inexperienced, green traveler or the faint-hearted. The evil spirits of the Raramuri would certainly make themselves known to us before this journey was over.
This quest for Him, from the start to the finish would prove extremely interesting, intensely challenging, sometimes positively horrifying. Without the absolute assurance and abiding faith that the Lord was on our side, we would have turned back, or perished many times in the course of the next action-packed ten days. We bravely ventured through what would prove to be treacherous territory, physically and spiritually! We were prayed up, filled to overflowing with the Word of God and led by a sure calling and a strong anointing of the Holy Spirit. When God is with us, who can be against us! Thank God believing that would mean life to us.
We headed into treacherous territory even before we got to the little Texas airport. Tom backed into the shining, new, Chevy truck of a bigger-than-life, true Texas red-neck-cowboy-type. Fortunately, the license plate was the only area scratched and after a few, humble apologies, our "new friend" allowed us to slink off into the rising sun of day. It was OK at the corral that day, Thank God! The fact that our big buddy was a Sheriff's Deputy really hadn't helped his attitude. Only by the grace of God, and three very humble spirits did we escape problems, tickets and jail that day.
By the time we got to the airport, "Big Dave", a humble self-proclaimed nickname, was concluding his final check of the four-seat Cessna plane! The engine roared and everything appeared to check out. He killed the engine and started loading our sparse gear into the hold. After fully loaded Tom, Dave and I gathered around the plane, laid hands on it and began to pray...at least two of us did. Dave stood with one hand in his pocket and one on the plane. Guess he figured he'd have all bases covered that way. We then jumped in, buckled up and put on our headphones in preparation for the great journey ahead. I often question, if I knew what lay ahead of us, if I would have boarded with such joyful eagerness that little tuna can of a plane. There was Tom, David, me and a host of guardian angels around us, thank God.
All systems were “go” and we prepared for the flight. The engine wouldn't start. Smoke belched out...it sputtered and died. Not a good sign! And yet I thought at the time....boy, oh, boy...are we in for a trip. If the devil's trying this hard to prevent our trip, the Lord must have a amazing adventure in store for us. Onward Christian Soldiers.....get thee behind me Satan, you dirty dog!!!
Tom and I broke into prayer, praising the Lord, binding the devil, declaring healing on this sick flying machine we were about...we hoped...to launch out in. The pilot leaped out of the plane. I am sure the chorus of prayer probably scared him into quick action. He beat a hasty retreat across the airstrip to the hangar, but quickly returned with his car and jumper cables to try to jump start our plane. Success! Soon we were taxiing down the runway waiting to receive authorization to takeoff.
Then, suddenly, we were off on a wing and an effectual fervent prayer on our way to the Rio Grande and the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico! We were by now well aware that our faith and His will were the only things that were going to get the work done this time.
The flight to the Texas/Mexican border was uneventful and very enjoyable. Yes, Lord...smooth sailing now...the devil is defeated and he has taken a hike...yes! (Wrong!) We breezed through immigration, got our paperwork in order and off again, this time into Mexican territory and what was to be an easy forty-five minute flight.
"Piece of cake," offered our self-assured pilot, cruising on his past success at the Texan border.
"Piece of angel cake for you guys..." he added for our benefit.
One of our first prayers early that morning at the ministry headquarters came from Psalm 91:11-12…"For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will steady you with their hands to keep you from stumbling against the rocks on the trail." We were about to learn that this was also prophetic for the remarkable journey ahead when fifteen minutes out of Texas, flying over the barren Mexican oil fields below, a sudden load explosion rocked our craft.
These are the times when your spirituality is really tested, critically...without an opportunity to do a word search, check out Strong's or Matthew's for meaning. It is "Oh, thank you Jesus" time and that's what I yelled. Tom turned sheet white and Dave let loose with an expletive that would make an Army staff sergeant proud! I watched as the engine began to belch smoky mare’s tales behind us.
"We gotta land this sucker...look for a good spot!" offered the pilot, his voice cracking with fear.
"Wait now, Dave, calm down...just follow that road down there in case we have to ditch we can land on the road. I don't feel like hiking hundreds of miles through this Mexican wilderness," I offered praying my voice would come forth with strong authority even if my knees were shaking so hard I had to hold on to them. I know my Lord...He knew I wasn't into wilderness hiking...we made an agreement, I prayed He accepted it!
I watched the oil pressure needle slowing sink. Airspeed was declining and the altimeter showed we were getting closer to kissing the Sierra Madres peaks.
"Lord just get us to Chihuahua, please...not here Lord, please not here!" I prayed silently, hanging on to my "sissy strap" for dear life.
By the grace of God we limped into the airport at Chihuahua about an hour and one half later. We all leaped out, and Dave got down on these knees and kissed the runway. Tom and I joined hands and started praising our God, our co-pilot and redeemer, Jehovah Gyro?
After about an hour of diagnostics we got the sad report...there was not a drop of oil left in the plane, all the oil had leaked out when a valve blew and fouled out the engine requiring replacement of four of the six cylinders.
"Hey, man, dis plane no can' fly like dat," offered the astounded aero-mechanic as he explained our dilemma.
"Hey, Man we just did it like this, the Lord held us up all the way. We are Christian missionaries and God is with us." I preached to our new friend. “Our Lord can do anything He wants to..."
"Si, Senorita...por dios!" he mocked as the rest of the mechanics broke into peals of laughter.
Tom and I left to the murmurs of "loco", "estupido", plus a few others that I am blessed not to know the translation. Dave remained behind with the mechanics, planning to fly in to meet us in a few days.
After negotiating a week's visa, being refused a longer one, probably because of the condition of our plane, Tom and I quickly boarded a bus and headed into Chihuahua in search of a hotel near the train station. We easily found one and had no trouble sleeping that night. I felt very secure having my feet planted square on the ground again! I praised the Lord with exceeding joy and thanksgiving before I went to sleep. After the day's adventure, who knew what the next day would bring.
Early the next morning we headed for the train station to continue our rather fascinating trip to El Divisidero. Just as we arrived at the railroad station the rains began. We learned, much to our dismay, that it was not wise to travel on the mountain train during or after a rain because the tracks are not adequately secured and travel in the mountains with the sharp switch backs is not safe. The last week there had been two train crashes and an avalanche on this same line. No real cause for alarm, ahem ...we were prayed up, we continued our journey. The trip proved to be without incident. It was a little unsettling when we passed the former week's railroad cars overturned and mud filled from the avalanche.
We arrived at our destination a little late, but in one piece, in a long steady downpour of rain at 10,500 feet elevation. We trudge from the train to the lodge, mud up to our ankles, breathless from the lack of oxygen. Welcome to scenic El Divisidero! Camping was out. Descending the canyon was impossible as the mist completely hung in the canyon with the rain.
We checked into The Lodge just in time for a warm, inviting dinner, our first meal of the long day. We were ready as a hearty, aromatic meal was promptly laid out before us family-style.
After saying a blessing over the meal we opened our eyes to find the other four people at the table staring at us with a less than appreciative glare. Tom and I remained silent and struck up dialogue with our challenging new acquaintances. It was going to prove to be just one more test!
Our unsaved backpacking friends had also been rained out of Copper Canyon and were pouring forth a doomsday forecast of rain for the rest of the week. When they found out way we were there they heartily laughed and mocked us offering..."will never clear soon enough…might as well get on the train and go!"
One woman who was into the New Age movement, eloquently expounded upon her higher power, said she knew there was a reason for the long rain forecast. That drew a hearty, conspiratorial laugh from the rest.
I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of asking for that reason. Instead I offered her my Lord's spiritual weather forecast.
"We're here on a mission to the Raramuri and the Lord wouldn't send us here to frustrate us. You watch, He'll clear this weather and have the sun shining tomorrow. My God is faithful. He created this earth and controls the weather. There is no higher power than Him. Watch, He'll do it." I declared with all the knowledge and faith that indeed my Lord would do it.
By the time we finished dinner and headed to our rooms outside the Lodge, the rain had already begun to slow down.
"Yes!! Jesus!!!" I affirmed loudly! "Go for it!" I knew we would have sunshine at dawn. God is awesome indeed!
At dawn, God as El Shaddai, came through and so did the most glorious sunrise, without a cloud in the heavens as if to make an larger-than-life point to that higher power of the New Age. I was glad the mud had not dried up quite yet! The host of angels was singing a joyful song in heaven on this beautiful, brilliant, sunny morn. My God reigns! That motley crew of New Agers never did show up for breakfast. Sore losers!
Just as we were finishing breakfast a lady approached our table and inquired if we were the ones asking about the Indians. We confirmed that indeed we were. She explained that it was much too wet to go down into the canyon but she could try to enlighten us about anything we wanted to know.
It turned out that she had an incredible acquaintance with the Raramuri physical and spiritual needs. No Christian group was working in the rim area as it was too vast a challenge to go up and down the canyon as well as a long exhausting walk through the canyon to locate the spread out homesteads. She gave us all the detailed information the Lord had sent us to collect and we didn't even have to break our necks in the canyon. Thank you, again, Jesus!!
These Indians are very primitive, choose to stay separated and are still practicing human sacrifice and other brutal rituals. She encouraged us to bring in medical teams. Our scouting expedition here was through...mission accomplished!
We then headed back north on the train to Creel, for our second project: locate a group of Raramuri already being evangelized by a Baptist pastor and his wife.
When we arrived in Creel and searched out our sole contact, we found was in the States on leave! However, down the street about block was a Baptist church. We ventured to the house next door and, before knocking on the door, Tom and I joined hands and prayed.
Oh, yes...the effectual fervent prayer...again worked, the door was promptly swung open by the biggest, hairiest, smiling-est mountain of a man I have ever seen.
"Buenos Dias, amigos!" greeted us. He, Pastor Roberto, bid us to enter his house and where we where also tenderly greeted by his wife, Carmen, a large, jolly lady. She chuckled every time anyone said anything to her. I immediately felt a warm, loving fondness toward them both. Surely the Lord set up this choice encounter. All four of us discerned this move of God.
"Gracias Roberto, gracias Carmen." was all the Spanish I could resurrect from two horrid years of laboring through Spanish with Senor Cucaracha (Cuchiara I think his real name was) and barely squeaking through! Oh, Lord if I had only known then what I know now.
The rest of the afternoon and evening we labored to understand and be understood without much success and with a great deal of frustration. Finally Roberto pulled out his guitar and serenaded us. What a wonderful, pleasant evening we shared. We ended the day with prayers in English and Spanish. Thank God, He is bilingual!
I offered up my personal praise and thanksgiving to the Lord that night. I cuddled up in a sleeping bag in the unheated entry hall, watching my breath puff out in white streams. I made just one request, "Lord, please, give us an Upper Room miracle....please, and bless us with the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues! When I said "amen" I knew it was a done deal. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" indeed. He said it, I believe it! He'll do it! It's done! Simple!
And, of course, He did!
As the sun broke out in all its glory the next morning, I reluctantly crawled out of my warm sleeping bag to a frigid cold, damp morning. I quickly knocked on the common room door and Roberto answered, “Si Senorita...come."
I entered the warm room and found Roberto and Carmen warming tortillas and refried beans over the wood stove. Carmen again just beamed. "G'morn Jude miss!" she spoke...in English!
Praise God....answered prayer again...all of a sudden I realized I was thinking in Spanish and proceeded to carry on a conversation with Roberto about the Raramuri.
In the midst of this Tom came in the room and launched into the conversation with us...in Spanish as well. We all realized what was happening and we began to sing and rejoice. Carmen grabbed me and enveloped me with her arms and hugged me..."this nice," she offered and again chuckled away as we danced.
That afternoon we launched out in Roberto's antiquated vehicle for his three distant mission churches and joyfully ministered to the little groups of new believers. Even though we did not have the gift of tongues for the Raramuri Indians, Roberto easily understood our Spanish and translated the message the Lord had so gracious given us for them.
At the last stop a Raramuri family timidly invited us to return to their cave with them so we could see first hand how they lived. It was an incredible way of life. The cave was enormous. It went about 100 feet back into the hill. There was a section for the livestock which were brought within each evening. Just underneath a hole in the 50 foot high roof of the cave was the kitchen area with a wood fire burning and corn roasting. There was a flat stone for grinding corn from which almost all their food was made. Occasionally they would have eggs or chicken, on rare occasions some sheep or goat. They grazed their livestock on the flat terrain above the cave. They grew corn and other vegetables and dried them over the continually burning fire. Each family member had a little niche of his own.
One of the young boys had a little loft crevasse about twenty feet above the floor of the cave. He had chipped out foot holes which he used to climb up. He sat there curiously peering down at us. When I waved he giggled and quickly retreated back into his hiding place like a squirrel in a tree. They didn't know what to make of these intruders in their strange clothes, speaking a strange language.
Sensing that they were beginning to grow uneasy with our intrusion into their territory, I recommended we have prayer with them, bless their house and beat a hasty retreat. All assented and we quickly prayed, offered our thanks for their kind hospitality and left.
By then it was growing very dark and cold....suddenly I saw a few white flakes fall, and a few more...a few more...
"Oh, no...not snow, and here our plane was due to land in a cow pasture in Creel the next morning! Hey, Lord? Wot's up now?
We returned to the house in time for a burrito dinner, like our burrito breakfast, with rice added this time and fresh jalapenos which Tom and I wisely, gracias-ly declined! Again we sang and danced to Roberto's guitar playing and had a joyful evening of fun and fellowship. What a blessing! The gift of tongues flourished. By now I was thinking in Spanish, speaking in Spanish, singing in Spanish, dancing in Spanish! Our God is an awesome God. He also has a sense of the dramatic!
Just before I burrowed down into my sleeping bag for a good nights sleep, I threw up the sash and what to my wondering eyes should appear?........but about six inches of white glistening snow covering the ground, a swollen river bed that had earlier been a mere trickle and a very strong premonition that our cow pasture/airstrip was probably the consistency of fresh cow pies by now due to all the down pouring rain and now a fluttering of snow!
"Well, Lord, another challenge from you...why am I not surprised? Thank you Lord for this day...buenos noches!" I offered up and promptly fell into a peaceful sleep knowing that He never slumbers nor sleeps. The battle is His, the sleep is mine!
The morning light was diminished by the enduring snowstorm raging outside. We were running out of time. There was no way our pilot was coming in this day. The snow was melting as it fell but the river was swelling! The day was passed with Tom, Roberto, Carmen and me in the chapel praying for the Raramuri, our hopefully-rebuilt plane, our loving but heathen pilot, and everything else that could possible impact our mission and journey home. The Lord was in control and we once again, yielded everything to Him.
I went to-sleeping-bag that night with a warm peace and full assurance that the Lord had a delightful, if not amazing, resolution to this predicament. Of course I was right and, of course, He is righteous!
A beautiful new day broke forth that morning. The Lord again did the weather-thing and brought into view His glory in the appearance of warm, weather and sunshine. Yes, now He needs to work on that cow pasture/airstrip for our illustrious pilot. After a burrito breakfast we ventured out into Creel to see the limited sites and sounds. About an hour into our wanderings, suddenly we heard, overhead, a familiar droning sound...OUR PILOT! We ran back to the house, jumped into the car and headed out. There were only two pastures with strips in town and we raced to the most probable one just as Dave was landing the plane in the midst of a very wet airstrip. He jumped out, and then, seeing the terrain before him, threw up his hands in frustration. He was totally surrounded by the once dried-up arroyos that had swollen into rivers. He would have to wade through one to get to the road.
As he navigated the frigid river with his shoes off, his pants rolled up and his bag African style on his head, I could tell from the stunned expression on his face that one would most likely not dub this water the Creel Hot Springs! But he was tough and swiftly traversed the creek.
I quickly grabbed him and gave him a big bear hug...YES! Now we were cooking!
We spent the rest of the day again touring the reservation and ministering to the saved and unsaved Indians.
In one primitive little plains house an entire family surrendered their lives to the Lord that afternoon. Roberto promised us that he would visit them each day and bring them to the mission church for weekly meetings.
Yes, that is why the Lord sent us here ...just for this sweet, little family of parents and five children. All the hardship was worth seeing not just one, but seven sinners come to the Lord, an entire family saved. Praise the Lord! The Lord is a miracle working Lord. He never faileth! Batting 1,000 per usual!
That evening again we sang and danced and tucked ourselves in for the last night in Creel....last night we hoped and prayed! Our visas were about to expire the next day.
DAY SEVEN: V.E.-DAY (visa expiration day)
We were up very early, packed and very-ready to head out, head home. Warm, affectionate hugs were exchanged until our arms were weak and tired. We would probably never see them again in this world...but eternity loomed before us.... a glorious reunion time will come! When the trump sounds.....
Arriving at the pasture, immediately the river loomed menacingly before us. I fervently prayed for a fleeting spirit of numbness, took a deep breath and waded gingerly through the freezing, rapidly running river. It worked, my legs and feet were numb by the time I got to the other side! It was terribly cold while tiptoeing through it, however! Guess I need to be more precise next time. Oh, Lord...not a next time please!
We hastily stowed our gear and jumped into the plane. As we were about to taxi off, another plane came taxiing down the runway past us and vanished. We waited for what seemed like forever for them to take off, but nothing. Finally we pulled out and taxied down the muddy strip. Just over the rise we saw the other plane mired in the mud at the creek's edge. Oooops!
As we started to pick up momentum a bull came running toward the plane and we only just missed it. Oh. Lord! We barely went airborne and touched down again on a rise. Again, we went airborne and, as we were about to touch the second rise, Fearless Dave erroneously banked the plane and ...CRASH!!!...we hit the ground on the right side of the plane...the plane rattled...
"JESUS!" I yelled.
Suddenly, miraculously, we were 1,000 feet in the air, sailing effortlessly toward Chihuahua without any perceptible damage from our crash.
THANK YOU LORD! We praise you Lord for you are truly a miracle working God!" I offered gratefully, in awe of this miracle.
Tom and I continued with a praise and worship session all the way to Chihuahua, an hour away.
When we landed in Chihuahua and the pilot applied the brakes to stop the plane, we quickly spun in a circle, finally coming to a complete stop.
"Our right brake is gone, guys." offered the shrinking pilot with a tremulous voice.
"Not to worry, Dave, the Lord is in control," I responded with assurance, knowing my Lord.
Little did we realize that the brake was the least of the problems facing us. Our visas would run out in a matter of a few short hours. We had to get out of Mexico.
Upon disembarking, we discovered that the underbelly of the plane body and the right wing were shredded, the tail cone gone....planted in a field somewhere in Creel, no doubt! The plane looked like a cheese grater or a plane that had just crashed!
Who showed up on this bizarre scene at that very instant but our friendly slapstick comic/mechanics from the first day of our trip. They were a little more friendly this time obviously because Dave had dropped a bundle of dinero in their laps to patch up this poor flying machine after the first onslaught and they smelled another feasting on his wallet again!
The mechanic team hastily retreated from the scene with Dave in tow.
"Come on Tom let's pray about this, NOW!"
We coupled hands and began to pray.
"Duct tape, duct tape, duct tape" kept coming into my mind.
Finally I stopped praying, "Tom, go see if you can get some duct tape from the keystone cops in the mechanic shop."
He looked at me like I was falling off the deep end!
"Please, don't ask...just see if you can get the tape, please!" I pleaded, really feeling like some kind of nut case.
He retreated and hastily returned with two rolls of silver duct tape, Dave and our mechanic team of Three Mexican Stooges! It happened to be the exact color of our plane, what was left of it!
"Get busy, tape this mess together and let's get out of Mexico. This is what the Lord told me to do, we will do it and we will take off!" I blurted out.
"Yes, Senora....You are off okay!!!" mocked our indigenous comedy team.
"Hey, banditos, watch my Jesus in action...He is the best airplane mechanic there is...Jehovah Gyro, indeed! Watch us fly with the angels! Hasta luego amigos! Dios te bendiga!"
We taped up the holes, laid hands on this strange machine, prayed, leaped in and started off.
“Come on Jesus!! If we ever needed you, we need you now!"
The engine purred. The plane took flight and forty five minutes later we were at the border. Reluctantly the U. S. Customs agents allowed us to continue our flight home!
Thank you Jesus for a safe journey, strange, hair-raising, but safe!
Fearless Dave leaped out of the beat-up plane and, once again, planted a kiss on terra firma....and bellowed at the top of his lungs...."THANK YOU JESUS!! THANK YOU LORD!!! I BELIEVE IN YOU! I'M A BELIEVER. I GIVE YOU MY LIFE! OK, number eight in the soul winning department! New beginnings indeed!
Just another mission trip....another journey with the Lord...another week in the life of a called, chosen and set apart evangelist.