The middle-aged man, dressed in loose shorts and a t-shirt, made his way furtively along the solitary trail in the Bolivian jungle. He was miles from his poverty-stricken community and the cramped adobe house he shared with his pregnant wife, Guadalupe and her mother and two brothers. Agusto Gonzales had already worked hours back home tending to the potato crop, his family’s second meager source of income. It was discouraging labor, the outcome dubious, the plants withering and shriveling in the drought-stricken land.
“I WILL support my family, in spite of it all,” Agusto vowed aloud.
Which is why, unknown to his family and friends, he had embarked on a secret occupation. He almost winced at the audacity of his plan of marketing coca, in spite of the government’s new stand against the resulting drug trafficking of cocaine that had previously been tolerated. He had painstakingly developed the contacts necessary to profit from his produce, and respected the dangerous aspects of selling to the seedier networks of the cocaine black market dealers.
The afternoon sun, relentless in its intensity, baked Agusto’s bare head as indelibly as it did the rough ground beneath him, his falling sweat evaporating on its impenetrable surface much like the unfulfilled dreams of his past disappeared before they came to fruition.
“As Mary, Mother of God is my witness, my baby will live, if I have to sell coca to the devil himself!”
Stopping to remove a sharp stone from his toughened foot, newer thoughts fought against his old ones as he remembered the recent mission compound near his village. The friendly missionaries spoke of a God who loved them unconditionally, and the message, although a little stilted by their clumsy Spanish, reached out to locals. They had given Guadalupe and the other women practical advise on conquering the beetles that carried the dreaded Chagas disease that had killed his firstborn, sweet Teresa. This had involved removing their parasite-ridden thatched roof, replacing it with clay tiles the missionaries had generously donated to their community.
Agusto also recalled the missionaries’ disapproval of the prevalent drugs so popular in Bolivian life. He had dismissed their opinions as irrelevant to his culture, but lately . . . if coca wasn’t grown, it could not infiltrate the unsuspecting with its insidious behavior-altering effects leading to addiction, greed, and death. He had witnessed a cocaine addict in detoxification at the mission hospital and unsuccessfully tried to forget the patient’s screams, anguish and death.
“Is that so different than Teresa’s murderer? Am I like the Charges beetle, growing and supplying a drug that bites and kills?”
An entirely new concept for Agusto, he no longer felt sure of himself. He looked up into the gray-blue expanse above the jungle’s trees and wondered if he should have challenged the sacred Mary. Ominous clouds met together and jungle animal sounds disappeared. Agusto fearfully crossed himself as the clouds grew brighter, taking on the form of a man nailed to a cross, red blood streaming down his side. Agusto cowered in disbelief as new shapes and colors emerged, revealing soldiers standing at the foot of the cross. The man, writhing in pain, said,
A soldier dipped a sponge in water and then rubbed it across a coca field that had suddenly appeared by his feet. Placing it on his sword’s tip, he lifted it to the tortured man’s mouth.
“NO! It will destroy him!” the words tore from Agusto’s heart as he fell to his knees, pleading mercy for him
. . .
Agusto awoke to a cloudless sky, his heart still aching. The man on the cross was too real to be a dream. Trudging several yards ahead, Agusto slowed at the sound of angry voices. Hiding behind a tree, he saw complete destruction of his future as armed officials swept away the debris of the now barren field with swords and sponges. The previous vision in the sky played across Agusto’s heart while he took a shortcut leading him past the mission compound, where he stopped, explaining his experience to Missionary Padre John.
“Do you know this man, Padre?”
“He is God’s Son, and he was on the cross for your sins and mine, Agusto. He is calling you.”
Agusto returned home to Guadalupe with a new hope and peace in his eyes. As he tenderly tucked the mosquito netting up and around their newborn daughter’s mat, he wept with thanksgiving to Jesus, his new Savior.
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