by Daniel Torres
Early sunday morning on July 26, 2009, a group of 13 people ranging in age from pre-teen to above 60 met at Complete In Christ Church in Searcy, Arkansas, to depart on a missions trip to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It was just barely past midnight. Some had sleepy eyes. Some were sad to leave their loved ones for a week. Most were wondering if they had forgotten anything. All were excited beyond words. We had prepared for months and now the moment was finally here. Our 2-van and 1-trailer caravan would take us on our 17 hour journey to Fabens, Texas, just east of El Paso. From Fabens we would depart on Monday morning to the place we all felt that God had called us to.
Juarez, Mexico is a city of 1.5 million people. It is only separated from El Paso, Texas, by a fence line and the Rio Grande. In the first 7 months of this year, the city experienced over 1,400 murders. The drug cartels, drug trafficking, prostitution, poverty, and hopes of the Great American Dream are the things that come to mind when one speaks of Juarez, Mexico. The murders of police officers and high government officials due to drug wars has escalated to the point where the city is currently under military control. When a murder occurs, the body or bodies are picked up and taken away. End of story. The military oversees the operation. Even ministries have been under attack. One ministry that we visited in the past is no longer there. It was visited by drug cartel members and the director was told to shut down or he and his family would be killed. They told him that they knew exactly where he and his family lived and that they play no games. This ministry housed and rehabilitated ex-drug addicts. All other ministries in Juarez are suffering financially due to the poor American economy. American churches provide the bulk of support for these ministries. Pastors, laymen, and Christians in general grow discouraged as they struggle to stay afloat in these very trying times. There is a growing trend now for men, who just cannot watch their families suffer as they struggle without work and can't put food on the table, to just commit suicide. The visits from churches that ministry leaders once received in the form of mission trips have all but stopped due to the fear of going to a city plagued by such horrible conditions. Ironically, our team of 13 just couldn't wait another day to get to Juarez, Mexico. Fear was a word that was not in our vocabulary. God had called us there. He would protect us. He would guide us. And He had, what we have grown accustomed to calling, "Divine Appointments" waiting for us. And did He ever!
Personally, this was my sixteenth trip to Juarez. In that time I have made many friends and there is a group of about 50 young girls in a place called House of Refuge for Girls (Casa de Refugio Para Jovencitas) where all the girls know me as Uncle Daniel. Most people who hear about my trips to Juarez, Mexico, automatically assume that I go there to build churches or housing for the people. There are many people who go on mission trips and do those kinds of things, but that is not what we go for. I am so very thankful for those who go to build churches, because I have stood inside some of them and preached the gospel. And I have visited very poor families who have a place to live because someone came and built them a place to live. But my particular call, or ministry, along with the other 12 on my team was to build relationships. Jesus was a carpenter. He built lighthouses in the form of men.
Out of all the stories that I can share about my last week in Juarez, I have chosen just two that will be burned in my heart for eternity.
Months before we left for Juarez I thought that it would be such a blessing to stop at one of the many military checkpoints throughout the city and thank the men for the work that they perform day in and day out. This seemed like such a simple thing to do. I had seen these men before. In the past, we would cross these checkpoints and I would see these very young men who looked like teenagers. They were there were in the face of harm and danger and some of them had already paid the ultimate price. They would carry machine guns, wear heavy gear in 100+ degree temperatures, stop cars, inspect, arrest, work long hours, and be in fear. The man power was critically low. Why could we not stop and visit these unsung heroes? I asked the Missions Organization that we go with while in Juarez and I was told to try it, though I would first have to stop and ask the Commander in charge for his permission. So, as we prepared our trip, I asked our team about putting together some kind of "Care Package" that we could hand out to these soldiers as we visited them. Some of the ladies jumped at the opportunity and in no time they had put together packages of gifts for the men. They put them in a one gallon zip bag so the soldiers could see that we were not giving them something harmful. We wanted to ease their fears. Then, we prayed that God would open the door for us to be able to give them out. We also had planned to give them Bibles and tracts, and I had ordered a box of apples to give them.
On Tuesday afternoon, July 28, we reached a checkpoint that we had decided the day before would be the one. The driver of our huge bus pulled up to the checkpoint. I heard the blowing of the air brakes as he came to a full stop. He looked back at me and said, "Okay, Daniel, it's all yours." I had a nervous excitement, and with prayerful thoughts I stepped off the bus. I could hear our team, as I left the bus, engaged in prayer. This was a Divine Appointment. It was a God moment.
As soon as one of the soldiers saw me come down from the bus, he put his gun on alert and proceeded towards me. I felt nothing but peace. Joy even. We greeted each other and I told him what I wanted to do. He looked no more than 18 years old. I respectfully apologized to him if I caused any alarm, and told him that I desired to see the Commander in charge. Immediately he turned to another soldier, who used his radio to send the message out. Within 2 minutes I was shaking hands with Captain Salazar, Commander In Charge. I told him that we were a Missions Team from the United States. I also told him that I had passed many military checkpoints in the past and always prayed for them as I went by, but my heart's desire today was to visit with them for a few minutes, if at all possible. He was a very kind man, between 30 and 35 years old. He very graciously accepted my offer. He said that he would gather the men that he could avail at the time and have them meet me by the barracks. Captain Salazar's unit was using an abandoned bar and store as their barracks. It was within 150 feet of the checkpoint. I asked him if the rest of my team would be allowed to get down from the bus and join me. "Si," was his response. The team came off the bus excitedly. We made our trek to the makeshift barracks, orders were given and within minutes young soldiers were coming out and standing before us in military style. Most were inside resting, so as they came out they were still buttoning their military shirts and adjusting their caps.
Ministering to Mexican soldiers at Juarez
And there I was. My dream had become reality! I was standing before a squad of Mexican soldiers who were standing at attention in front me. Was this really happening? My eyes began to tear up. My heart went out to these young men. I even remember wondering how many of them would pay the ultimate price for this city and for their country. I asked God for words to say. I was so thankful that I knew Spanish and I could speak to them without a translator. A Divine Moment? There was no denying it!
I took a deep breath, opened my mouth and began to speak. I thanked them for the honor of this moment. I told them that on behalf my country, the United States of America, on behalf of their own country, Mexico, and on behalf of all those who were standing behind me, that we were thankful for their long hours, and the dangers that they face every minute of their lives. I told them that we knew that their families had to be concerned for their welfare. I told them otherwords of love and appreciation which are hard to recall. But as I spoke to them, and as I turned my head from side to side to look in the eyes of every hero before me, I came to know just what this moment meant to them. On my right, about 40 feet away, stood Captain Salazar. In his hands was a digital camera. He was clicking away every second that he could of this precious meeting. It spoke volumes to me. He wanted to have a record of when the Americans came to his troops to thank and appreciate them. I kept speaking for just a few more minutes and then asked the men if they would allow me to say a prayer for them. Some of them had tears rolling down their faces. They almost seemed afraid to speak. Maybe because they thought their voices would break and give a less than manly response, but there were plenty of nods. I began to pray and immediately heard the rustling of caps coming off their heads. I blessed them and their families. I prayed for their protection. I prayed for wisdom for them and their leaders. I asked God to give them rest, peace and safety. I prayed for the two nations, for the city, and for the drug trafficking to stop. I remember specifically closing the prayer by asking the Lord to make these brave, young men soldiers of Christ. When I lowered my hands and opened my eyes I saw before me a squad of men, at war with the drug cartels, who were all wiping their eyes and sniffling and somehow trying to hide their emotions. It did not work. The team behind me, although most of them did not understand my prayer, were also in tears. And Captain Salazar? He quickly resumed the clicking of the camera.
I told the men that we had brought some gifts for them and a box of apples to share among themselves. I asked the team to step forward and hand them out. As they did, there were hugs, handshakes, smiles, tears, laughter, and, of course, more clicking. Eventually, Captain Salazar walked to me, shook my hand, and let me know how sincerely grateful he was for what we had done. In a few seconds he, along with the rest of his men, were loaded down with gifts, Spanish Bibles, and a heart overflowing with our sincerest thanks and love.
I knew that we could not stay too much longer. We had done what we came to do. I wondered how we would say good bye to these precious soldiers. But God took care of that, too. Within moments a cloud appeared right above us. But... this was the city of Juarez... located in a land considered desert land. A cloud? Yes, and immediately it opened up and the heavy drops began to fall on us. They were strong, big drops. We hurried with the hugs and handshakes, ran to our bus, and within moments we were on our way back to the United States. The rain stopped almost as soon as we left. As I sat in the back of the bus, I was listening to the joy amongst the team as they shared their own personal moments with each other about what we had just experienced. I was looking out the window as this poverty-stricken city passed by, yet seeing the reflections of my team through the glass. I sat there quietly. Thinking. Thanking God. Amazed. Overwhelmed. In awe. I wondered why God would allow such a miracle moment to be interrupted by rain. And in my spirit I heard His voice speak to me and tell me that it was not just rain. It was His tears of joy at what had just transpired. And it was there that I shed my own tears. They were long overdue. Long, long overdue.
Mission trips are filled with such a vast number of emotions. It is not uncommon to sense a cornucopia of emotions, some of them contradicting in terms, at the same time. Joy with sadness. Victory with sorrow. Love with anger.
The very next day we had planned a trip to an orphanage. Orphanages in Juarez are everywhere. I had been to this particular one several times. We arrived there late in the morning. We made our way through the gated entrance and the children were just beside themselves. Laughter, joy, screams, and Spanish greetings filled the air. It was during that time that I spotted a young lady and everything suddenly seemed to shift down to slow motion. Everything froze to a complete stop in my mind. It was during that moment, when my eyes saw her, that I sensed the Lord speak to me, She is why you are here. I will never forget that moment. It would be the beginning of a life changing experience for her. And for me. For the next few hours I did my usual thing with the children. I played with them, sang with them, ate with them, teased them, loved them. Yet, always knowing that I had to make my way to this young woman.
And I finally did. I saw her at the back of the kitchen. I went to her and asked her if she would please sit down with me for a while. She agreed and we went in the dining room and we sat down. Her name was Dalila. I had assumed that she was one of the workers there, but she was not. Dalila had big beautiful green eyes, her complexion was a deep tan, and she wore a baseball cap. Dalila was 28 years old. She was very shy at first. While we spoke, some kids came and sat around us. I found out that they were her six children. Her oldest daughter sat to my right. Dalila told me that she was 14 years old. I immediately did the math. Dalila 28, her daughter 14. Her daughter was also pregnant. This is common in Juarez. I told Dalila about my experience as I walked into the orphanage earlier. I asked her if she would please share her story with me. And she did. It was not an uncommon story in Mexico. Dalila had been a prostitute. Her children were the result of her lifestyle. She was not from Juarez, but from a town four hours south, Madera. It was her hometown and she deeply loved it and desired to go back. The orphanage in Juarez has a sister orphanage in Madera, Mexico. The climate in Madera is unlike the one in Juarez. Crops and lush vegetation abound in Madera. Occasional trips are made from Madera to Juarez to bring much needed food. It was on one of these trips that Dalila and her children came to Juarez. When she spoke to me, her eyes mostly looked at the folded hands in front of her. Once in a while she would look up at me, but for the most part all I saw was the bill of her cap. I saw a woman weighted down with the hurt. She did not smile. And I had to get to the main question. I had to ask her about her relationship with the Lord Jesus. Somehow, she felt that she could be very honest with me.
I learned that Dalila had recently accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior and she had left her old lifestyle. But, she explained to me that it was not long before the people who knew her started making comments about the ability of Jesus to completely forgive her of all her sins. How can Jesus forgive Dalila for the many years in her past lifestyle and the six children that she brought into the world as a result? They kept telling her that it was not possible. They even told her that if she stayed in Madera that she would eventually go back to prostitution and even bring her daughters into it also. They told her that she had a better chance at life for her and her children if she left Madera. After hearing this for so long, she decided to leave, even though she loved Madera. She had placed herself and her kids under the care of the orphanage in Madera and had just transferred to Juarez via the fruit and vegetable truck. She was now part of the orphanage in Juarez and wondered what would be next.
One thing that I constantly see on mission trips is God's mysterious ways. He brought Dalila four hours north and He brought me 17 hours south, so that we would meet at this orphanage. Then He also gave me the words to share with her that would set her completely free. Completely, totally Free.
The first thing I did was to ask Dalila to please look at me. She raised her beautiful eyes up at me and sorrow filled them. As I spoke to her I had to remind her to keep looking at me. I spoke to her about Adam and Eve. I reminded her that it was through a lie that man fell. I told her that the devil's greatest tool is still his lies. And I told her that she had been lied to, and she bought the lies. I spoke to her about the blood of Jesus. I told her that the cross was a complete and total work. The blood of Jesus was able to forgive any sin. I told her that to believe any other way was to reduce the power of the blood. I told her that she had done what so many have done for two thousand years: They have believed the lies of Satan, thus making the truth of the Gospel a lie. Both cannot be true. I asked her which one she would believe to be the truth: what the devil was saying or what the gospel was saying? I asked her that if there are sins that the blood of Jesus is too weak to cover, then who decides which ones they are? I kept pouring into her the scriptures, the forgiveness of Jesus, the power of the blood, the lies of Satan, and the love of God.
With every minute that passed I saw a transformation before me. I saw a woman go from sorrow to joy. From guilt to forgiveness. From the power of lies to the power of the truth. From a frown to tears of relief. Dalila had been set free. We joined hands and prayed together. By this time, another missionary friend had joined us and she also prayed for Dalila.
One of the projects that we had brought for the orphans to work on was very simple, yet very effective. We had brought pillow cases and markers with ink that did not wash off. Prior to getting there we had written on the pillow cases in big, bold print "Dios Me Ama," or "God Loves Me." Then we handed them out and the orphans would decorate the rest of the pillow case with animals, names, flowers, or whatever they wanted. The idea was that every time they would go to bed, they would be reminded that God loves them. The missionary had asked Dalila if she wanted to decorate a pillow case. She very gladly agreed to. She went to find her a pillow case and she had found one that was purple and had not been written on, yet. She told Dalila that purple represented royalty and as God's daughter that she was a Princess. Dalila smiled and immediately began to decorate her pillow. She wrote in big, bold letters across the pillow, "SOY PERDONADA." Or "I AM FORGIVEN." The missionary and I both felt a knot in our throats. Then Dalila asked me if I would sign her pillow case for her. I hesitated a little but took the marker and signed it on the right hand, lower corner. I wrote very small. Dalila was organizing her markers and I could tell she was about to put some serious decorations on her pillow case as I was called away for several minutes. When I returned, I stood behind Dalila's right shoulder to see what she had done. I was astounded at what I saw. All around the edges of the pillow case were decorated with beautiful flowers. But right beneath her "SOY PERDONADA," she had written, "DANIEL TORRES," in big, bold letters. I quickly asked her why she had done that. I thought she had ruined her pillow case. She turned her head and looked up at me with a smile and said, "Because I don't ever want to forget you." Then I thought that it really wasn't my name that was important, but it was the message that I had left her. The message of forgiveness. And every time Dalila would put her head down at night she would remember that message.
Not long after that, it was time for the team to leave the orphanage. There were hugs, tears, pictures taken, more hugs and more tears. I had to visit the office at the orphanage and by the time I came out, the bus was loaded down and the team was waiting on me.
As I came to the front gate, there stood a liberated woman waiting for me, Dalila. She said she had one more question for me. She asked me, "Do you think that I can go back home to Madera?" I gently patted her on the cheek with my right hand and said, "Dalila, you can go back home." She opened up her arms, smiled, gave me a hug and thanked me. And I walked away from Dalila.
This was what we call Divine Appointments. It was divine.
Mission trips are a life-changing experience. Our team from Searcy is currently planning another trip to Juarez. Anyone interested in helping to support or going on any of these outreaches, please call Daniel at 501-827-7679.
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