We sat in the back of the rickety van, holding on to each other to keep from tipping over. I'm not sure what I expected, but this wasn't it. The Vineyard Church -- the one Dave and I attend when we are here in Mazatlan, Mexico, -- had offered its members several opportunities for discipleship, and this was one for which I volunteered our family -- ministering to a group of children at a local colonia.
In order to board the windowless van, my step-daughter Nikki, four of my grandchildren and I wove through old suitcases, disassembled PVC pipes, tables turned on their sides and stacks of plastic chairs sitting upright against one of the vehicle's side walls. An American father and his teenage daughter were already seated, and they gave us our instructions: climb up onto a top chair and hold on. My family looked at me like I was leading them to their death.
The driver/minister, Jorge, started the engine and then began to grind gears, trying to find one that would cooperate. Within minutes we were bouncing on potted, dusty roads. Our seats (remember, about six chairs high) began tilting in all directions. Picture wobbly jack-in-the-box heads suspended on springs. Leaning back was no help because a cable connected our flimsy "wall" to keep it from opening. (Apparently this van doubled as a chuck wagon, a convenience which did nothing to lighten the concern we were experiencing.) At this point, my family was terrified. I reminded them this was an adventure and tried to smile.
As we turned into the colonia where we would be ministering, everyone fell silent. Cardboard shanties lined the streets. A few of the homes had Christmas lights connected to a single bulb suspended from a drooping electrical wire, and two even had nativity scenes -- a special reminder to me of why we were there. It truly was all about Jesus. After all, it was He who scolded the disciples for turning away little children with these words: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." We were about to see that scripture in action.
Jorge pulled over to a vacated, three-sided concrete structure where we were told to unload the van. Within minutes our chairs became pews; PVC pipe holding a large piece of canvas turned into a puppet stage; an extension cord, thrown over one of the exterior walls, connected to a neighbor's lone light fixture which allowed speakers and a CD player to function; puppets were removed from suitcases and we were in business. I asked Jorge what we were to do. "Just love on the children and have fun with them." And that's what we did. Mothers allowed us to hold their babies while, over the next two hours, we gringos watched children sing, dance, listen to the story of salvation, play games, eat candy, smile and laugh.
When we were finished, the boys and girls went to work. They stacked chairs, placed the puppets back in their suitcases, returned the minister's guitar to its case, disassembled the speakers and puppet stage and helped load the van. The children and their parents waved and blew kisses and yelled "gracias" as we climbed aboard our stacks of plastic chairs and drove away, this time with a sense of awe instead of fear.
I'm not sure whose lives were more deeply affected by what happened last Tuesday evening, the children at the colonia or ours. No, on second thought, I think I do know ... and I bet you readers do, too.