Driving through three countries with three small children a distance of 3,200 miles in a van with 220,000+ miles on it is not to be taken lightly. “Why would anyone want to do that anyway when flying is always an option?”, you ask. If you didn’t ask, now would be a good time, cuz we’re about to answer. Go ahead….we’ll wait.
There were a few reasons why that seemed like a good idea to us:
- Five airplane tickets would have cost about $4,000 which we did not have
- Only so much luggage would be allowed on the plane so we would have had to purchase many things we already owned once we arrived at our destination
- Arriving by plane we would have needed to purchase a car almost immediately. Most of the friends in the congregation do not own a car, much less a spare. We did not want to be obligated to purchase a car out of urgency when we already own one
- Gave us a chance to get to know México. México has become our ‘comfort zone’ culturally speaking, and we always wanted to do more than visit el DF. Never hurts to have a Plan B in your back pocket.
So, as you can see, it mostly came down to money. We did not have much in savings and so economy became a must. There were many worries at the outset, but we decided to make plans and trust in Jehovah. Proverbs 21:5 quickly became our mantra. We had to investigate the laws of both México and Guatemala as regards visas, vehicle imports, taxes, safety, etc. We had to get some work done on the van. For obvious reasons, a full-size spare tire became a high priority as that seemed like the most likely thing to go wrong on such a long trip. This was the result:
We set out on Sunday, July 17 at around 8:00 pm. Please don’t ask why we left so late. During our despedida, some very thoughtful friends filled a jar with little notes to read along the way. We whipped one out immediately and set out on our way. Little did we know how much that little jar full of notes would mean later on…..
We drove until 2:00 in the morning, slept for a couple of hours at a rest stop, and continued on our way. The next day we passed through New Orleans and decided to take a break for a bite to eat.
Roads trips of any size can be very hazardous to the attention spans of little ones. Thankfully, abuelita came to the rescue with gift bags of small toys. A sister in the hall did the same (thanks, Tía Melanie!). We purchased a wireless media server by SanDisk. Basically this little puppy creates its own wireless network to which our little friends could hook up their iPads. From there they had a choice of about 40 different movies. This thing will stream up to FIVE DIFFERENT MOVIES AT THE SAME TIME! Needless to say, many happy hours passed without incident.
We made it to Laredo, Texas without incident. Reynaldo Mata, a longtime elder from the other side of the border crossed over and met us. He got in our van and help us cross the border. Border towns always seem to be sketchy. In the wise words of Brother Obi-wan Kenobi, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”. He helped us get the import for the van taken care of. He then took us to his house and fed us. He and his wife gave up their bedroom and allowed us to stay the night. The next day (after feeding us once again), they escorted us to Monterrey, about three hours away. Not because they had business there, mind you; they just wanted to make sure we got there ok. They then drove the three hours back home. We will never forget their hospitality and interest in us.
In Monterrey we met up with Gerardo Rodríguez, a brother who had been in our congregation in North Carolina for a while, but had moved back to México about eight months earlier to serve Jehovah more fully. He lives in Puebla, more than 600 miles from Monterrey. We had originally called him to ask if we could stay at his house overnight on the way down. His response was a clear no; he insisted on doing so much more. He bought a one-way ticket to Monterrey and stayed the night with a cousin while he awaited our arrival. When the Matas dropped us off in Monterrey, Gerardo got in out van and drive us all the way back to Puebla; we arrived about 3:00 in the morning.
We stayed in Puebla for a few days; please check out the separate blog entry if interested. Even after flying to Monterrey, driving our van 600+ miles back to Puebla, and letting us stay at his house for a while, Gerardo and his wife Carmen were not done showering us with love. Seeing how the suspension of our van had suffered during the first 2,000 miles of the trip, Gerardo insisted on taking half our stuff and putting it in his car. He rounded up a young brother, Joel, who had long-time Witness relatives near the southern border along with a couple from SKE, Daniel and Astrid, who are serving near Puebla. The nine of us set out early in the morning and headed for Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, about an eight-hour drive from Puebla. One the way there Gerardo’s car was acting funny. The gauges on the dashboard were randomly going from one end of the scale to another. Speedometer, thermometer, etc. He didn’t really know the cause of the problem and it was too late to do anything about it, so we just kept on our merry way to Tuxtla hoping not to break down. There the relatives of the young brother fed us and allowed us to stay the night with them in preparation for crossing the border into Guatemala the next day.
We set out early for the Guatemalan border, and the trip was rather uneventful (which is good). There we had another longtime elder, Raúl Barrios, waiting for us on the Mexican side; he had taken a bus the previous day in order to meet us on time. The problem was, we didn’t know what he looked like nor where to meet him. We pulled over and asked a random cowboy for some directions. Would you believe, the random cowboy turned out to be none other than Brother Barrios! What are the odds that the first person from whom we asked for directions would be the very person we were looking for? How did that happened? Was there some wise, loving, all-powerful being watching over us and helping us along the way? Why am I asking you these questions?
Raúl escorted us to the border, waited for us to cancel the Mexican car import, crossed over with us, and got our money changed for us so we wouldn’t be taken advantage of. Not to distract into negative territory, but we wound up stuck for three hours in a place that was no longer México but not yet Guatemala either. As with so many things in this world, money turned out to be the answer, so in a weird, wild flow of dollars, pesos, and quetzales, we were soon on our way. Looking back we can see now that México loved us so much, didn’t want to see us leave, and for that reason fined us in order to exit the country. In addition, Guatemala was so concerned for our physical well-being they just insisted on our getting the car fumigated and charging us for it.
Not too far into Guatemala we stopped to eat at a restaurant owned by a daughter of Brother Barrios. He insisted on his paying our bill, not the other way around. After eating, we pull out of the restaurant and Gerardo’s car hiccups and dies. He gets it to start again, but just after crossing the street it dies again and won’t start back up. What to do? We look at the battery, but a jumpstart won’t fix it. After we play around for about 15 minutes a brother who is a mechanic drives by and sees Raul’s daughter standing on the side of the road, so he stops to see if he can help. Then another brother who is an electrician passes by and sees the brother working on a car so he decides to pull over, too. Hmmmm….what are the odds that we had not broken down in the first 3,000 miles of our trip, but the moment we DO break down from a strange electrical problem 1) it happens at a sister’s restaurant and 2) within 15 minutes a brother who just happens to be a mechanic and 3) another brother who just happens to be an electrician pass by? We were soon on our way. Thanks again, Jehovah!
We stay the night with Brother and Sister Barrios, and so once again, after just meeting us, a Witness couple agreed to let us sleep in their house and eat their food. Late that night while making plans for the next day, Gerardo asked Brother Barrios for some advice about getting back to México via a different border. Since he had left Joel, Daniel, and Astrid in Tuxtla to see the sights, Gerardo would traveling back there alone, he really wanted to make sure the crossing was safe. We felt bad because Gerardo had done so much for us and there was nothing we could do to help other than give him gas and toll money for the way home. Brother Barrios recommended a little town named Mesilla, which is a border town with Jocote, México, but the problem was he didn’t know anyone there who could offer any advice. Was there ANYONE who had an eagle-eye’s view of the matter and who could perhaps arrange things in advance? Right before going bed, we decided to pull just one more note from the jar (you do remember the jar, right?). We hadn’t ever pulled a note at night, but for whatever reason we did that night. What did the note say??????
And so there was our answer. One again, Jehovah came through at just the right time. Enrique Soto is a brother from our congregation in North Carolina. The next morning, we got in touch with the Soto’s, obtained a phone number for their peeps in Chiapas, and got some good advice about border crossing in that town. It might not sound like much, but please think about the timing: at this point we had gone through over half the notes. If we had encountered that particular note earlier in our trip, we would have thought ‘oh, how sweet’, but the name of the town would not have meant anything and we would have forgotten about it when the need came up. Conversely, if we had read that particular note the next day, it would have been too late. What would have caused us to pull THAT particular note on THAT particular day just when the information it contained was useful? Hmmmmmm…….
So for the last leg of our trip, Jehovah once again came through. Going from the Barrios’ house in Escuintla to our house in El Progreso was smooth sailing. Low traffic, not-so-bad roads, and daylight hours. After Austin played games with his coconut for a few hours, we finally made it to the house we had rented.
Many times in situations in life, one can never say for certain if Jehovah intervened to help his servants out or not. But, Amanda and I firmly believe that there were just way too many moonshot coincidences and way too many brothers and sisters willing to help out complete strangers (isn’t that the biblical definition of hospitality?) to deny that Jehovah was blessing our efforts to serve where the need is greater. We sincerely hope that we will always remember the actual trip down to Guatemala. When times appear to be tough with our new life here, we recount some of these stories. We reason that if He blessed the journey, why would He not also bless the destination? Or…..maybe we are still on the journey and He has yet to take us to our final destination? Either way, the experience was not something taken lightly; there were many, many practical plans made. But in the end, we are convinced it was Jehovah that took us by the hand when things got scary and gently guided us through with the help of brothers and sisters. In all, four different circuit overseers helped make arrangements or provided us with important information, to which we are very grateful. In addition, the support of the friends in the congregation we left, the congregation we visited in Puebla, and the congregation to which we have moved was invaluable and we will never be able to repay them. May Jehovah bless them richly.
If you’d like to take a look at a time-lapse of our trip (at least from Lancaster, SC to Puebla, México), here ya go….