When I first became a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and years before I met my husband, Edmund, I was sent to Mexico to help with the translation project for the Huixteco (wee-STAY-ko) Indians in Chiapas. At least that was my official task, but God had a deeper plan for me. Doesn’t He always?
While I was there, I worked with an amazing woman named Marion Cowan who was a much more experienced missionary than I was. It was my honor and privilege to learn from her. It was a great place to start, and a great mentor with which to learn about loving people.
If you were to visit Chiapas these days, you’d find it is very dangerous, especially for Christians. You can learn more about that by visiting the Voice of the Martyr’s webpage here. But the area has never been safe for Christians, and in the Huixteco villages – villages that had just recently converted to Christianity – there was a great deal of hostility. Sometimes, far too often, violence was the end result, something I learned first hand.
On a normal day, just any day, I was out sweeping my front walk when I noticed a man coming down the trail towards my house. I didn’t recognize him, and I kept sweeping. Honestly, I barely even looked up. From his appearance, I took him for a Huixteco man. The Huixteco men wore white pants gathered at the waist and tied with a six-foot long red sash. The ends hung down each side reaching below the knees. Both the men’s and women’s shirts or blouses had no side seams so they could tuck their hands inside to keep warm. Yes, it can get cold in southern Mexico! But it is often very hot, so most men would wear a hand-woven and hand-sown hat about 14″ in diameter. This hat typically had a small crown and a leather strap which reached down the back of the man’s head and held the hat in place. Women always carried any load they might be carrying on their back, held from their forehead by a cord.
It was normal every day for Huixteco people to walk by our house on their way to the cornfields or to pasture sheep. Sometimes people would come to our house for medicine or reading classes or a translation session.
When this man got close enough, however, he picked up a rock and threw it at me. I was alarmed, and my first impulse was to get back in the house. But this wasn’t an unusual thing to happen in the Huixteco villages; these new Christians were often attacked for their beliefs, and I was often struck by the hatred others had for them. The Huixteco have endured their oxen being killed, their houses burned, and their very lives threatened. This man, this stranger, could only know one thing about me: I was one of those women who had introduced the Huixteco to these new ideas about a God who doesn’t live in images in a church. I believed, and I taught people, that the moon was not our holy father, and the sun was not our holy mother. Many Huixteco people had left these traditional beliefs and this man was angry about it. I had caused this turmoil in their culture.
That was enough for him, and as he came closer and closer, he continued throwing rocks. He hadn’t hit me yet, but I knew it was just a matter of time. I had never been attacked before, but it seemed like today was my day to be tested.
I knew I didn’t have the strength to face this test alone, so I tried to ignore the rocks and place myself in God’s hands. He had led me to Mexico, and He was with me. And if he didn’t keep me safe, he would still be by my side through anything that happened. I could trust in Him, and I would stand firm just as the Huixteco had stood firm since their conversion.
Bracing myself for the inevitable rock, I was surprised to suddenly notice a man running down the path towards me, waving his hat. This believer in Christ placed himself between me and the rock-thrower and faced the other man. “Don’t throw rocks at her! Don’t kill her! She brought us the Good News of Jesus. Throw the stones at me instead!”
The rock-throwing man stopped his attack and, apparently not wanting the risk of a real fight, walked on. I was safe, and so was my protector.
It was one of those many amazing moments I’ve been so blessed to experience. All those years of living with Marion I was learning how to love people in a deeper way than I had ever known before. Now, on this day, I saw first hand how love triumphs. I learned that love doesn’t shy away from risky, tough situations. There’s a no retreat mentality to love. Love embraces situations that are unsafe, uncomfortable, inconvenient. Love puts its powerful arms around the world and pulls it to Him.