I knew I might not make it out alive…or at all. I was starting to doubt myself and all my “good reasons” for coming in the first place. This was suppose to be a simple, in-and-out, food-dropping mission. The plan was to fly in, unload the food and medical supplies and get out in one piece. I had never anticipated the nightmare I now found myself in…
Six months ago, I was laying on my bed, browsing through our weekly church magazine. An article about a mission trip to Mexico grabbed my attention the same way dad gets my attention when he holds out the car keys. The article wasn’t like other mission trip articles. This one made my heart shatter as I read the report and the captions beneath the photos. Very few trips had been made to this one specific village and it was in a dire state. Drug lords controlled the area and the streets were never safe. The people lived in constant fear of death or capture. I realized that it wasn’t fair that they live in constant fear or capture while I sat comfortably, only reading about them. A love for these people gripped me and it wasn’t “just emotion,” it was the Spirit of God working in me ‘to will and to act.’ After reading the article three times over, I jumped up to search it on the internet. I found a lot more information on one site called, “Reach out!” which included fees and dates. Armed with a ton of facts, I marched into the lounge to talk to mom and dad about letting me go. The money was an obstacle for later. I could probably talk about it around town, announce it at church and have fund raisers. I knew from experience that if an idea was born in the heart of God, He’ll undoubtedly fund it.
I had gotten a thumbs-up from dad and a reluctant nod from mom. I understood her response. I probably would have reacted the same way if my only child, my 19-year old daughter wanted to go into one of the most dangerous places to do mission work. I knew it was hard for her but I had a divine calling from the Lord Jesus and I wasn’t going to fail Him—not after all that He did for me. I had been commanded to ‘forsake’ my family for the sake of the Gospel and, painful as it was, that’s what I was going to do.
I decided to start by arranging a few fund raisers. Thankfully, Christmas and New Year’s were just around the corner, making it a great time for holding family events to raise funds to cover my expenses. Many people always come to our town for the holiday season which meant money was going to be spent carelessly. I thought, “I might as well give them a good cause to spent their money on.”
I managed to get permission from our pastor to explain it to the congregation the following Sunday. He also suggested a bake sale straight after church. The weather forecast predicted a pleasant afternoon with plenty of sunshine so dad asked around town for everyone to bring a camping chair along and mom got her boss to donate eight steel tables from his factory while I baked and baked until I hated baking altogether!
It was a fun time-seeing everyone working together as one to serve God. Sure, I was the only one from our town that was going on the actual trip but it would have been impossible without all the other people working with me. Never, in all my 19 years, did I see God providing so much at a time in such mysterious ways.
Ladies from the town’s “gossip group” brought pies and pastries they baked to our bake sale, only to buy them back, one piece at a time!
Henry, the gas station manager who was known for his irritability and rudeness, declared that, for the next three months, 20% of his profit would go to support my work in Mexico.
The electronics’ store owner volunteered to supply us with 100 solar-powered audio Bible while the local book shop donated an abundant supply of 3,500 Spanish tracts! Everything was coming together and I was on cloud nine!
Having made all the money that I would need and carrying loads of Bibles and tracts, I boarded a flight to the base in America. From there, the entire group caught another flight into Mexico City. There, we made contact with the mission station and arrangements were made for a helicopter to fetch us in three days. We were to land, distribute the literature and do some first aiding for five days and fly back out, but, on day four, calamity overcame us…
We were gathered outside for the morning devotions and daily briefing, when we heard guns shots. The air was filled with the sound of dozens of ‘big guns’ going off. Women and children huddles together, in fear, wherever they could, knowing if they ran for their huts, they’d probably get shot. Some of the men tried to stand bravely but drug lords with machine guns were no match for them. Scared, I cowered in a huddle and prayed for deliverance. The leader of the drug lords, shouted what must have meant, “Silence!” because the air suddenly grew deathly quiet. As everyone held their breath, he spoke up in broken English, “Europeans know they not welcome here. But they not listen. They die with you!” He ended his sentence by pointing a finger at the villagers, which sent a cheer through his company. Many of the people had warned us of these local terrorists and the stories that were told of them were only of bloodshed and insane deeds. We knew we were messing with the wrong guys.
Eleven days ago, the drug lords burst into our village and carried all of the inhabitants off as prisoners. I still wasn’t sure what they kept us for but from what I heard we were merely entertainment and the women especially…
Our men had been sedated to avoid any opposition but when women are trapped and kept locked away until the drug lords need ‘entertainment’, they can get just as vicious. We didn’t dare put up too much of a fight, fearing for our lives but when locked away and alone, we were constantly planning how to escape. Bitter words went around, women cursing the men who raped them after their ordeals. Children shuddered whenever the ‘prison’ doors opened. Young girls quivered, as a thin stem does in a terrible wind, at the thought of them being next to entertain. Young boys vowed to fight back and protect their mothers and sisters but, what was a boy against a machine gun-armed drug lord? I knew I had to make a plan before everyone suffered to their death.
I sat up countless nights, trying to figure out how to arrange our escape. Our cell phones had been taken, plus there was no reception anyway, so a call was out. We were permanently locked in a cabin. Our cabin was always guarded from the outside. We had no weapo-my knife! I had forgotten about the knife I always kept on my belt. I felt for it, it was still there. Having no clue how our captors hadn’t seen it, I set about re-thinking the plan. With a knife, it’ll be easier to escape. It won’t be much, but it’s more than we had before. After another week of planning, I had my women ready for action the next time a guard came in. Unfortunately, the next guard was a burly, barrel-chested man that didn’t go down as easily as we hoped. When the door opened, a heavy-set woman in her early fifties, knocked his head with a chair leg. After three blows he staggered back, giving me the chance to get into position. My job was to wait behind him with the knife and kill him as soon as he was nearly unconscious. I had never killed anyone before, much less stab a person to death so I was shivering and sweating so much that I wondered if I was going to be able to do it. But, we had to finish what we started–if we didn’t, the guard would tell the leader and we’d all be killed sooner. A shorter woman in her late twenties bashed a hard wood table leg against his chest, winding him momentarily. Three other women came at him with table and chair legs, hitting like I never expected, all of them fueled by the fury that had built up during the past weeks. He fell to the ground and the heavy-set woman brought her chair-leg weapon down on his forehead, knocking him unconscious. It was my turn. Already poised with my knife, I brought it down hard, stabbing a few times until I couldn’t anymore. I dropped the knife and fell to one side, sobbing uncontrollably. “I killed him! I’m a Christian and I killed my enemy!” The heavy-set woman came to my side and whispered in Spanish accented English, “I think Lord Jesus happy. We prayed for escape and this was the one He gave. Must leave before more guards come. Don’t want to do this again.” I wiped my face, looked up at the courageous women standing in front of me and said a silent prayer for guidance and protection.
I lead them through the open court yard, everyone careful not the make a sound. We managed to cross that safely and then we came close to the huge cabin the drug lords stayed in. I shuddered as I looked at the place, all those people in there are hard-core, serial murderers, rapers, addicts. We were so close to them, yet unnoticed. I signaled for everyone to head on to the open gate. It was in plain view of the cabin’s main windows so I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed that the guards will all be blind to us.
Having crossed the court yard and the gate without being stopped, we hiking through the dense, hot and sticky Mexican jungle for another two hours, getting as far from them as possible. Finally, everyone needed a rest and sat down to catch their breath. I spoke up first, “The Lord has been good to us. His protection over our escape was so evident and His guidance amazing. Let’s thank Him for it!” All fifty-two heads bowed in prayer as everyone thanked God for His help. After resting there for another thirty minutes, we continued our trek home.
When we finally reached the village, all the men were there and couldn’t believe their eyes. Later, they explained what had happened. They were told all the women had been raped, mutilated and brutally killed. Then the drug lords told them to go home and start replanting the crops—crops that the drug lords were going to come fetch at harvest for themselves. Not knowing it was all a big lie, they trudged back through the jungle and forced themselves to plant and water the crops. They labored in the sun for hours, perfecting the rows and rows of seeds. They watered the plants faithfully, knowing if they don’t get top notch crops, they were going to be killed on the spot. Then, when we showed up, seemingly from the dead, hope was restored to their heart and, upon hearing about our escape, they gained new courage to fight back. The husband of the heavy-set woman stroked her hair lovingly and said in Spanish, “I never thought my plump tortilla would hit a man, much less knock him unconscious!” She gently smacked his arm and joked, “You be careful the next time you want to argue with me!”
We had contacted our helicopter pilot to come and fetch us again. He had been there the day after we were captured but found the village deserted so he went back and reported the disappearance. Search parties were unwilling to go into the dense jungle, aware of the drug lords that rule the area so we were left for dead. Our pilot, also a missionary, contacted a many people as he could, but no-one could or would do anything. Some were too scared to go and others didn’t know where to go anyway. We were just so grateful to be safe again. We could hop in the helicopter and fly off into the sunset and away from all this trouble but there will still be a whole village full of people in danger. The drug lords had made it clear that they were coming back. Everyone had to be evacuated–something the drug lords wouldn’t have imagined possible. So we called home base in Mexico City, asking for a plane large enough to fly a hundred and fifty people our of danger. A plane was found and send down. Everyone clambered in and the door was shut. It sort of reminded me of Noah’s ark and how God had provided and protected all along and eventually shut the door of the ark to keep them safe inside and the dangers out. I was more than happy to see the entire village being flown out to safety. They would be given temporary homes and materials to build permanent ones, food for as long as needed and land to build and plant on. The mission in Mexico was giving them a second chance to start their lives over in a safe environment. Of course, that would cost a whole lot of money, but the idea was God’s—He’ll provide…again.
I got on the plane that was taking me home, thankful that the flight would be quick…and safe. I had come to understand and value the meaning of God’s love during trying times. During times when you have nothing else to keep you going, you can feel his hand overshadow you and shield you from danger. I felt His hand and I know He was with us all the way.
I had landed several hours later and welcomed the fresh, cool air when I stepped out of the plane. Mexico was dusty, dry and hot, but here I was reveling in the cool breeze. After weeks of being away from home, enduring hardship and having a simple, week-long mission trip turn into a three week ordeal, I was ready to get home. It had been a very challenging time, spiritually and I felt as though it was a test meant specifically for me. The lesson, I believe, was meant for me was to trust God in every situation. His provision and protection never fails. From personal experience, He’s the only One Who’s 100% reliable and available.
The whole situation drew me closer to the Lord. I had learnt to trust in Him in a whole new way. I had learnt the deeper meaning of courage and I had learnt the power of prayer. I will never forget this past month…
©Copyrighted work of Shimei Botes. Do not use without permission from author.