Like those flash mob scenes in a mall or a library, where everyone is going about their daily business, unsuspecting that they´re about to enjoy Handel’s Messiah from superb professional voices hidden amongst the bystanders, so were we about to be enveloped in a heavenly concert. But the amazing thing is that we had a part to play, our words ringing with perfectly timed eternity, as though we had practiced it a thousand times before. Later that evening, we were to just stare at each other in wonder, as we replayed the sweet, eternal music in our hearts.
Known as the ‘city of beautiful sunsets’, with the heat of the day tucking itself away, Tuxpan comes alive in the late afternoon, especially on Saturdays. Maricruz and I were sitting on a bench at the river’s edge, right in front of the market, relishing the cool breeze. We were waiting for our fellow team members that were returning from an overnight Huasteca trip. Earlier, Luis had sounded tired on the phone. I knew he would appreciate me meeting him in town so that he wouldn’t have to come all the way out to deliver the truck and other passengers. So Maricruz and I were enjoying each other´s company, as we peered down the boulevard, awaiting his arrival.
In the distance I saw a large crowd with political banners obstructing oncoming traffic. ‘Poor Luis’, I thought, picturing him sitting at the wheel, crawling slowly behind the boisterous throng of people. ‘Oh well’, there was nothing to be done.
All of a sudden two young men carrying boot blacking boxes came upon us. Since we were both wearing sandals, it was obvious they weren’t trying to drum up business. One of them pointed at Maricruz´s shoulder and exclaimed, “That is some #$%* tattoo!” He turned to his friend, “Jose Luis, come and look at THIS!”
Within moments, they were asking what it meant. She took her cue. “It is a tree of life. I had this tattoo put on as a symbol of the life that God has given me. And do you see the butterflies?”, they nodded, fascinated. “There are nine different colored butterflies, symbolizing nine different surgeries. God used those surgeries to give me life.”
I clarified, not sure how much they were understanding, “They opened up her head and operated on her brain nine times.” The first boy, leaped up in excitement and said, “Me too!” He pulled off his cap, revealing a ghastly scar right across the crown of his head. He explained that he had had an accident, which had resulted in a severe head injury. He is now on five different medications to control migraines, and struggles to find money to pay for them.
His attention went back to Maricruz: “Tell Jose Luis if tattoos hurt. I´m trying to convince him to get one, and he doesn´t want to. I told him that we would ask a woman, and that she would tell him the truth. You tell him.”
“Yes, they do hurt”, Maricruz answered frankly. “But it was something I really wanted to have, to remind me every day of the wonderful things that God has done in my life.”
By this time Jose Luis was sitting on his boot blacking box, staring at Maricruz. It was not the tree of life on her shoulder that gripped him, but her words of life. His eyes were pools of longing for more. He told her that he had accepted Jesus as a boy, and repeated a number of Bible verses to prove it. All he wanted to hear was how to get back into a relationship with God.
I turned back to the other boy, and learned that his name was Juan de Dios, literally Juan of God (belonging to God). He proudly showed me many tattoos all over his arms, boasting a total of 23 on different parts of his body. Standing out was the word IRENE on his forearm. I learned later that Irene is his mother, from whom he ran away. He could no longer put up with her selling her body to multiple men. At night, he wakes up crying for her. More than anything else, he wants to belong to a family.
The two are from other cities and have been in Tuxpan about four months, watching out for each other as they live on the streets. Jose Luis tries to keep Juan de Dios out of trouble. Juan opened up his backpack to prove to me that all he had was clothing. It was a fresh shirt and pair of jeans, but the clothes on his back were far from clean. Dirty fingernails are a telltale sign of drugs, but you could see he had not yet succumbed to their grip.
At this point I´m thinking, ‘We mustn’t lose touch with these guys. We can´t just hand them a few pesos and walk away. Luis, where are you?’
As if on cue, Luis, having made it past the political rally, drove up. As he got out, I started introducing him to the boys. For a fraction of a second, I saw a shadow of tiredness and frustration cross over his face. A human response that was instantly replaced by compassion, and a willingness to walk the extra mile for two young men on the edge of despair.
We drove away, but Luis spent several extra hours with them. He dramatized the Gospel, hanging from a lamp-post on the river´s edge. He invited them to eat tamales at a street vendor´s cart. He agreed to meet them the next day, Sunday morning, to go to church, and a luncheon afterwards. He hugged them heartily, disregarding their smelly bodies.
The next day, they were not at the designated place, so Luis began wandering the streets looking for them. Over an hour later, they appeared out of nowhere, and accompanied him to the church. After much coaxing, he managed to get them into the last bench. They were welcomed.
When Luis´s 18-month-old daughter, Abi, greeted them with her newly learned high-five hand slap, and her open smile and trusting eyes, Juan de Dios was undone. His tough manner melted as he saw how this beautiful little child reached out to him, unafraid of a down-and-out boot cleaner, and his buddy.
And so goes this grand concert, orchestrated by the Master, in favor of two broken souls whom He has lovingly reached out to. It is such a privilege to play a small part in this heavenly symphony, which started so unexpectedly on the water´s edge last Saturday night. May we continue to hear the music and take our cues through to the grand finale.
Missionary in Tuxpan, Mexico