In 1984 Cathy and I were very excited to prepare for and take our family on a medical mission trip to the southern tip of Mexico. We were not prepared for the events which followed. Brother Tommy Freeman, a wonderful pastor friend had been telling us for years about a medical mission team from Shreveport, Louisiana who had been doing missions in Oaxaca for the previous fifteen years. We made the decision to join them this particular year.
Dr. Charles Black a well-known and respected surgeon in Shreveport was the trip coordinator. He and his wife Mercedes had hearts of love for the people of Oaxaca and had been making the 2000 mile trip to Niltepec with their team since 1969. Brother Tommy had earlier served in a Shreveport church, and he and his wife Joyce had a close relationship with the Black’s. As a result of their friendship they made several trips to Oaxaca with them. One of my surgical associates Dr. Bill Scurlock and his wife Barbara also decided to join the team. In preparation both the Scurlocks and Cathy and I attended an organizational meeting at the Black’s home in Shreveport where we got to meet most of the team members. There were surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and other volunteers who were present at the meeting. The excitement was building for the trip which included not only surgical procedures for one hundred patients, but also Bible studies for adults and children along with distribution of Bibles and tracts to people in the area.
Our family prepared months in advance for the trip, and since we had no experience in what to take we probably took too much. Our son John was seventeen years old and was planning to assist in the surgical area without actually having to be at the operating table. He had been in the OR once to observe an appendectomy, and it was not a good experience for him. He was also going to be available to Brother Tommy to help wherever needed. Mary Kay was fourteen while Ginny was twelve and they would be assisting Cathy and Joyce in doing backyard Bible studies with the children of the town. We rented a van large enough to transport all the Bibles and supplies for their part of the ministry, and when we finally departed El Dorado the van was completely full.
We followed the Freemans and the Scurlocks in route to Brownsville, Texas where we connected with the remainder of the team and spent our first night there. There were five other vehicles including a large trailer which contained the surgical equipment for the scheduled procedures. Dr. Scurlock and I would be doing hernia repairs and some gynecological procedures. A surgeon skilled in cleft palate repair was making his fourth trip, and Dr. Black was skilled in club foot repair. We were also prepared for emergency procedures such as appendectomy or unexpected trauma.
The next morning which was Friday the team drove across the border to the customs office at Matamoros. We thought the crossing would be routine and would take about an hour or so for clearance. Dr. Black had all the documentation and letters of need from the proper officials in Oaxaca which stated they had been well served for all those prior fifteen years. Mercedes and several other team members were fluent in Spanish, so there was no problem with communication with the border officials. As time lagged on and we all waited in the huge parking lot we suspected something was amiss. After about three and a half hours Mercedes came out and told us, “Unfortunately, they are not going to let us into Mexico.” The excuses ranged from the fact we did not have the proper documentation, to a border war in progress in Nicaragua which made it too risky to allow us to enter. They said since it was Friday we could wait until Monday and communicate with officials in Mexico City. Perhaps they would grant us clearance. We knew this was simply a delaying tactic, and we would not be allowed to cross the border at all.
We were crushed and heart-broken. We joined together in prayer for the people of Niltepec, some of whom had traveled miles on foot to have the needed operations and would now have to wait at least another year. We cried and called out to God, “Why this disappointment?” and “Why now?”
One member of the team was a reporter from The Dallas Morning News, and he planned to document and publish a day by day account of this mission in his newspaper. Instead he wrote of the refusal of the customs officials to allow us to enter Mexico, thus thwarting the humanitarian effort for their own people. The article was printed on the front page the following day and was picked up by the Associated Press. It then appeared nation-wide. Above is a partial reprint of our church bulletin and the headlines of the Dallas Morning News article.
We know God is sovereign and could have changed the border official’s ruling which kept us from our planned mission. I believe He protected us from dangers ahead of which we were unaware and ultimately accomplished His purposes in us and in the people in Niltepec. Thanks be to God who daily fills us with His riches and leads us in His paths of righteousness!