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, but were not prepared for the subsequent events that transpired. Brother Tommy Freeman, a pastor and one of my best friends had been telling us for several years about a medical mission team from Shreveport, Louisiana that had been doing missions in Oaxaca for the previous 15 years, and we made the huge decision to join them that particular year. Dr. Charles Black, a well-known and respected surgeon in Shreveport was the trip coordinator, and he and his wife Mercedes had hearts of love and compassion for the people of Oaxaca, having made the 2000 mile trip to Niltepec with their team since 1969. Brother Tommy had previously served in a Shreveport church, and he and his wife Joyce had a close relationship with the Blacks. As a result of their friendship they had 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 and in preparation, both the Scurlock’s and Cathy and I attended an organizational meeting at the Black’s home in Shreveport where we got to meet many of the team members. There were surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and other volunteers that were present at the meeting. The excitement was building for the trip which included not only surgical procedures for about 100 patients, but also Bible studies for adults and children along with distribution of Bibles and tracts to people in the area.
Our family began making preparation months in advance of the trip and since we had no experience in what to take, we probably took too much. John was 17 years old and was planning to assist in the surgical area without 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 14 while Ginny was 12 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 we were taking,and when we finally departed El Dorado, the van was packed with no spare room.
We followed the Freeman’s and the Scurlock’s en route to Brownsville, Texas where we connected with the remainder of the team from Shreveport and spent the first night there. There were 5 other vehicles including a large trailer which contained the surgical equipment for the 100+ surgical procedures that were scheduled to be done. Dr. Scurlock and I would be doing hernia repairs and some gynecological procedures. A surgeon who was skilled in cleft palate repair was making his 4th or 5th trip and Dr. Black was skilled in club foot repair so there were a variety of planned procedures. We were also prepared to do any necessary emergency procedure such as appendectomy or trauma surgery.
The next morning which was Friday, the entire 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 our clearance. Dr. Black had all the documentation and letters of need from the proper officials in Oaxaca that had served them well for all the prior years. Mercedes and several others on the team were fluent in Spanish so there was no problem with communication with the officials at the gate. As time lagged on and we all waited in the huge parking lot, we suspected something was going wrong. After about 3 1/2 hours, Mercedes came out and told us, “Unfortunately, they are not going to let us into Mexico.” The excuses given ranged from the fact that we did not have the proper documentation; to there was a border war in Nicaragua and it was too risky to allow us to enter. They said since it was already Friday, if we wanted to wait until Monday, we could then communicate with officials in Mexico City and perhaps could get clearance from them. We all knew this was simply a delaying tactic, and we were not crossing that border. The next morning which was Friday and with the full team together, we drove across the border to the customs office at Matamoros, and we thought it would take about an hour or so for our clearance. Dr. Black and his team had made the same trip for the previous 15 years, and they had all the documentation and letters of need from the officials in Oaxaca that had served them well for those years. Mercedes Black and several others on the team were fluent in Spanish and had no problem with communication. As time lagged on and we were all waiting in the huge parking lot, we suspected something was going wrong. After about 3 1/2 hours, Mercedes came out and said to us, “Unfortunately, they are not going to allow us to come into Mexico.” The excuses given ranged from the fact that we did not have the proper documentation; to there was a border war in Nicaragua, and it was too risky to allow us to enter. They said since it was already Friday, if we wanted to wait until Monday, we could then communicate with officials in Mexico City and perhaps get clearance from them. Those prospects were dim and we all knew that we were not going to be allowed into Mexico at this time.
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 asking “Why this disappointment?” and “Why now?” A member of our team was a reporter from The Dallas Morning News and he was planning to document a day by day account of this mission, and it was to appear daily in that large paper. Instead he wrote of the refusal of the customs officials to allow us to enter Mexico, thus thwarting the humanitarian effort to their own people. The article was printed on the front page the following day and was picked up by the AP and then appeared nation-wide. Above is a partial reprint of our church bulletin and a copy of that Dallas Morning News article.
We know that God is sovereign and He could have changed those official’s ruling which prevented us from carrying out our planned mission. We have to remember the passages that God will direct our paths and sometimes will block those paths to accomplish His will. I believe that He protected us from dangers ahead of which we were unaware and ultimately accomplished His purposes in us and in those people in Niltepec as well. Thanks be to God who daily fills us with His riches and leads us in His paths of righteousness!