“Come on son, I got this!”
Certain moments in time have a way of etching themselves in the archives of our mind. My first message delivered in Spanish is one such occasion. The village of Xochiatipan sits atop a mountain at 2,300 feet in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. A man by the name of Paulino had invited us to preach the Gospel at his house after being miraculously healed from a terrible, life-threatening disease called Elephantiasis (a condition in which a limb or other part of the body becomes grossly enlarged due to obstruction of the lymphatic vessels).
After a humble meal of black beans, jalapeños and tortillas we gathered under a thatched-roof open air hut. Night was falling, so we lit a lantern and hung it from the open beams. In a village where the only light sources are either homemade wax candles or a whisky flask filled with kerosene and a wick, a Coleman lantern could be compared to stadium lights. Brother Paulino had invited some friends and neighbors, and due to his miraculous healing, five men came that night. As I nervously stood in the middle of the low-slung structure built for people all under five feet, with my shoulders stooped so that my head sitting atop my skinny six-foot-one frame wouldn’t strike the beams, I struggled to recall all the Spanish I could.
You see, I was raised in Northern PA, in the heart of an area that is known today as the “Pennsylvania Wilds”, just north of the Germanic-speaking Amish. I took four years of German in high school, and less than a year before, I had never met a Spanish-speaking person. And yet, here I was, atop this mountain, surrounded by six Nahuatl indian men along with Paulino’s wife and young son. They were all anxiously waiting for me to deliver God’s Word to them in a language they could understand.
In the fall of 1982, I began my studies at Kingsway Missionary Institute, a Spanish Language and Latin American Culture Institute for prospective missionaries. For nine months, I had been force-fed the Spanish language and culture. Now here I stood, Bible in hand, begging the God who had called me by name, to anoint me, to use my tongue to proclaim his Good News and to bring light to a dark world just like the Coleman lantern was illuminating the pitch blackness of this highland village.
It took all of about 5 minutes for me to exhaust my vocabulary and stumble through a very poor presentation of the Gospel. I must admit, the stoic indigenous listeners that night had not given me any indication that my message had resonated with them in the least and as I closed with the words, that not too long afterwards I learned to speak in the native Nahuatl tongue, “If anyone here would like to come forward, we will pray for anyone who desires. Christ has the power to heal and to save”, there was very little expectation on my part for any kind of response.
And yet, for me, that night stands out as one of those, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased,” moments. I had no sooner butchered the closing words when all five of the visiting men rose to their four-foot-plus stature and gathered around me to give their lives to the King. It was as if God my Father was saying to me, “See, it was me that called you! And you wondered if you had heard correctly! Come on son, I got this!”