ActivePaper Archive Oklahomans witness another side of life - Oklahoman, 3/30/2002

Oklahomans witness another side of life

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PHOTO BY ZANE SCHWAB

A Mexican child enjoys a meal prepared by Oklahoma visitors in the mountain village of La Union, Mexico.

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LA UNION, Mexico — Love is in the air. It sounds corny to say it — I admit that. But I can’t think of any other way to describe the scene my son Brady, 8, and I witnessed in this tiny mountain village 1,100 miles from Oklahoma City.

Each spring, visitors from Oklahoma bring God’s love — not to mention food and fun — to the sunburnished men, women and children of La Union and surrounding villages.

As part of an annual mission trip sponsored by the Edmond Church of Christ, more than 200 Oklahoma church members travel here in a caravan of white rental vans.

The mission workers — many of them students from Oklahoma Christian University and the University of Central Oklahoma — distribute more than 250 care packages containing soap, rice, corn meal, salt, sugar and other supplies.

They conduct vacation Bible schools and build playground equipment. They pour concrete floors and prepare special feasts for entire villages.

But those are facts, not emotions.

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The bare details don’t tell the whole story — the story of families and college students who, each March, leave a land of plenty to renew their spirits in dusty villages where folks speak a different language but worship a common God.

So what if unchaperoned herds of goats and an occasional pig wander the dirt streets? So what if the townspeople don’t own televisions and have probably never heard of the Internet? So what if the occasional jet that flies overhead seems as out of place as a UFO from Mars?

Love, I discovered, transcends all those distinctions.

Take the sunny March day that dozens of La Union residents lined up to enjoy a meal prepared by the visitors from Oklahoma.

In one hand, the Mexicans balanced white plates piled high with roast beef, canned beans, jalapeno peppers and cookies.

In the other hand, they carried paper cups filled with red Kool-Aid.

As I watched this scene unfold, I glanced down the road and spotted a boy hobbling toward the serving table.

The boy could not walk on his own. Instead, he maintained his balance by stretching his arms around the shoulders of friends on each side of him.

As I reflected on the boy’s plight, Felix Martinez, minister of the Southeast Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, ran toward him.

Martinez scooped the boy into his arms, warmly embraced him and carried him to a stack of wood serving as a makeshift bench. The minister, who preaches an annual gospel meeting for the adults while the children attend vacation Bible school, then jumped to the front of the line and fetched the boy’s lunch as if the child were a king.

I blinked back tears, as did my friend James Lauderdale, standing beside me.

It was a powerful moment — one of many that my son and I experienced on this mission trip.

I first witnessed the incredible outreach effort here five years ago, but I wanted my son to experience it.

Brady is an intelligent, faithful boy devoted to God, but he’s grown up with instant messaging, microwave popcorn, handheld electronic games and 70-plus cable channels.

I wanted him to see a different side of the world.

And he did — from playing Frisbee with boys who cherish a single piece of candy to walking from our tent to an outhouse in the middle of the night.

I didn’t know quite how to explain why I wanted Brady to join me on this trip until I talked with Tamie Willis.

For Willis, it’s not about rich Americans showing poor Mexicans a better way of life.

Spend a day or a week here, without the incessant ringing of cellular telephones or the constant blah-blah nothingness of the typical U.S. television program, and it may seem difficult to tell who’s got it better.

“We really don’t think of them as lacking things,” Willis said, “because their lifestyle is full for them.”

For eight years, Tamie Willis, her husband, Kirk, and their three children have made an annual trek to the Sierra Madres — Mother Mountains — of Taumalipas. Tiffany, 20, Landon, 18, and Garrett, 14, have grown up with La Union’s children.

Many of the children the Willises first met in La Union are 17 or 18 years old now. They sit along the school-yard fence or play volleyball across from the village store as more than 130 children flock each day to the vacation Bible school.

The Mexican children don’t speak English. But they still ask about “Tiffany,” even though she has — with tears in her eyes — skipped the trip the last two years to fulfill her softball scholarship commitment at Oklahoma Christian.

“It has been such a good bonding experience for our family,” Tamie Willis said. “It’s something we look forward to every year. It gets my kids out side their comfort zone.”

Willis can’t speak much Spanish, but her smile and en thusiasm make evident her love of the children. She recog nizes most of the faces and knows many by name.

The little boy that I saw hob bling down the road started at tending the vacation Bible school several years ago, she said.

Willis has visited the boy at home, where he uses his arms to scoot across the yard “very, very quickly.”

If he lived in United States, he might use a wheelchair — but that’s not the case in his world.

“This year, he was so outgoing,” Willis said. “He was talking and kissing and hugging and active in everything.

“It was just like there was this light in him.”

Church members spend weeks preparing for the daily vacation Bible schools in La Union and four other villages.

The children sing songs such as “En La Biblia,” paint Jesus T-shirts, make crafts and interact — be it with a football toss or a jump rope — with the college students who return year after year.

“They give us so much more than we bring to them,” Willis said of the children.

Yes, I know it sounds corny. But I wholeheartedly agree.

Love is in the air.