“The heart of Jesus loves us as we are and not as we should be, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity; He who loves us in the morning sun and the evening rain without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point.”
If anyone ever tells you it would be fun to do the “leap of faith” off of Shark’s Fin–a thirty-foot-deep chasm in between two giant boulders in Carmen Serdan, Mexico–don’t.
I mean, you can if you want.
But only do it if you’re really tall. Or have hops. Or something.
The two guys I was with at Shark’s Fin jumped the gap just fine since they had mile-high legs and were over six feet tall. They told me I didn’t have to do it, but I knew I’d probably never have the opportunity to take this leap of faith again.
So I took a running start…
Made the jump…
And landed it.
…On my face.
I could not stop laughing.
But the guys on the other side just stood wide-mouthed staring at my foot.
“Are you ok?” they called out.
I guess I had rolled my ankle.
So we hiked back down with a little extra effort and wrapped my foot up in a brace.
Then the next week while in Mazatlan, Mexico, as I was doing flips on the roof, I slammed that same foot into the ground. Shocks ran up through my ankle.
Now it really hurt.
Several people that we met, when they saw me limping, would stop to pray for my ankle. But no matter how many times people prayed, it never got any better.
In fact, it began to hurt a little more.
It was taking me three times as long to get anywhere I was going. And it was frustrating. One of the guys on our team who used to work in a hospital even said I would need to see a doctor when we arrived back stateside.
More and more people prayed for healing for my ankle, and I began to resent it every time.
Because why wasn’t it working? Why wasn’t God healing me?
On our last night of outreach, I gathered our team for a meeting to debrief a bit of our time in Mexico.
We worshiped and laughed and told stories and shared where we were “at” personally; we also asked God about his perspective on our time in Mexico.
At the end of our meeting, the team offered to pray for my ankle.
I was kind of over it.
By now it was hurting more than it had our entire trip, and I had resolved to suck it up until I could see a doctor back in Wisconsin. I would have to hobble in order to navigate our three layovers the next day, but that was just how it was going to have to be.
I shrugged. “Go ahead.”
They prayed and declared healing over my ankle. Yet when I stood up to test it out, nothing felt different. I wasn’t exactly surprised. So I simply smiled and told them thank you before we dispersed to go to bed.
The next morning after hurriedly packing my bags for the trip home, I ran downstairs to grab breakfast before it was gone. I made conversation with some other YWAMers who were sitting at the same table as I wolfed down a bowl of cereal and–
Did I run down the stairs?
I could not believe it. I tried to retrace my steps after our meeting last night. Nothing had seemed different; I had gone to bed and could hardly sleep on the bare floor because of the pain, and then I woke up and–
God had completely healed my ankle.
Through my outreach team.
I was blown away.
And I knew that God had been waiting for the perfect timing–to use the very people on my own team to heal me and to show me that even when I doubted, nothing was impossible for Him all along.
I love Madison.
And that’s something that two years ago, I never thought I would say.
But I really love this place. God has given me a heart for the city where I am based as a missionary. There are so many cool things about this place. And I know that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be for this season of my life. Even if the only “beaches” are at the lake, and it drops below -30 in winter.
Here are four reasons why I love Madison (and why you should visit, too!):
- We have all four seasons. To me, this is still weird. Where I’m from, there is summer and something that tries to imitate winter. Here we have a pink-petal spring, a firefly summer, a chilly autumn flecked with bright-colored trees, and a winter fit for some killer snowball fights. It’s grand.
- There’s so much to do. Go bouldering or hiking up by Devil’s Lake. Have a picnic on the roof of the downtown library. Stroll down State Street. Catch a game at UW. Go kayaking down by the bluffs. Grab a slice of Mac N’ Cheese from Ian’s Pizza. Enjoy slam poetry and live music at a local cafe. Go shooting. It’s difficult to have a bland weekend here.
- There are all sorts of people. The UW campus brings in scholars from all around the world, which makes our city quirky-fun and full of diversity. There are over 4,000 international students at the school, hailing from more than 130 countries. Some, including a number of foreign political figures, are even from restricted or unreached nations, and they are finally able to have access to the gospel while here in the States!
- It feels like home. Granted, as a missionary, I feel at home a lot of places – almost anywhere I spend the night for more than a week. But the thing that really makes this place stand out is the community we have here with YWAM. I am constantly surrounded by people who are welcoming, visionary, risk-taking, supportive, bold, servant-hearted, and active in following whatever God has called them to do. And they truly have a heart for the nations–whether they’re spending time overseas or right here in our backyard.
“God gives us grace both to endure and to enjoy his call” – Wick Nease
If God is calling you to go somewhere you’re apprehensive to go, that’s ok.
But don’t get stuck there.
We can’t let fear hold us back from the incredible things He has for us. Fear is a liar, and we are not obligated to listen to it. God knows you better than even you know you, and he will give you grace both to endure and to enjoy even the little things.
We’ve finally reached the final part of our Mexico series! For this last installment, a sneak peek into our time in Mazatlan and into my journal (Plus a picture slideshow from our whole trip!)
We spent our time in Mazatlan reaching out during Carnaval, an enormous week-long street party reminiscent of Mardi Gras. There is no official record, but it is rumored to be the third-largest Mardi Gras party in the world! It is a hotbed for human trafficking, substance abuse, and rape.
In short, Carnaval does not love women.
But Jesus does.
This story chronicles my favorite night of women’s ministry in Carnaval, when Jesus really showed one woman the promise of his love.
You can also catch this story on my Facebook group page if you add me as a friend. (https://www.facebook.com/keisha.bruce.35)
The other night, I made a stranger cry.
I didn’t mean to. I promise.
But there I was, sitting at a café table in the middle of the frantic bustling streets of Carnaval, speaking to a middle-aged woman who only spoke in Spanish, and she was crying.
Her family. That’s what we’d been talking about. How many siblings did she have? Did she have children? What was her husband’s name?
“My husband is dead.”
And I felt absolutely terrible, because what the heck did I just do?! The poor girl is in tears. So I hugged her as she cried, prayed for her, and offered to bring her to our Ladies’ Ministry tent.
I led her to the tent, brimming with flowers and middle eastern fabrics and little twinkling lights. We got her coffee and a warm blanket to ward off the rainy-evening chill, and I got a friend to help translate.
The woman spilled out her story to us – that exactly one year ago her husband died unexpectedly, and she was suddenly a single mother of three. She fell into a pit of depression for half a year, and the only thing that kept her from ending her life was her kids. She had no means of supporting her family, and no one from the church ever made the effort to come alongside and comfort her.
And so I sat and prayed as this woman, Aracelli, shared her story with my friend. My friend then shared her own testimony about how God had redeemed her, and she apologized on behalf of the entire Christian church for the way they had neglected to take care of their family. And as she finished speaking, Aracelli told us that she wanted to know who Jesus really was. He was not as the church had portrayed him in their actions toward her. He was not distant. He was a God of kindness and grace, closer than her breath.
And here’s the best part. As we explained to her about this loving Christ, she decided she wanted a relationship with him.
We prophesied over her and gave her words of encouragement after she prayed.
Eyes still red and puffy from her tears, she smiled, “I feel such a peace.”
That’s how Holy Spirit works! He’s been doing his job for a long freakin’ time now, and he’s really good at it.
My name is Carmen*, and most people can’t guess my age.
I must look too young to be 20, but that’s alright; I never minded much.
I’ve lived here for most of my life. Mi mamá y mi papá gave me up when I was very little. I don’t know why. Maybe it was too hard for them to take care of me? But it doesn’t really matter; I’d still love to meet them someday. I bet they are muy simpático. I’m sure they would like it here, too.
Where I live it is very peaceful and quiet, so it doesn’t bother my ears. Everything around me is green and bursting with life. It’s like we have our own special secret place in the middle of the big mountains.
My friends like to play on the tire swing under the shade tree and bounce on the trampoline just outside of our house. I’ve never been able to walk or talk, but I like to go outside with my friends, anyway. I usually sit at the bench and draw with markers on my coloring book.
Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes when nobody is looking, I color on my face, instead.
My friends think that’s really funny.
They like it when I laugh, too. Because whenever I laugh, I just can’t stop! It makes everyone squeal and giggle.But the funniest thing of all is when I slide out of my wheelchair on purpose during meal times. They really lose it, then. The whole room fills with crazy cackles. They call me “sneaky” and “silly.” I like that.
Maybe one day you can come visit me. I would like that a lot, too.
*Carmen isn’t my real name. It’s like my own personal code name.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
I had never been to the dumps before. Even from far away you could see they were swarming with people, and you could smell garbage baking in the hot Mexican sun.
As we bumped along in our team van, faces of the people whizzed by.
Men with masks on, trailing garbage trucks that expelled heaps of refuse onto the ground and blew dust into their faces.
Women sifting through piles of trash with their bare hands, looking for something salvageable to sell for profit.
I pointed out the window as we drove past a makeshift structure erected in a mound of rubble. There were workers inside, talking and laughing in its shade.
“Do they build those just so they have a cooler place to take a break?” I asked one of our contacts.
“No. They live there,” came the response.
We rolled to a stop in the middle of the dump and waved black smoke out of our eyes as we jumped out of the van. We grabbed bottled waters and hot dogs that we had made earlier, and we handed them out to the masses who gathered near.
We walked up to individuals to talk with them. Took rough hands with dirt-encrusted fingernails into our own and sat down in the trash to have conversations with people. We met men who were Jesus-lovers, a guy who thought I was Chinese, girls who had suddenly been deported from the States after growing up there and becoming brilliant students, doctors, and leaders.
Each story we heard thumbed a string in our hearts.
Because each story was a person.
After an hour or two we picked up and headed into the dump community a mile away from where we were stationed. We continued handing out food and water to the permanent residents living there, calling “Buenas dias!” so they would know we were nearby.
One of our contacts noticed something strange as we looked about the compound.
“Where are all the children?” she asked one of the locals.
The way he responded sounded chillingly as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. The drug cartels had swept in the night before and shot up the entire community. Then in the morning, the families sent their kids away to a nearby village in case more trouble came during the day.
And these stories, too, broke our hearts, tore at our insides, reminded us of the collapsible state of our lungs.
Because it hurt. Because those things should never happen. Not to anyone.
Here’s the thing. It’s easy to leave a place like that completely broken. And to be broken, I believe, is a truly beautiful thing – so long as you have hope.
And there is one hope that we must always remember. That is the hope of Christ. And knowing that always, without fail:
He is gracious.
He is loving.
He is strong.
He is enough.
He is good.
We wove our way through the open air market filled with punchy Mexican colors, bright fabrics, and sweet-talking salesmen who saw peso signs at the sight of foreigners. My friend and I were browsing the shops on our free day when one of the vendors stopped us.
“Welcome to Cancun! You speak English? My name is Victor.”
When he grinned he practically oozed saccharine salesman charm. We laughed and introduced ourselves. We let him show us around his store and try to sell us ridiculously-priced items while he asked us a million questions about our time so far in Mexico and where we were from.
“How about you, Victor?” we asked. “Where are you from?”
He looked up, a little surprised, and told us about the place he grew up. His eyes grew wide and excited as he showed us pictures and told us what his family was like, why he moved to Cancun, what he liked most, what he hoped to someday do in the future. We listened with intently as he shared all about his life and dreams. He glowed in an entirely new way as he spoke.
After a while we told Victor we needed to go back home to meet up with some other missionaries we had plans with.
Suddenly, he jumped up and darted in the opposite direction.
He came back a couple seconds later and plopped a big, fat book on the counter where we had been talking.
“This is my Bible! Someone gave it to me. Give me something to read.”
We felt that God wanted to speak to Victor through the story of the woman at the well.
“Ok! I will read it tonight,” he grinned.
We came back the next day to give him the address of the church we were staying at because he had never gone before. As soon as we appeared in his store, he called out to us. “Good! You’re back!” He kissed us each on the cheek in a traditional Mexican greeting. “Now you can teach me. Come, let’s have Bible study!”
My friend and I exchanged quick glances.
Then we both shrugged. “Ok!”
So we found a sunny little outdoor cafe in the middle of the marketplace and sat down. He asked questions and told us his thoughts about the story of the woman at the well, and we talked all about God. He stared amazed as we explained that Jesus actually wanted to have relationship with him–wanted to speak to him, hang out with him, enjoy his company.
“I think I want that,” he said thoughtfully.
And it’s things like these that drive me crazy with joy. Because not only did we meet our friend Victor in Cancun, but Victor met Jesus there, too. In a hidden cafe in the middle of a busy marketplace in Mexico.
Hey! Long time no see, or something like that. I apologize for my random seven-month absence – I don’t ever think I’ve had a writer’s block for so long before! Oh well, life goes on.
Well, it pretty much goes without saying, but a LOT has happened since I last updated! Like, a lot. Like, we finished staffing the DTS lecture phase, I led a global outreach to Mexico, our DTS students have graduated, I moved, and I have new summer plans.
So, in order to not awkwardly bombard you with a million and one stories, I’ve got a series for you.
I know – I feel real fancy. Who writes series?
I guess I do.
Try new things every day, man!
Let’s take a trip to Cancun, Mexico tomorrow then, eh? That’s where one of my favorite stories take place, and that’s where we’ll start our series. Plus they have some pretty rad beaches that you should totally check out; but that’s just a side note.