The Van Story (Part One)
To bring everyone who reads this up to speed on the background of “The Van”, I've decided to break this story into two parts. The first will tell the story from April 2012 to August 21st 2012. The second part will share the incredible story of “The Crossing”.
It was our last night in Mexico City ("MXC"). The team from my church, Main Street Baptist (www.msbc.cc), located in Kernersville, NC, was completing another successful trip. In addition to spending time at an orphanage and various shelters for abandoned women and children, we spent a large portion of our time assisting our friends, Angie, Pepe, Cese, and Edmond, with their various ministry endeavors.
Angie and Cece run a beauty salon in the red-light district of MXC. Their goal is simple: to build relationships with the women and girls trapped in the sex trade industry. Through these relationships, Angie and Cece have the opportunity to demonstrate God's love to these women. They are able to not only tell the women about God's love, but they are able to love the women and show them God's love. In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of the women, Angie and Cece also introduce many of the women to a new career, and ultimately, are able to rescue some of the women from the sex trade industry. Angie has completed her training as a hair stylist, and Cece is a nail technician. If the women want to be pampered and talk, the salon gives them a safe place to do that. However, if the women want to learn to be hair stylists or nail technicians, Angie and Cece help them meet that goal. Pepe, Angie's husband, and Edmond, Cece's husband, work closely with their wives. Pepe and Edmond are also very involved with two local women’s shelters for mentally and physically handicapped women who have been abandoned by their families.
As was customary with our trips, our last night provided a time for debriefing. On this particular night, we asked Angie and Pepe, “What do you need? Is there anything you want or have been praying for that you don’t have?” Their answer was simply, “a 15-passenger van.” They told us that a van that size was needed for a number of reasons. First, they could use a van to transport supplies around MXC. If they had a van, they could transport food, medical supplies, and other necessities to the various orphanages and shelters where they served. They could also use a passenger van to transport women and children from horrific situations to safe houses, shelters, and orphanages. Having traveled a number of times to Mexico City, we were well aware of the difficulties associated with navigating public transportation. Buses and the subway are often overcrowded, and due to the delays and long waits for public transportation, it takes almost an hour to travel anywhere in the city. Additionally, the van would provide women and children with safety and privacy that they could not have when using public transportation. As we said our tearful goodbyes to Angie and her team, the vision and dream of delivering a van was planted in our hearts.
On our way back to NC, our team discussed Angie’s need for a van and what our group could do. Someone mentioned that our church had two 15-passenger vans and a newly purchased bus. Our oldest van, a 1994 Dodge with only 76,000 miles, was rarely being used. “What if our church gave Angie the old Dodge van?” someone wondered. While intrigued by the idea, some of us knew that churches generally don’t give away church property. If this was going to happen, then it would take divine intervention. So we all started praying.
When we arrived home, I shared the need for a van with our lead pastor. When I told him the group’s idea that perhaps our church could donate the Dodge van, he responded with openness and responded that we should certainly pray about it and share the idea with others in the church.
Over the next few months, news of the possible van donation spread throughout the church. The questions being asked were not, Why would we donate a van?” but were instead: “What do we need to do to get this done?, “What will be involved?”, and “How will we get the van to Mexico?”
Over the next few months, we researched the steps necessary to transfer ownership of the van from our church in the United States to Angie's ministry in Mexico. I volunteered to drive the van, and Tim Dixon, another member of our church that had been in MXC with us volunteered to go. The church held a special called meeting and voted unanimously to donate our van to Angie. We set the date to leave on Sunday August 19th, with a goal of arriving in Laredo, Texas on Tuesday, August 21st.
Since we would be driving the large 15-passenger van from Kernersville, NC, to Laredo, TX, (a 1600 mile / 24 hour trip), we thought, why not fill the van with supplies versus driving an empty van with two guys and their bags? We contacted Angie and put together a list of all the possible supplies that could help the women and children Angie and her team ministered to. The list included feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, medicine, socks, underwear, toiletries, salon needs, and clothes. Once we distributed the list, the out pouring of donations from our church and the community was overwhelming. We were able to fill the van from floor-board to roof, from back seat to front.
In addition to supplies, there was also a substantial amount of money necessary to cover the trip. We needed to raise funds to cover the cost of legalizing the van into Mexico (we were told this could be up to $1,000), to cover gas for the trip to Laredo, and we needed funds to cover our return flights home. The estimated funds that needed to be raised were $2,000. A web site was created and a plea for help was emailed out to our church family, Facebook friends, and anyone else I could contact. Incredibly, we were able to raise the total amount in one week!
The week before we were set to leave, we firmed up our plans regarding who we would meet in Texas to transfer the van and we were able to get a more accurate estimate of the costs of the trip. Angie found out during this time that she and Pepe were expecting their first child. Needless to say, Pepe wasn’t too keen on allowing his pregnant wife to travel to the Mexico/US border and then drive a van back to MXC, over 12 hours away, by herself or even with friends. Pepe’s job responsibilities did not allow him time off to meet us, so the burden of making the trip and transaction fell to Edmond.
Edmond is an incredible musician from Pittsburg, PA who plays in the MXC orchestra and had the time off to make the trip because summer is his off season. Our plan was to pick Edmund up at the San Antonio airport on Tuesday and drive directly to Laredo to begin the transfer and naturalization process. Angie had a contact who worked with customs that had also agreed to meet us at the border to assist us.
I also found out that week that the transfer cost along with a few more unexpected expenses would add an additional $1,000 to our expenses. With only a few days to find an additional $1,000, I had no idea where the additional funds would come from.
Our prayers were answered when my wife, Beth, received a call from a co-worker telling her that she had wanted to donate some money to the trip and she had mailed it to our home. When we checked our mail on Saturday August 18th, one day before the trip, the donation from my wife’s coworker was $2,000!! No one knew we needed more money except me, Beth, and God. We had prayed God would meet our financial short-comings and trusted Him to meet those needs. God came through and exceeded our expectations!
The Journey Begins
On Sunday morning, August 19th, Tim and I left the parking lot of our church and headed for Laredo, TX. We made lots of stops along the way, met several fascinating people, had some great laughs, and played a few rounds of disc golf. We arrived in San Antonio on Tuesday, as planned, to pick up Edmond. We traveled down to Laredo, checked into our hotel, and prepared to meet our contact at the border.