The Van Story (Part Two)

Laredo
We arrived at our hotel in Laredo at 3:00 pm on the 21st. The plan was to meet our Mexico/US customs contact at 4:00 pm. Edmond called at 3:30 pm to determine a meeting spot. To our surprise, our contact was still at work in Monterey, Mexico, which was two and a half hours away. The earliest he could meet us would be 7:00 pm. He asked that we meet him on the Mexico side of the border across bridge two (we soon found out there are two bridges for people to cross coming through the border). He told us to bring all our papers for the van along with the $1700 cash we needed to cover the cost of naturalizing the van. Tim wasn’t too sure about giving a guy we have never met all of our money and papers, but Edmond assured us that this guy was on the up and up.

Bridge Two
We arrived at the border portion of Laredo, which is over two miles from the actual city, at 7:00 pm. I had to keep reminding myself that we were still in the US because everything had the look and feel of a typical Mexican city or town. When we parked the van and began our walk to bridge two, it was fairly obvious that we weren’t from around those parts. Once we arrived at bridge two, we were surprised to learn that only vehicles were allowed to cross. We asked a border guard what we should do, and he directed us to bridge one, where all foot traffic crossings occur. This presented a problem because bridge one and bridge two are separated by several city blocks. Considering that we would have to walk the distance between bridge two and bridge one, I asked how safe it was for us. The border guard replied, “This side? Pretty safe. Other side? Not so safe.” I didn’t like the way he said our side (the US side) was “pretty safe”, and I definitely didn’t like his response that the other side (the Mexico side) was “not so safe.” I quickly decided that I did not want to risk our lives by crossing the border into Mexico, at near dusk, carrying $1700 in cash. We called our contact and arranged to meet him the next morning. We returned to the hotel, hopeful that we would only be there one more night.

Bridge Two – Day Two
After picking up the rental car that Tim and I would use to drive back to San Antonio for our flight home, we headed back to bridge two for our second attempt to cross into Mexico. We left our rental car in a parking garage a few blocks from the border, and drove the van to bridge two. On the US side of the border, we were pulled out of line so that the van could be inspected with a large x-ray machine installed in a U-haul type truck. After the x-ray machine circled the van a few times, we were given the green light to pass into Mexico.

Customs
During the months spent planning for this trip, our biggest worry was that the van would not pass inspection and would not be allowed into Mexico. It never once occurred to me, or to anyone else involved in planning for the trip, that the supplies we were carrying would be an issue. As we crossed the border and parked the van at customs for inspection, it quickly became apparent that the large quantity of supplies were going to be a problem. Several customs agents surrounded our van and had an intense discussion with Edmond. Fortunately, Edmond is fluent in Spanish. I don’t want to imagine how this transfer would have gone down if it were just Tim and me. The customs agents informed Edmond that the supplies would only be allowed to cross into Mexico if we paid taxes on them. The taxes would be around $500. Although this was not news that I wanted to hear, I was willing to do whatever it would take to get the van and the supplies across the border to the people that needed them. The customs agents instructed Tim and me to take the van back across the border to the US while Edmond met with the head of customs on the Mexico side of the border to attempt to sort out the issue of taxes and the supplies.

McDonalds
As Tim and I entered back into the US, we were greeted by the sight of the golden arches. Just a block from the border sits a McDonalds. I am convinced there is not a corner of this world where Ronald McDonald hasn’t set up shop. So we parked at Mickey D’s and went in to wait on news from Edmond. After two hours of no news, Tim and I decided to head out and do some exploring. Not really sure where to go, we just headed out to the street and started walking. As we walked, we discussed the possibility that God had delayed us in Laredo for a reason. Was it possible that God had more for us to do on this trip than just simply hand the van over? At that point we looked up and saw a line of people coming out of building. Above the door was a sign that read, “Bethany House”.

Bethany House
As we crossed the street, it became apparent that Bethany House was a soup kitchen, and the line was full of folks coming to eat lunch. Without thinking, we went in and made our way to the kitchen. We found two men preparing to serve food, and one lady cooking. I attempted to explain that we were missionaries from NC passing though, and when we saw the place we wanted to know if they needed any help. The three workers stood and stared at me like I was from another planet. I then asked if any of them spoke English and discovered they did not. Despite the language barrier, the lady gave us gloves, aprons, and hair nets. I made a joke about not needing one and everyone just laughed. Evidently, being bald is universally funny. Tim began spooning food into plates, and I made and served drinks. About a half hour into serving food, a well dressed English speaking guy came in. When he saw us, a look of shock covered his face as he asked us what we were doing there. He introduced himself as David and explained that he is on staff at Bethany House. Once the initial crowd slowed down, David pulled me aside to find out why and how we ended up serving in the kitchen. I told him about the van, our trip, and how Edmund was stuck in customs. I shared with him the walk Tim and I had taken, our discussion about God’s plans for this trip, and how we were led to Bethany House. David explained to me that Bethany House was much more than a soup kitchen. Along with providing over 2,000 meals a day, they also have a shelter for men, and they are building a shelter for women and children. They also offer medical clinics and counseling. At that point, one of the two men that was working in the kitchen with us walked over. As he spoke with David, I couldn’t understand a word he said as he was speaking rapidly in Spanish. All I knew was that he kept pointing at me, Tim, and the sky. Once he finished, David looked at me with tears in his eyes and a huge smile on his face. David explained that the man he was speaking to doesn’t speak or understand any English so he had no idea who Tim and I were and did not know anything of the story I had just told David about how we found our way to Bethany House. According to the man, when they opened the doors that day to feed the homeless, the crowd was much larger than they expected. There were only three workers (the two men serving and the one woman to cook), and he saw no way they could handle a crowd of the size that stood outside the doors. So he began to pray. As he prayed, he said that God told him He would send some workers to help. As the prayers left his mouth, Tim and I walked into the kitchen. He said he didn’t know what we were saying as we stood attempting to talk to them, but as we were speaking, God told him, “These are the men I have sent to help you”. That is why they handed us the kitchen gear without understanding what we were saying. I shared the story with Tim, and we knew that Bethany House was the reason God had delayed us in Laredo. When my phone rang just a few minutes later, I knew it was Edmond telling me we were cleared to go.

Change of Plans
When I answered Edmond’s call, I could tell immediately that he did not have good news. Edmond, noticeably upset and frustrated, explained that the Mexican customs agents would not allow all of the supplies across the border. It had nothing to do with the value of the goods (which we estimated to value $5,000), but instead was due to the quantity of goods. As Edmond pondered what our next plan of action should be, a confident peace came over me, and I knew exactly what we needed to do with all the supplies. I told Edmond I would call him back and hurried to find David, the director at Bethany House. After searching the kitchen, men’s shelter, and surrounding block, we finally located David in an adjacent parking garage. I explained our updated situation, and David was obviously saddened for us. Then I asked David, “Do you want the supplies?” David stood, staring at me, mouth open, speechless. I waited what felt like a full minute then asked him again, “David, do you, or do you not, want these supplies?” “Yes!” David exclaimed. With tears filling his eyes, he could hardly believe what was taking place - that two random guys from NC would not only appear at his soup kitchen to help serve the hungry, but that these two strangers were now giving him over $5,000 worth of supplies. Tim and I agreed that we’d first go pick up Edmond before returning with the van to unload the supplies. When we picked Edmond up at bridge one, he could hardly believe our story. After a quick lunch, we arrived back at the shelter. Word had already made its way through the shelter that strangers were brining supplies. As I went inside to look for David, I was greeted by several people, some who worked there and others that were residents, asking, “Are you the men with the supplies?” Before we knew it, there was a supply line of men, women, and children, stretching from the building to the van. Each person helped carry and pass the supplies into a room to be sorted. The entire time, everyone kept saying, “Praise God!” and “Thank you God!”

Goodbye
Once the supplies were unloaded (we kept all the supplies needed for Angie’s salon, along with some musical instruments for the children at the orphanage in hopes they could make it across the border) we headed back to our rental car. We said our goodbyes to Edmond and the van. Then Tim and I drove off to catch our flight home. Edmond was held up in Laredo for two more days waiting on the permit to drive the van in Mexico City. He left on Friday afternoon and arrived home in Mexico City on Saturday evening. (with the salon supplies and instruments!)

Thank You
This trip was so much bigger than two guys and a van. It is the story of God told through many people. From those who gave financially to make this all happen, to those who provided supplies, to those who shared this story with friends and lifted the entire trip up in prayer. It amazes me that so many people, from all walks of life and all different parts of the world, could feel led to be part of this incredible journey. Thank you to each and every one of you who contributed in some way. We may never know how many lives were and will be touched by your generosity, but you can have faith that whatever you gave will be used in ways none of us could ever imagine.

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