The setting is our home in Mitla, March 1999. Bethel Temple was sending out their first adult missions team to minister with us in Mexico. This particular team was significant for us for several reasons. That is the church where my husband, Jim, was saved at the age of 27. Our commissioning service was there in 1986. They had given us a baby shower before we left for the field, sending us with clothing for our baby Christopher’s next four years. Now they were coming to Oaxaca, and we could not wait to see them.
The trip was designed to be an intercessory prayer team. In addition to a children’s ministry, their focus was prayer for the unreached people groups of Oaxaca. We called them a ‘Demolition Team,’ since they were tearing down strongholds of the enemy through strategic warfare prayer. It is impossible to measure the damage done to the kingdom of darkness that week, but I want to tell you about the stronghold of pride that was dealt a near-lethal blow in my own life because this team came.
My prideful habit back then was to spend the entire day before a team arrived organizing all the children to help me clean the house. First impressions are vital, I taught them, which meant that we must tidy up and scrub down the house, removing any and all evidence that real people actually live here.
By the time the team was ready to leave at the end of the week, the charade would be over, chaos would have returned, and they would see us as we truly are. It would take no Sherlock Holmes to deduce that seven children ages 13 and younger lived here. Signs of 16 daily dinner guests would also be apparent. The goal, however, was to endear ourselves to the team for a six-day period so that they might still love us even after the truth of our slovenly ways became known.
It sounds so dumb when I read it in print, but this was the game I played with each team—until the infamous Bethel Temple team. The one team I actually knew. The one team I cared most desperately to impress with my pretense of having life under control.
Saturday, the day of their scheduled arrival, we cleaned our house, tidied the yard, prepared the different guest quarters, mixed the egg casserole and bought fresh fruit for Sunday brunch, and printed out their itinerary for the week. All was well until we got the phone call. The team had been delayed due to a snowstorm in Cleveland. By the time they got to Houston, they had missed their connecting flight. They would come as soon as they could book alternate flights to Mexico.
Oh well, these things happen. We went to bed that night disappointed, but thankful that our friends were safe in Houston and eager for their eventual arrival sometime the next day. Sunday morning we woke up as usual, but then it hit me. The team was supposed to do a huge children’s outreach at our local church that afternoon!
The rest of the day is a blur, but I remember clearly the weight of responsibility to organize and pull off an activity for 65 children with all the materials packed in suitcases still in Houston. I contacted some Mexican friends to come to my rescue, and then we began delegating all the other tasks to my ‘older’ children, ages 10, almost 12, and 13.
Remembering how other teams had someone dressed like a clown, giving out candy and balloons, the boys began ransacking clothes and dress-up drawers, trying on any odd assortment of outfits that might remotely resemble a clown. Another child dumped the junk drawer in search of crayons, scissors, and any arts and craft materials. I was in the kitchen popping popcorn and filling individual plastic bags. Hannah, at age seven, was responsible (?) for keeping the babies (aged four months, two, and three) happy. Happy to them apparently meant destroying all our hard work from the day before, scattering toys far and wide.
By the time we left for the church, the house was in shambles. A complete, certified wreck. The women of the church saved the day and made the outreach a success even without the gift bags we intended to distribute.
My husband stayed home to wait for the team’s phone call from Mexico City to verify the hour of their arrival. Bless his heart, I am sure he made a valiant effort to restore order to our house, but there was only so much one person could accomplish in the one short hour he had before he had to leave. He focused on the main living areas and closed off the rest of the rooms.
Leaving my children at the outreach with the Salvador (Savior in English, which is a fitting name) family in charge, I followed my husband to the city in a separate vehicle. For an hour I tried to dream up some way to salvage my pride once the team would see the state of my cluttered house. The other embarrassing matter to consider was dinner. Instead of serving the lovely meal I had planned but had had no time to prepare, I would be forced to serve the reheated (flat by now) egg casserole, black beans, and fruit salad that were supposed to have been their breakfast that morning.
When we pulled into the airport parking lot, I suggested to my husband that we split the team up so that all the ladies were with me in the van and the men were with him in the rusty Bronco. That gave me one hour in transit to win their hearts, explain my plight, and prepare them for the disaster that awaited them at home. I lowered their expectations so they might forgive my mess, again finagling to salvage my pride rather than dealing it a death blow once and for all.
The team of course was completely understanding and gracious. Arriving at the house, they pitched in and helped set up banquet tables and chairs under the carport while others helped me throw a meal together.
During the confusion, one of the men requested permission to take pictures and videos. “Of course,” I said, without thinking. Unbeknownst to me, Carl (or was it Charles, his identical twin? I forget…) walked through the house with a video camera, room by messy room, so the folks back home could finally see how the missionaries live!
Yep, that’s it. The day my pride should have shriveled up and died forever. The day all of Bethel Temple walked through my entire house on a huge video screen during a Sunday morning worship service.
If there was any trace of pride left after that day, it certainly is not for lack of God’s diligence and patience to lovingly rid me of my folly
Say it with me now:
“God hates sin.”
“Pride is sin.”
“God hates pride.”