“Señora, you have to come see! You have to come see!”
A fist banged loudly against our metal gate in the small Mexican town where my family and I live. Our neighbor Juan’s frantic exclamations clamored as urgently as his forceful pounding. I ran towards the sound of his panicked voice. As I opened the door, Juan’s chest was heaving, with his arm extended and his fingers pointing to the south.
“Look, Señora!” he shouted. My eyes riveted to the obvious reason for concern, the volcano at which I had looked through my window for years. Popocatepetl was erupting.
I stood mesmerized, watching the light flashes reflect across the sky. It felt otherworldly to hear rumblings coming from the volcano’s core. It was a full-tilt, real-time, heart-in-your-throat marvel. Seeing smoke, fire, and red lava careening down slopes toward villages I had once visited caused me to exclaim, “Juan! There are people living on the slope of the volcano! How can they possibly escape in time?”
That mid-December night, on that volcano slope, the miracle began…and it was coming my way.
Francisco frantically lifted his wife and children into the rickety truck’s cabin. He had heard the rumbling for some time but did not pay heed to the warnings until the entire foundation of his adobe home began to shake. He could not think of any options for safety until he remembered a man who had visited him years before to buy wood to build a home. Francisco remembered this man sitting in the cooking hut telling stories that made the whole family laugh. That same man also talked to Francisco about real love—about God’s love and certain provision. Francisco thrust the stickshift of his truck into gear. He knew where he had to go.
Francisco stood solitarily at our gate. We asked with great concern about his home and family. It appeared to us that Francisco was uncomfortable, evading an answer. If we could only accompany him to his well-worn truck, he indicated. The rickety wooden sides of the truck bed with a tarp covering looked normal enough; but then Francisco threw the covering back. There, standing and staring at us, were thirty men, women, and children, plus one lone lamb, and not one of the bunch was making a sound. They all stood staring quietly and expectantly at my husband and me.
“My family,” Francisco muttered. “I mean, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, some neighbors, and, well, a lot of my family.”
My husband surmised the reason for those expectant looks and faced me with the question, “Denise, what would you say if we took them all in, until this volcano thing—um—blows over?” Those few words were good enough for Francisco, who apparently was listening very closely. He immediately yelled, “Everyone get down! Everyone get out!” And the quietness itself erupted into a spirit akin to “Yippee!” as they all piled out.
Where would we put thirty additional and suddenly homeless people this Christmas? Francisco eyed the old deteriorating brick-built rooms that we used to live in. My husband gave a ‘make-yourself-at-home’ nod, and the energetic sweeping and organizing began. Firewood left over from past felled trees was gathered. Outdoor cook fires began burning to provide warmth and to help in food preparation.
My self-questioning began. Feed them what? Keep them warm as they slept how? Get enough water for drinking where? How many mats to sleep on and, for that matter, how many rolls of toilet tissue? How much of every staple was needed and for how long? The government gave no prediction as to when people could return to their homes. I told my husband, “This could be one long haul.” God provides for the birds of the air, I knew, but the supplying of these needs was one tall order for my faith.
The first night a few blankets on cement floors had to suffice for warmth. Families huddled. In the morning, I went from person to person pouring them hot coffee.
“What’s this?” I puzzled one morning. I did not recognize even half of these people! Francisco strolled, by smiling confidently.
“Señora, last night about 35 more relatives arrived. We didn’t want to wake you. Not to worry! We’re all settled. Everyone is with his family members. We told them that you believed in God and that we would all be taken care of.”
Oh my, I thought, weakly. Lord, how much can a few cups of coffee and a meager meal s-t-r-e-t-c-h? As if reading my thoughts, my teenage daughter, Alexa, bounded over.
“Mom! Not to worry! I’ll find us some help!” She mobilized with a capital M. People all over began to hear of and want to help the ‘volcano people.’ Even a center for drug-rehabilitation sent aid from their meager resources because “we know what it is like to be in need.” Doctors set up a little clinic in our front room for the runny-nosed children and adults with ailments. A couple who had a bumper crop sent burlap sacks full of blue corn over for the constant making of tortillas by the displaced women. Mere acquaintances brought a total of 30 small mattresses and blankets. Every bike we had was ridden, every soccer ball we had was kicked, every song we knew was sung, and every game we knew was played.
As Christmas Eve neared, the need for the traditional festive meal was something I could not even fathom being able to pull off. My daughter again chimed, “Mom, not to worry!” Her teenage friends showed up on their vacation time, eager to serve. She found a warm-hearted businesswoman who supplied the complete Christmas meal and a chef who prepared traditional Christmas punch. There were even leftovers! Amazing. It was as if the Lord said literally, “Open thy mouth and I will fill it.”
That Christmas, as we finished eating on donated tables that dotted the whole yard, my husband stood up and opened the Bible. Everyone quieted down. He shared of God’s provision for our great spiritual need that first Christmas by sending Christ to be born a Savior. All were listening, even the children, so intent. The Christmas message came through clearly—God was reaching out to each heart with an entreaty to let Him be real, using a volcanic rumble to help them face any deep crater they had in their own lives without Him. It was a sobering moment. Even today they recall that Christmas Eve as one of the most meaningful of their lives.
Piñatas were then brought out for the children. In the midst of the festivities, Francisco approached us.
“Señores, you know the lamb we brought? It’s only a humble gift, but it is all we have. Allow us to make a meal for you, because this Christmas you gave us all a home when we could not be in our own.”
They sacrificed that lamb on New Year’s Eve for us. What a touching act, knowing that the Christ child came to be born, grow, and then die as the sacrificial lamb bringing the peace of God to all who accept His heavenly gift.
My previous hopes for the gift of a special intimate Christmas with my own family had been exchanged for an unforgettable yuletide with a bigger, greater family. Every need had been taken care of. Three weeks later our 65 new friends were given the green light by the Mexican government to return home. Each one took back a surplus of clothes, food, blankets, and mattresses. As the trucks left, many hands waved “Adios,” and many voices shouted “Gracias!” My sister-in-law came and put her arm gently around me, saying “Denise, just look at how God provided for them all!” The miracle was evident; I started to cry, and I thought to myself, Not to worry.