Authors: Rick Bundschuh
“Yeahâ¦if I had qualified, I wouldn't be on this trip.”
“Could've saved us a lot of work,” Kai said, grinning at Dano. But Dano was still sleeping soundly.
Soon the others fell back to sleep, and Bethany continued to watch the California coastline as the vans continued south toward San Diego and the Mexican border.
By the time they reached the United StatesMexico border, most of the kids were awake. The border crossing went pretty smoothly, but the sudden change at the border from the US side to the hardscrabble town pressed up against the edge of a large steel fence shocked many of the kids into silence.
It seems like we've stepped into another world,
Bethany thought. With no trees and with cement everywhere, it looked so barren. But almost immediately they entered the busy city traffic of Tijuana.
“Whoa! This is
!” Sarah said about the crazy traffic. Cars zoomed around her on both sides, while she tried to keep up with Mike and Gabe in the vans ahead. She glanced in the rearview mirror with an exasperated sigh.
“Hey, Sarah, maybe you should let me take over from here,” Kai suggested.
“Or me,” Dano piped up. “I know all about nuts.”
“Uh-huh,” Sarah smiled, trying to keep her eyes on the road.
“Yeah, they're real experts,” Bethany added, trying to keep a straight face as they bantered back and forth.
They flashed past dozens of tiny eateries and stands that sold anything you could imagine, from fresh spices to wild-looking guitars to jewelry, clothes, and beautiful pottery. People were everywhere. Color was everywhere. Bethany spotted an enormous fruit market and felt her mouth water.
“If we get the chance, I'm so there,” Bethany said.
“Look at those cool skirts!” Holly said.
“Where?” Monica asked, practically trying to crawl over Malia and Jenna for a peek. The girls groaned in unison and then laughed.
“Monica, you're too much,” Jenna chuckled.
“What? So I like clothes. What girl doesn't?”
“This isn't exactly going to be fashion week in New York,” Bethany teased as the vans turned down an old dusty road, slowing to a stop in front of a slightly crumbling but tidy-looking two-story building.
“Not exactly Kansas either, Dorothy,” Kai said under his breath as they all took in the iron bars on every window. A wild-looking dog peered at them from the side of the dusty, dinged up SUV parked next to the building.
“Wow,” Bethany said, feeling her nervousness return as she looked at the poverty around them. She felt her spirits rise again at the sight of a friendly looking couple exiting the house to greet them.
“Okay, gang, let's go meet our hosts,” Sarah said with a smile as she pulled her keys from the ignition.
“Come on, Toto,” Bethany called over her shoulder to Kai as she, Holly, and the other girls scrambled for the door. Dano's laughter followed them out of the van.
Eddie and Maggie Passmore were about as nice as you could get, Bethany thought as Maggie pulled away from hugging her and Eddie grabbed her hand in a warm, energetic handshake. She'd been the last in line for the welcome, but they didn't seem to have lost their enthusiasm.
“So, are you ready for the tour?” Eddie asked with a broad smile.
“Oh, she's ready,” Kai said dryly as Eddie led them into a large room filled with a mismatch of used sofas and chairs parked on a worn but clean carpet.
“Our strategy room,” Eddie provided. “It's not exactly the Hilton, but it works.”
“What made you pick Mexico?” Bethany asked as he led them out of the main room to the lower part of the dorm that held the office and a kitchen large enough for visiting groups to prepare meals.
“I first visited here when I was a teenager,” he replied, glancing around at the group. “Probably about Kai and Dano's ageâyou two are about sixteen, right?” The boys nodded. “It really got in my blood. I mean, no matter where I went after that, through college to being a youth pastorâ¦I just couldn't get these people out of my mind. The next time I visited with Maggie, God opened the doors for us in such a big way that there was no doubt
he wanted us.” Eddie smiled and shook his head, giving Maggie a look that said it still amazed him.
“Let's show them where they'll be sleeping,” Maggie said with a smile of her own as she led the tired but curious group upstairs.
The upper part of the dorm was divided into two large sleeping areas; one for guys and one for girls, with shower facilities for both. Duffel bags began to drop around them like flies as Bethany and the girls rushed to claim the bunks they wanted. They laughed, hearing the commotion from the boys' side. They could hear Mike say, “Come on, guys, age has priority!”
“How much you want to bet Dano gets whatever bunk he wants?” Bethany grinned.
“If I was as big as a giant, I know I'd get the bunk I wanted,” Holly said as she flopped onto her bed. “I feel like I could sleep forever.”
“Me too,” Malia yawned.
“Not me,” Monica said. “This neighborhood makes me nervous.”
“Getting your nails done makes you nervous,” Jenna said, and Monica threw a pillow at her.
“Well, there's no way I can sleep yet. I'm going to see if I can find Sarah,” Bethany said, rising from her bunk.
“Don't volunteer me for anything crazy until you, like,
me first,” Holly called after her as she headed for the door.
“That goes double for the rest of us,” Malia said, getting nods of agreement from Jenna and Monica.
“Are you talking to me?” Bethany said as she blinked innocently and then hurried to shut the door behind her before anyone could respond.
Chuckling to herself, she jogged down the stairs, turned the corner, and almost ran right into Eddie as he rounded the corner from the opposite direction. They both laughed.
“Almost a head-on collision,” Eddie said, grinning.
“Oh man, you aren't kidding!” She glanced behind Eddie. “I was looking for Sarah. Have you seen her?”
Eddie nodded. “As a matter of fact, Maggie took her on a tour of the neighborhood.”
“I was going to ask her if we could go running tomorrow morning.”
“You mean your whole group?”
“Well, probably just us girls,” Bethany said, then chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “Or at the very least, me and Holly.” She grinned inwardly.
“You're a surfer, right?”
“Yeah,” Bethany nodded shyly. “I kind of like to keep up on my training.” She left out the part about running helping her nerves over the mission trip.
“Nothing wrong with that,” Eddie said amiably. “I used to run myselfâthough it's been a while.” He patted his stomach, and Bethany smiled.
“Tell you what: it's not that great of a neighborhood for you girls to go running in alone. But if you really want to go, I'll come around 6:30 a.m. and run with you.”
“Really? You don't mind?”
“Maggie will thank you; she's been after me to get back into running. I'm still carrying around all the stuff I ate at Christmastime.”
“Okay then, it's a deal,” Bethany said happily. “I'll set the alarm on my watch.”
“Don't forget the time change. And I'll bring the stick.”
“A stick? What for?”
“Ah, if you're going to go for a jog around here, carrying a stick with you is a good idea.”
“For muggers?” Bethany asked worriedly. Holly might forgive her for an early morning run, but not for a mugger.
kind,” Eddie laughed. “The stray dogs around here can sometimes get a little too close for comfort.”
Bethany nodded casually, but her mind raced.
What have I got us into now, Holly?
she thought with a twinge of doubtânot just about the runâbut the whole trip. Then she remembered her dad's words just before she got on the plane: “Just trust in God and let him lead you, Bethany. He's the best father any of us could ever imagine having.”
Eduardo shot up from the pallet he had been sleeping on and looked around. It was dark, but he knew if he reached out his arm he could touch the cot his mother and sister slept on, knew that the other two cots his four brothers shared would be just beyond that. He put his hand to his chest, feeling his heart still racing from the dream. And what a good dream it was!
He had been running down a beautiful soccer field. So much green! He had never seen that much green in one place. He grinned to himself, remembering how he scored a goal for his team and how good it felt when his teammates thumped his back with congratulations. His smile faded as he recalled searching for his father's face in the stand filled with people.
For just a moment, he thought he'd spotted him when he saw a man stand up and begin to walk toward him through the crowd. But people kept getting in his way, and no matter how hard Eduardo squinted, he couldn't make out the man's face.
Eduardo shivered but resisted the urge to crawl onto his mother's cot. If his brothers woke up and saw him there, he would never hear the end of it. They would say he was
to dream that he would do anything other than rummage through other people's garbage. They would also say that he was a baby to call out to a father he had never had.
Eduardo grimaced and curled up on his pallet again. He wasn't a baby. He was five years oldâold enough to know better than to wake his mother, and old enough to know he needed some sleep before he had to get up and go to work again.
Still, he thought as his eyes began to grow heavy with sleep, it would have been nice if he could have seen that man's face. It would be nice to at least
he had a father.
“That's weird,” Bethany said, trying to catch her breath as she and Holly ended their run at the empty space where their van had been parked. “I wonder who left so early?”
“I don't know,” Holly gasped, holding her side. “I didn't think there was anyone besides you who was crazy enough to get up this early.”
“I thought you girls needed a jogging companion, not a racing competitor,” panted an older voice. Bethany and Holly laughed as they spotted Eddie heading toward them in a slow, weary trot.
“We only sprinted the last block when we saw we were back at the dorm,” Bethany grinned. “Thanks for running with us; we wouldn't have felt safe without you.”
“Oh, you're welcome,” Eddie said as he bent over to catch his breath. “This was a good wake-up call for me. I am
out of shape!”
“I shoulda warned you about her,” Holly chuckled. “It's never a run; it's always a race!”
“Hey, did you three enjoy your morning jog around luxurious Tijuana?” Sarah grinned as she stepped onto the porch of the dorm wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt to ward off the cool morning air. In her hand was a large mug of steaming coffee.
Sarah started to say something else when Bethany saw her eyes dart to the empty spot where the van had been.
“Eddie, where's the van?”
“I don't have any idea,” Eddie said, suddenly glancing around. “Did one of your drivers take the kids somewhere?”
“No, the drivers are inside having breakfast!” Sarah said with the start of panic in her voice.
Bethany and Holly looked at each other. They didn't like the sound of the “uh-oh” or the sudden creepy thought that someone dangerous could be nearby.
Sarah hurried back into the dorm, and Eddie, wiping his forehead on his sleeve, followed behind her.
good,” Bethany whispered to Holly as they quickly followed them inside.
“Okay, guys, the blue van is missing,” Sarah announced as she entered the dining room. “Did anyone see anyone strange around the dorm this morning?”
Eyes darted back and forth. A few kids shrugged. Bethany noticed that Monica, Jenna, and Malia were speechless for once as they stared back at Sarah with wide eyes.
“Oh, man. I knew you should've let me be in charge of the van,” Dano said, trying to lighten the mood. Kai elbowed him and gave him a dark, brotherly scowl before he turned to look at Bethany and Holly.
“You guys didn't see anything on your run?” Kai asked Bethany and Holly. They shook their heads.
“Wait a minute. I have the keys,” Sarah said, glancing at Eddie. “How could the van be gone?”
“Hate to say it, but the thieves in this part of the neighborhood can be very resourceful,” Eddie replied sadly. “They can bypass ignition systems with just a screwdriver and a wire cutter.”
“They took a
van!” Mike exclaimed, frustrated.
“Do you have insurance?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah, both here and in the States,” Sarah said slowly, pursing her lips. Bethany knew she was trying to come up with some sort of plan.
“You know, I can't help thinking that we can make something good come out of this,” Eddie said. “Maggie and I always seem to get hit with something crazy just before God leads us to someone in need.”
Trust in God and let him lead you.
Bethany heard her dad's voice whisper through her mind. In spite of her fears of the unknown, she said a quick prayer that God would lead Sarahâwould lead them allâto wherever it was that they needed to be.
“Okay,” Sarah said finally. “We might have to cram people in or shuttle, but I think we should try to stick with our plans.”
“That's the spirit!” Eddie smiled. “I think this would be a good time for us to pray.”
“A five-minute time limit for showers is
,” Monica grumbled as she strolled into their dorm room with a towel on her head.
“From the wettest place on earth to the driest place on earth,” Jenna said, digging through her duffel bag.