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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Husbands and Wives
Missionaries discover what makes a family.

missionaries with bishop ppe
Missionaries with Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo, LC, of the Cancun-Chetumal Prelature.

By Erin Rockenhaus
A dusty stretch of road lay before us—road that we hadn’t covered yet.  The midday sun’s rays felt like acid on my pale skin.  As I stopped under the shade of a tree, I noticed a little hut off the road, one concrete room and a grass thatched roof.  I heard a swish from behind the tree, and a little girl’s dusty arms clamped around my waist before I could see her face.

“Hello, what is your name?”

No answer.

“Is this your house?”

A sweaty head nods.

 “Can you take me inside? I want to meet your family.”

Another nod.

She grabs me by the hand and pulls me along the little rocky path up to the house.  “Mama, the hermanas are here.”

A weak voice from the room calls me in.  As I step up into the hut onto the concrete floor, I see a spare room with three hammocks hanging from the walls to serve as both beds and chairs. 

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six…little kids encircle us excitedly, talking all at the same time.  In the corner, a shadowy figure is hiding behind a hammock.  That must be the father, I thought, it’s strange that he doesn’t want
men and women wait
Men and women from the town wait outside the new church for the bishop to arrive.
to be seen.  I wondered if he was drunk or if he was just ashamed to present his family to us.

The mom started breastfeeding the toddler as I tried to strike up a conversation.

“Is everything going well for the family?”

A nod.

“The kids are invited to play games at the Church this afternoon at five.”

Another nod.

“Do you need any help around the house? Help with washing or cooking or anything?

She shakes her head.

It was like talking to a person who was half-dead; her eyes stared blankly at the wall.  The kids seemed happy and lively, but I couldn’t make sense of this strange reception. What is going on here?

In the coming weeks, it would all start to make sense. There is pattern in the lives of families in this little town in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. 

In this little village there is not much for the men to do, and men without work means trouble.  And there is trouble…drinking, abuse, boredom, and just giving up. And the women don’t know how to demand more from their men. 

The situation of another couple shows this clearly.  Marta and Pablo live two houses down from the church, a happy couple to all appearances, but Marta has a deep pain inside.  After 12 years and two beautiful little girls, Pablo will not marry her.  She knows the reason. He said it himself one night when a few of us were trying to persuade him to marry, “Hermana, if I marry her, that means I would have to be faithful, and I’m not ready for that.”

Pablo, like many men in this town and everywhere, doesn’t see the point in getting married.  He has all of the benefits of marriage and none of the strings. He can remain a perpetual bachelor, yet can also have the stability of a home and family.  Marta doesn’t know how to change his mind, yet she doesn’t want to leave him after so many years…and then, what about the kids?

Seeing all of this, I wondered where these husbands and wives went astray. The marriage preparation classes I was giving to a 19-year-old couple made my search for an answer even more urgent. I turned over all of my experiences and observations to find the root of the problem, but it was this simple Mayan couple who showed me the way. 

In our last class, we were discussing what Carlos and Beatriz carried with them into the marriage from their families and their culture.  These young people surprised me with their candid answers. 

“I love my family, but I want mine to be different,” Carlos said, “I mean there has to be unity, and we have to be committed to each other.”

“We’ve talked about it, and we want our family to be different.  Not divided by alcohol or drugs, not using each other, and working together,” Beatriz said.

They talked about the machismo in their culture in which the man asserts himself and controls the woman.  They talked about sexual abuse in marriage. They talked about alcoholism, unemployment, infidelity, and bad habits.

A little spark of hope started to burn in my heart from talking with this couple—so young, so many challenges to face, such a long road ahead—yet having discovered their freedom to be different. 

Their relationship had started as a friendship in which the couple, led by Beatriz, made a bold decision. They were going to save sex for marriage. In the year before the wedding, they got to know each other on many levels, and Carlos began to commit more and more until he proposed marriage. It was love, a love that chastity had preserved, and that held a hope of happiness. 

There may be no Camelot here, but there is the simple advantage of starting off right and taking stock of the terrain. Here, I discovered the answer that applies to all cultures and times: change lies in the hearts of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who decide from the start to be different.
Author’s note: This June and July, I spent a month on a humanitarian and evangelizing mission to the Mayan part of Mexico with the Mission Youth Corps International Volunteer Program.  The events written above are true, but names are changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.



Related links

Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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