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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Death Comes for the Prince
Lessons learned from my month with the Mayans of Mexico

Missionaries Mariah Wondersee and Paty Abreu with children from the village.

By Erin Rockenhaus

Pasale. Come in,” Carmen said hurriedly as I stooped to clear the low doorway.  Those doorways were made for the squat and round Maya people, not for a lanky gringa like me.  My head smacked the top of the grass roof anyway as I staggered into the dim hut.  “Pasale.” Carmen motioned me into the cooking-and-eating room and to a cast-iron wood stove.

My visit was unannounced.  I plopped the refrigerated food bags on her table—dinner to be heated for my group of hungry missionaries who had spent all day painting and cementing the village Church.  She hurriedly stoked the fire with sticks and logs and poured oil in the skillet to fry the taquitos.  She was used to these types of visits from strangers who had been rotating in and out of her village since the spring for the church building project. 

“Carmen, really, I can cook them.  I know you still need to make dinner for the family, and it’s already almost nine,” I insisted, as I tried to take over at the stove.

Her plain stare made me understand that she wasn’t moving.  This was her kitchen, and I was the guest.

The figures in the next
Missionaries on a day of work in front of the church.
room looked up from the hammocks in which they were lounging, and slowly decided to expend the energy to move.  I turned to see a large shadow crossing the doorway.

“Hola, Señor…” I said as Carmen’s husband pulled up a stool right in front of me on the dirt floor and smiled drowsily at me. 

Mario seemed to have a placid temperament, except when he was drunk, and usually could be seen sitting around the house or in the front yard.

Hermana, I was just remembering a Mayan legend…”  A twinge of fear welled up in my throat.  I knew that I could be here all night if I wasn’t careful.  But, I was curious too.

“Sure, while the taquitos are warming, but I have to take them to the missionaries for dinner when they’re hot.”

“Look, hermana, it is an old legend told by my people, and it goes like this… A prince was born, the only son of a long line of kings, but both his father and his mother died that same night.  No other kings could be found to adopt the child, so the steward looked everywhere to find a noble person to be the godfather of the
A little girl invites the missionaries in to a house in the village.
prince.  The steward found no one, so he made a deal with Señor Death.  Yes, Death agreed and had pity on the little child. 

Time passed and the child grew into a youth and his godfather decided to give him a special treat for his birthday.  He showed him the door to the afterlife, and they entered a place full of candles.

‘Son, each of these candles is the life light of a person.  You see, some are shorter and some are bigger and brighter.  When their candle dies, so do they.’

‘But, Señor, which candle is mine?’

‘Here is yours…’

The prince saw a small, dim candle. His heart fell. 

When his Godfather turned away, the boy switched that candle’s place with another larger candle.

Without even turning around again, Señor Death said, ‘Changing the place will not change your fate.  Each person only has the life time that is his. But, let me give you a gift, my Son, you will have the gift of healing.  If you touch a sick person, they will continue to live, but if you see my face at the foot of the bed, that person’s time is up forever. No healing will be possible.’

It was not long before the young prince found a beautiful princess and fell in love.  When one day she feel deathly ill, the prince came to heal her.  He saw the shadow of Death coming from below her feet, and quickly turned her bed around put himself in the way of Death’s arrival.

‘Wait, you must not take her.  There must be some way to extend her life candle, Señor…’

‘There is a way, Son.  I can give her from your life candle, but you will no longer be immortal as you were before.’


‘Yes, the candle I showed you before was not yours.  Yours was a candle that never ran low.’

A clank came from the stove, and I jerked upright on my stool.  Carmen’s distracted voice interrupted, “The food is ready, hermana.”

Mario’s eyes flashed intently, “What do you think he did?”

“Of course he gave his life for her,” I quipped, thinking this was the only right answer.

“Yes, that’s right…”

“Exactly, because, love is worth it.  Love gives meaning to life,” I blurted out, surprised at the force and feeling with which the words came.

Mario and Carmen stared at me. These people are very hard to read, I thought.

I smiled and shrugged, thanked my host for his very interesting tale, and got up to give Carmen a hand serving the platters.

Walking back with my steaming load of sweet smelling corn taquitos, I looked up at the clear starlit night and let the tropical breeze massage my neck.  It’s true, I mused, it’s not romance. The Mayans knew more than how to count and look at the stars.  I don’t live in a fairy tale. I’ve touched it, I’ve tasted it. An eternal life without love would be hell. Love means choosing to give up your “life,” to give of yourself.
That night, the taquitos tasted especially good, after a day of hard labor and of many visits paid to the people to bring them comfort and company. I went to bed happy for having given a day of my life’s candle in love.

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 account written above is 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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