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It was there in the grip of a mid-summer day that I found Hermano Masa standing near a mulberry tree. Against all expectations, he was not sheltering in the scanty shade but standing in the full glare of the sun. His forehead glistened with sweat; his shirt was dark with it. His face was full of fear.
This was the first time we had seen one another since the previous Christmas. I was delighted to find him at Cone Oasis, where I was working as a volunteer River Missionary for the summer. Though I had only known him for a week that Christmas, it felt as though I was greeting a long-lost friend.
All attempts to engage him in conversation, however, fell on deaf ears. He barely acknowledged me as he gestured to the tree. His short round figure was bent low. In that moment, he seemed the perfect incarnation of Cervantes’ Sancho Panza to me. Brother Masa whispered urgently to me in a voice so low that I had to step close to hear, "Vibora! Ten cuidado, hermano, hay una vibora en el arbol!" "Snake! Be careful, there is a snake in that tree!"
Try as I might, I could see no snake in the tree. Eventually, I persuaded him to get out of the heat and into the cafeteria. Though our location changed, the topic of conversation remained the same. It was clear that he remembered me from the group of students from *La Hora Bautista who had taken a mission trip to Charco Azul, a tiny village in Mexico where Brother Masa served as the pastor of a small Baptist church.
All he wanted to talk about at that moment, however, was the snake in the mulberry tree. I can be as fearful of snakes as anyone. At Camp Cone oasis, however, we were surrounded by knowledgeable individuals, plenty of tools to dispatch the serpent if indeed, it proved to be venomous, and transportation if the worst should happen. It seemed to me that the snake had more to fear from us than we from it. I tried my best to contain my amusement.
When our group of students worked with him seven months earlier, we had come to admire our stout, snaggle-toothed companion. He was gentle, eager to help and fiercely proud of the work that was being carried on at Charco Azul.
He was also down at heart.
The conditions in which he and his family lived were primitive at best. The food they shared with us was basic, and it was apparent that they were stretching their supply when they insisted on extending hospitality to us.
Brother Masa was working in a lonely outpost with a tiny group of believers. Just a few weeks prior to our arrival, he was assaulted by some local toughs. They told the "aleluya" to leave town. They also knocked out a tooth and bruised his ribs. He was still having trouble getting around when we arrived to hold the revival and vacation bible school. As we prepared to leave, he told us with much emotion about how our visit had encouraged him. He felt renewed in his desire to continue the work.
I often think of Hermano Masa when circumstances seem difficult- far more than the briefness of our association could justify. When I do I am challenged to put my troubles into perspective, and I want to make him proud of the way I've carried on with the gospel.
Thanks for stopping by to read this essay. I would love it if you left a comment about the person/s in your past who gives you a sense of encouragement and inspiring challenge for tough times.
* La Hora Bautista, or 'The Baptist Hour' was an Hispanic religious service organization in existence for many years at Howard Payne University, my alma mater.
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