I want to preface this post by saying that this is purely MY experience. This is not a reflection on my missions organization or my family. This is not a political commentary on Mexico. This is a story of my personal experience living in Mexico City, and should not be construed in any other light.
We lived in Mexico City as missionaries for 2 years. It is a hard city to live in. But we aren’t complainers and we aren’t quitters. We made a commitment to God and we were going to stay there until God moved us on. But living in a place where the bad guys had police badges and guns was stressful. OK, that’s probably the understatement of the century! It was super scary sometimes! Living in a society controlled by corruption meant living with a plan B always in play.
Every time we set foot outside our house, we were vulnerable. At any moment while driving our car we could be stopped by the police. Usually they wanted money. Eventually we learned enough Spanish to be able to argue that we knew the law, we knew our rights, and we knew that they couldn’t do what they are doing. Sometimes it worked. A few times we were sure that these guys were not really police and that they were trying to steal our car! Once a guy said, “I have a gun! You have to obey me!” We had our kids in the car. I went BALLISTIC! I’m not sure what all I said in Spanish, but the guy gave back our papers and we drove on. I was shaking with rage.
When I was alone, I worried. I made a plan B every where I went. I felt like a spy always scoping out the exits and paying attention to who came and went. I never let my kids out of my sight. (While we lived there the US State Department moved Mexico to the #1 spot in the list of countries who kidnap Americans. We moved ahead of Colombia.) I always left the “escape hatch” open. Being stuck in traffic always left me feeling especially vulnerable. There was very little wiggle room in that plan B. I decided that if I was ever car-jacked, I would get out of the car and just let them take it. But if my kids were with me, that complicated the matter since I wasn’t going to leave them. I was not opposed to running down bad guys with my missionary vehicle if it meant saving my children. We installed a panic button on our car alarm. If we hit the button, the car would run for 10 minutes and then automatically shut off. Plan B was always clear in my mind wherever I went.
Even inside our house we were vulnerable! Our house was robbed once, fortunately we weren’t home at the time. After the robbery we installed an alarm system in the house. It went off sometimes in the night. Once we heard someone down by the kitchen, the dog went nuts and the alarm went off. Someone had tried to get in the house while we were sleeping! Our home alarm had a panic button too. In case anyone was holding a gun to your head and making you type in the “off” code, you would type in the panic code instead. The alarm looked like it shut off, but actually it called the police. That did not make me feel any better.
I was scared of the police. Sometimes at night the police would come by and siphon gas out of our car, and there was nothing we could do about it aside from installing a lock on our gas cap. When our house was broken into we called our friends down the street first and asked if they thought we should call the police. For our insurance company we needed a police report, so we called them. We had to pay bribes at the police station to get them to do their job and release the report to us. Even inside the house, I was scared of the police.
When Josh was out alone, I worried too. If he was ever late, and sometimes he was hours late, he was very likely being held up by the police at some check point. I had a plan B in my mind in case someday he just didn’t come home. I knew who I would call, I knew where the passports were, and I knew how I would get my kids back to America safely. Plan B was always in play.
When we finally returned to America for our furlough year I was still very skittish around the police. Every time I saw a police car on the side of the road my heart would clench and I would advert my eyes. I would hold my breath until we passed safely by. It took me a long, long time to trust the police again.
Back home in America I started noticing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. Because we were traveling around to churches and talking about our ministry in Mexico I had a portion of our story that I could tell without crying, but push me beyond that point and the tears would well up in my eyes. I always felt like the tears were very close to the surface but I couldn’t verbalize “Why?”. It’s been more than 3 years now since we lived in Mexico and I am just now feeling like I’m ready to talk more about these experiences without crying. It no longer matters to me how this story sounds to others, it’s my story. No one can tell me that I over reacted or blew things out of proportion, you weren’t there. It’s my story. Taking ownership of my story has helped me feel less like a victim and more in control of how I react, what I tell, and in what form I tell it. It’s my story and I’m ready to tell it.