By Lanita Medina
Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless
me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me
. . .’” I Chron. 4:10
The truck bounced from one side of the road to the other, tossing and jolting those of us who couldn't resist a chance to ride in the back of an open truck. Our legs felt like Jello and our bones loosened from their joints - but oh! the magnificent views! Majestic mountains towering above us - still clouded in mist even on this warm sunny day. How in the world did these people find THIS place to live? I wondered aloud.
It took us 2½ hours to ride 16 miles on the newly-completed dirt and rock road, crossing several rivers and over two mountain passes. When we arrived, we had no doubt that this was the end of the road. There was nowhere else to go - but up those steep cliffs! Nestled at the base of that giant mountain with three peaks soaring into the clouds, in the village of San Lorenzo, we met Dionisio López.
When we asked him how he ended up there, Dionisio said “Well, as a young man my father worked on a large ‘Finca’ (farm) where the owner treated him very badly. Even though he worked very hard, they wouldn't give him enough food. And whenever anything went wrong, he was blamed and ridiculed - and of course, severely punished. One day when the Finca owner threatened to use a bull whip on him, my father decided he'd had enough. ‘I’ll go far away and start my own village’ he determined.
“So off he went, deep into jungle-covered mountain ranges. On and on he continued - looking for a place far away from the Finca. When he got to the base of this giant mountain, he saw the potential for agriculture – many wild edible plants already grew here in abundance. The soil looked good for growing corn, beans, bananas, oranges and other crops. The virgin jungles were full of monkeys, wild pigs, deer, colorful birds, giant snails and other wildlife. So in 1939 he started the town of San Lorenzo, naming it after the saint that supposedly produces abundant harvests.”
To get to the nearest road to the city, folks there had to walk for five days. Several times a year some of the men hiked out to town to sell beans and buy necessities - only what could be brought in on their backs. Soon the town grew, Dionisio’s family grew, trails were forged and mules were purchased to make their lives a bit easier.
In keeping with their traditions, the inhabitants felt the need of a visible “god” to provide protection, health and prosperity. So they traded beans, corn and cash for a wooden image of San Lorenzo and built a chapel to keep it in.
Then in 1963 Dionisio’s father became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. As time went by, the village grew to over 600 inhabitants, and eventually more than 400 of them became Adventist believers. The image of San Lorenzo was forgotten. The chapel tumbled down and the image was badly damaged by rot and termites. When someone stole the image, nobody bothered to try to get it back. They figured that if it couldn’t keep itself from deteriorating or even being stolen, how could it have power to protect their village?
In 1985, Dionisio visited Linda Vista College, where my brother Fred Adams and his family served as missionaries, in Chiapas, Mexico. “I came out here to see if you can help us. I live ‘way back in the hills. It took me six hours of hiking to get to the road, then two hours on the bus, and another walk down to this campus to get to your house. We recently started a school, and we need a piano.”
My brother stood there looking at this man with clean but well-worn clothing, and questioned, “a PIANO?” “Oh yes!” replied Dionisio, his eyes sparkling. “We want our school to have the best, and I've heard that pianos are very nice for music and to attract students.” “And tell me Dionisio, HOW could you possibly get a piano to your village, if there is no way in by vehicle???”
Without hesitation, Dionisio replied “Well, how about a HELICOPTER? I've heard helicopters can do things like that . . . .” So began my brother's friendship with Dionisio. This Chamula Indian peasant, living out in the middle of nowhere, speaking Spanish as a second language (Tzotzil is his native dialect) had BIG DREAMS. He wanted this school to provide a high quality Christian education to kids in his village and surrounding communities. And he wasn't just going to have a few kids pile into someone's house and that was it. NO! School buildings, and a PIANO. How did he even know what a helicopter was anyway?
Several years later my brother Fred hiked into this jungle village to check the situation out. (Exactly a month later Fred became paralyzed in a construction accident at Linda Vista). Sure enough, a large area of jungle between San Lorenzo and the mountain had been cleared, and with much work and sweat they had built their little school.
Not only that, Dionisio had located other sources of help. How did he find them? By pursuing his dream, persevering and asking over and over. Eventually he contacted Lynden Bechtel, based at Bella Vista clinic & school where MPI originated. Lynden and a male nurse traveled 8 hours by road, then hiked 6 hours into San Lorenzo to check out Dionisio’s ambitious project for themselves. “We can come help you and bring supplies if you build an airstrip” Lynden stated.
“YOU GOT IT!” exclaimed Dionisio. Right away volunteers from several nearby villages cleared trees, rocks and dirt creating an uphill, and rather perilous, crude runway, at the base of that mountain. Four months later they sent out a message, “We have an airstrip for you to land your little plane now!”
San Lorenzo, a village with no road, where people struggled to keep food in their tummies. They worked hard to grow their crops. But Dionisio's dad, from the beginning when he decided to strike out on his own, had BIG DREAMS. He saw the BIG PICTURE. Sadly, he passed away 25 years ago.
But now Dionisio has expanded on his father’s dreams. He managed to build a school that has been in operation for more than 22 years. He dared to speak to high officials in the capitol city for accreditation. Why should he be afraid? After all, he started dreaming for a piano to be dropped off by a helicopter when he himself didn't even have a decent house to live in! Because he wanted his people to receive quality Christian education.
And if you met Dionisio today, you’d still see a man who dreams big and pursues his goals - though some may take many years and countless obstacles to overcome. If you look at what he has accomplished for others with those dreams, this is what you will see: a thriving Elementary and Secondary school with nearly 150 students. Dozens of students from San Lorenzo continued their studies elsewhere and became teachers. Now they are working in other remote villages, or in large city schools. Other San Lorenzo graduates include nurses, pastors, lawyers, accountants - one works for a BIG company, and countless others who are working on their Master's degrees at various Universities.
Did Dionisio ever get the piano he wanted so badly for his school? Yes and no. He never got a big heavy piano delivered by helicopter. But a sponsor from the U.S. provided a high quality battery-powered electronic keyboard, which is in constant use at the school and two village churches. So now when you visit San Lorenzo, you can enjoy not only the sounds of a piano, but over 100 other instruments as well, thanks to the miracle of electronics.
Do you dream big? In gratefulness for the blessings you have received, I challenge you to invest your time, your money and yourself in helping people throughout the world better themselves. You will find it SO REWARDING to be involved in projects that have endless possibilities!
Lanita Medina wrote this story shortly after an unforgettable trip to Mexico where she spent several days in San Lorenzo with a group of volunteers from Mission Projects, Inc. Lanita and her family live in Camden, Maine where she raises funds for missions by having "Get Togethers" and selling Creative Memories scrapbooking supplies.
note: from the results noted in the above story, you can get a
better picture of why we feel so strongly about supporting San
Lorenzo school. MPI’s Student Aid program
provides summer school scholarships at Linda Vista University so the
teachers can complete their degrees. Your support for San Lorenzo
School and Worthy Student Aid is a very worthwhile investment!
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