Running South - Research Trip

(More pictures and background notes are in the Kindle/iBooks Running South -Annotated version)

God’s Call









Don:

I felt God telling me, “Don’t sit in your office and write this novel, go live out the story.”

That was a big challenge because my story was about a girl who hitchhikes to Peru. I’m not a girl and Peru was five thousand miles away—five thousand dangerous miles.

Maybe I didn’t hear God clearly, I reasoned.

Than night, my wife and I watched a movie, Nim’s Island. A writer with a phobia of leaving her house had to go to an island in the South Pacific to get past writer's block. Whoa, that was me.

Now I knew the Lord wanted me to go. But what about the kidnappings we hear about? You know, where bandits abduct skinny White tourists and demand ransom from their families.

I called a friend I’d ministered with in India and Albania.

“Hey Grady, would you be willing to hitchhike with me through Latin America? I need a body guard.”

He laughed. I was serious.

“I have to report to Athletes in Action, Albania in two months. Could we be back by then?”

Without time to second guess God again, we pulled on backpacks, stepped across the border, and stuck our thumbs out.

I’ll let Grady tell the next part.

Mexico

Grady:

Amidst a sea of big rigs lined up on the Nogales border town, Don and I grabbed our gear and looked at each other with anxious grins, uncertain of what and who we would come across next. We had prayed earlier the Lord would provide a ride for our 1,600 mile journey south to Mexico City. People back home were also praying.

Don popped up to the passenger window of Evarardo’s 18 wheeler, and asked for a ride.

“No,” said Everardo.

His suspicion was appropriate, considering the four times he had pistols pointed to his head along the Mexican highways. Later, he came down to speak with us. He realized we weren’t a threat and agreed to give us a ride. Guess where he was going? Yep, Mexico City! He said God told him to take us.

Everardo was a joy to ride with. He insisted we have the best sleeping arrangements in the cab. He put a cooler between the two front seats and slept across them. He averaged four to five hours of sleep a night before he was off to work again.

He invited us to his home and we had a wonderful time with his family. By the time we left, we really felt like we were a part of the family.

Whenever we had meals together, Everardo insisted on paying. This was an argument he always won. He even paid for our taxi cab to get from downtown Mexico City to our hostel! What a guy!

We were blown away by how everything worked out.




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Interview With a Prostitute




Rooftop Prison


Left to right: Grady, Paul, Don, Xiomara, Aurora
Don:

We arrived in Mexico City on a Saturday with a mission to interview a prostitute for the book, but first we wanted to find a church to attend on Sunday morning. Locals could only give general directions. Map in hand, we walked from our hostel, prayed at corners, and got lost.

Grady:

Then a nice man, known to us as the man with two dogs and Jesus in his heart, offered help. He directed us to where a Christian church “might be,” then said, "It doesn’t matter where you go for Jesus is in your heart.”

We couldn’t find the church on Saturday, but on Sunday morning we decided to go back on faith to see if there was something we missed. We peered inside a gate and saw a church setup and a group of people waiting outside.

We were warmly welcomed by the Baptist congregation and really felt the love of God in that place. We got connected with two translators, Aurora and Paul, who we asked to accompany us the next day for the interview with the prostitute.

Don:

Aurora became a character in the Mexico City chapters. She and Paul took us to Casa De Los Amigos (Quaker House) and they directed us to a prostitute corner where we met Xiomara. We paid Xiomara for her time interviewing and used the events from her life for Lexi’s story. Abducted by pimps, held in a rooftop shed with no clothes, escaping naked while her captor was in the toilet—its all true from Xiomara’s life.


Rooftop Prison

Grady:

At the end of our time together, we gave the Gospel to Xhiomara. We shared the story of Jesus' encounter with a prostitute, where He tells her "I don't condemn you. Now, go and sin no more."

We could tell this impacted her, but she was not willing to surrender and trust the Lord. We could tell that she didn't think there was a way out of that lifestyle. I’m sure this is how many woman in prostitution feel. We explained to her there is a way out if she will trust the Lord for her provision, and not rely on her clients.

We are praying for her still, and hope you will join us.


Left to right: Grady, Paul, Don, Xiomara, Aurora




The Wrong Bus Stop




Fellowship with Arturo’s and Anita’s Family
Singing in Arturo's Kitchen

Three wheeled moto-taxi that sounded “like a giant bumble bee”


Scenes from Tepextapuc


From Lexi’s adobe room


Praying for the man who’s wife died


Our hosts, Pastors Lorenzo and Jonas, getting shot at for sharing the Gospel


Rufina & Margarita


Up to the wildflowers on donkeys

Don:

Our next destination was a quaint town outside Oaxaca City. We weren’t sure of the bus connections, but boarded a grinding beater and jiggled down a highway into the dusk. Grady met a girl who gave him directions in Spanish. We thought she said, “Get off when I get off.” But when we stepped off, it was in the middle of nowhere.

What could we do? We began walking beside the dark highway.

Grady:

It’s hard to explain, but I was having a slight sense of despair as we were on our way to this place – wherever it was. Tired from traveling, I was anxious from not knowing how things would work out. My faith was small. I was focused on what I did not know. I believe your prayers helped change my outlook.

Don:

We heard music, Christian music. Then Grady saw a sign for a church. We knew we should follow the music.

Grady:

The believers were in the middle of prayer, so we filed into a pew. I noticed white hands crossed behind a man’s back. Can this be an American? What’s an American doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere?

At the end of the service, we were introduced to Glenn, a cheerful laid-back missionary from the States. He introduced us to Arturo, the pastor of the church. The next morning, we met to discuss ideas for the book and who could fit a character we were looking for. They directed us to Arturo’s sister, Anita.


Fellowship with Arturo’s and Anita’s Family

Singing in Arturo's Kitchen

We interviewed Anita and were glad to have found what we were looking for. She shared her testimony of how she received the Lord, and there was not a dry eye in the room. Her whole family had accepted Christ after her and now her brother and dad were pastors. We spent quality time with their family, and Don spoke at their church on Sunday with a message on forgiveness.

Seeing God provide again and again for what we have needed has been a wonderful thing to be a part of. It has also made me recognize that each new situation requires new faith to believe God for that which is unseen. When God tests us in a situation that requires faith, and we rise to the challenge and stand on faith, then we seem to have gained a new position in our walk with Christ.

Don:

For two weeks we stayed at the orphanage where Anita worked. In the book, this is where we meet Pedra. This little girl and her true life story are central to the novel. From the orphanage we met two pastors who hosted us in the mountain village of Tepextapuc, an exotic setting for Lexi’s saga. All this came about because we got off the bus at the “wrong” place.


Tepextapuc

Grady:

Don said, “we pretty much just stand wherever we are and look stupid, and God seems to bring to us whatever we need.” It’s amazing to see time and time again how God puts us in a place at the exact time we need to be there.


Three wheeled moto-taxi that sounded “like a giant bumble bee”


Scenes from Tepextapuc


From Lexi’s adobe room


Praying for the man who’s wife died


Our hosts, Pastors Lorenzo and Jonas, getting shot at for sharing the Gospel


Rufina & Margarita


Up to the wildflowers on donkeys

We quite often had no idea where we were going, when we would get there, where we’d stay, or how to get to the next place. From the time we left the orphanage, let me show you how it played out.

We were about to leave the pueblo for Oaxaca central, and as we walked out the door, Lynnae and Fairlight, two of the staff members, were headed to Oaxaca central to get groceries. They happened to have two seats available with trunk space which fitted our gear nicely. Thank you God!

While we were on our way to Oaxaca we spoke with Santiago, another orphanage staff member (and a character in the book), and he gave us directions to where we could get a ride to Puerto Escondido (a 7 hour stomach-tumbling trip) so we could continue with the research. The girls dropped us off and we said our good-byes. We went to the store to get lunch and as we walked out, a taxi rolled up and took us to our suburban ride station. We got there 10 minutes before the next bus. We arrived in Puerto Escondido and made the short walk to the hotel Santiago recommended. The hotel happened to be right next to the bus station where we purchased tickets for the next day’s southeastward travel.

We sat on the bus for 15 hours until we reached a city near the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Tired from riding through the night, we were both thinking about a hotel and some rest, but as we got off the bus an agent asked if we were going to Guatemala. The next bus would leave in 10 minutes and go to El Salvador as well. Despite our flesh saying no, we knew the Lord provided the ride and hopped aboard.

26 hours on buses since we left Puerto Escondido, and we made it to San Salvador, El Salvador. We needed a place to stay and there was a hotel adjacent to the bus station that offered discount rates to bus travelers.

All this fit into the novel as Lexi raced through Central America. Thank you God … once again.

Some may read this and think it was all a coincidence, but me … I believe it was from God. Don and I prayed for these things to happen, for the Lord to direct our steps, as he says He will in Proverbs 16:9.




Costa Rica




Diego and his poison dart frog


Hernan & Maria & Family


Dear sweet Hernan - We’re glad he is still alive in real life


Our hostel room


Our ride with the police


Log canoe with a lawnmower engine


Don with Indian children in the Darien Gap


El Real, where they take parties seriously

Don:

Next up was Lexi’s hideout with a family in Costa Rica. Reading Psalms 28, I felt God telling us to wait and he would deliver the right family into our hands. Driving toward the jungle town of Sarapiqui, the Lord sent a rainbow to confirm his guidance.

The road was treacherous, it was raining, and we had a wimpy map. We would come to an intersection and pray about which way to go. The Bambu Hotel in Sarapiqui was our goal. Three hours drive into the night, we passed through Sarapiqui without realizing it. Less than a kilometer later, the road was blocked by a flood. We turned around, confused and sad, and drove back the way we’d come.

In a cluster of buildings, Grady spotted a sign: Bambu Hotel. We had missed Sarapiqui town and the hotel sign, so God turned us around. The next morning there was no flood, no blocked road.

At the Bambu we met Diego before checking in. He was a nature freak and had us exploring poison dart frogs into the night. I still don’t know exactly who Diego was, the nephew of the manager or something like that. He took us under his wing with his excellent English and became Lexi’s love interest in the book. Go, Diego, go!

A boat ride up the river and we met a potential family, but something didn’t feel right. We pressed up the swollen river and the second family provided the ideal hideout.

Grady:

Maria was hospitable from the moment we met her, making us coffee and delicious banana bread, of which I had three pieces. She offered a greeting with a kiss and was perfect. Her husband and his six brothers owned the surrounding land which made the story better considering the brothers would offer protection.

We thanked God he had delivered to us the right family as we waited on Him.


Diego and his poison dart frog


Hernan & Maria & Family


Dear sweet Hernan - We’re glad he is still alive in real life


Darien Gap

Don:

We arrived in Panama City and rented a 4x SUV for the drive south toward the infamous Darien Gap. It was dark and dangerous on the roads so we stopped in a small village about half way to Yaviza. We found a church and worshiped with them, then the pastor took us to a hostel. The room was cheap (I think around $5 p/p), but about as primitive as we would hope to go.

The next day we made it to where the road that runs all the way down from Alaska ends in Yaviza. The police found us wandering in the town and asked us to go the headquarters to register. They hopped in the back of our car and we drove to the riverside station.

After a significant delay, while they sent for the local school teacher who spoke English, we told them about our research for the book and asked if we could park our car in the compound for protection while we went on by boat. Permission granted, along with stern warnings, we found a log canoe with a lawnmower engine connected to a long shaft and a prop on the end.

In El Real we stayed for two nights and, once again, met just the right people for characters in the book. One man, Isaac, made the 50 mile trip from El Real into Columbia through the dangerous drug lord infested Darien Gap at least seven times. He was a great help with information which meant we could write authoritatively about the gap and not have to go through it ourselves.

We drove back up to Panama City and flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador. From there, we rode a bus for 31 hours to Lima, Peru. The landscapes were diverse and fit well into the growing storyline of our project.

El Real, where they take parties seriously

Indian Children in El Real, Panama

El Real, where they take parties seriously




Lima, Peru





Grady:

We showed up at Lima's famous Yellow Cathedral, believing God would provide just the right people for the story as he had countless number of times before.

As Don and I were wondering where we should go to find information, a man in a uniform asked us if he could help us. We told this man, Ricardo, we wanted to speak with a Franciscan monk because that was the last character we needed for the story.

Ricardo was eager to help and coordinated a meeting with Father Abel. The moment we were greeted by this 77 year old, compassionate, joy-filled Priest we knew we had met our man. We explained how the main character was running from bad guys and hides in the catacombs of this cathedral, and would be found by a Priest (now Father Abel) where he would provide refuge for her behind the monastery doors.

Father Abel brought us into the monastery and introduced us to a cooking crew in the kitchen who were preparing a meal that would feed 200 of Lima's poor that afternoon. They demonstrated so much joy that we knew this was the place for Lexi to heal.



Left to Right: Ricardo, Enrriqueta, Don, Father Abel

Right to the end of the research trip God led the people we needed for characters into our hands. With the exception of evil Hector, every person with a name, introduced in Latin America, is based on a real person. Their names, descriptions, and bits of their lives are woven into the story. It was a thrill to meet each of these precious souls. Now it is our privilege to introduced them to you in Running South.

O Lord, you examine me and know.
2 You know when I sit down and when I get up;
even from far away you understand my motives.
3 You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest;
you are aware of everything I do.
4 Certainly my tongue does not frame a word
without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.
5 You squeeze me in from behind and in front;
you place your hand on me.

(Psalms 139:1-5 NET_FL)




Read Chapter One of Running South!
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