The Tarahumara Miracle
This is one of the big ‘life-impacting’ moments, one of those amazing ‘God-moments’ that ‘ruined me for the ordinary’ and signed me up to be a part of God’s Amazing Mission to all the races, tribes and tongues of our planet for life.
This is a story of seeing God do the miraculous for a Tarahumara baby, literally raising the dead, and bringing a whole village to the Kingdom because of it.
(Thanks to Jana A. and her home-schooled daughters Grace, Josie and Anna, who asked for this fantastic 1989 Mission Moment from our time in Mexico...)
While we were living in south-eastern Michigan, praying about our mission calling to Mexico, we led a team from our home-church Redeemer to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for a two-week outreach in 1989.
While the team were doing child evangelism outreaches and building a house (that later became the community church) in the outskirt of Juarez, I was seeing patients as an Advanced Practice Nurse in the little YWAM clinic near the Juarez dump. A few days in, there was an ‘emergency request’, asking the YWAM Juarez medical team to come to a rural church outside the city of Chihuahua and do a medical clinic for a group of indigenous Tarahumara . Since Lori and I were seriously praying about coming to Juarez and join this work full-time, I agreed to leave the Redeemer team in Lori’s leadership in Juarez, and go 7 hours south as a health-care provider.
We loaded a beat-up van with whatever medicines and antibiotics the small clinic had, packed up medical exam gear, and off we went for a 4-day trip: two days back-and-forth, and two days of mobile clinic.
A bit about the Tarahamara people. One of ‘Mexico’s original peoples’, they are thought to be remote descendants of the Aztecs who moved north to the Sierra mountains. Counting 800,000 in 1980, they were experiencing a huge die-off due mainly to Tuberculosis in 1989. By 2010 (well after the outreach), they are counted at only (ONLY!) 70,000 in their region, the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
The Tarahumara live in little clusters of 40-80, high up in the mountains, many villages over 5,000 ft ‘up’, and sometimes a 3-5 day walk from their villages to any city. This remote distance makes it nearly impossible for the Tarahumaras to access the Mexican TB-treatment programs in the large cities.
The Tarahumara are known in their own language as rarámuri (refers specifically to the men) women are referred to as mukí (individually) and as omugí or igómale (collectively).
The Wycliffe ‘language experts’ tell us that the Tarahumara language is very old and rooted in indigenous structure, and has no relationship to the Spanish that came into Mexico in the 1500’s. The native name is Rarámuri/Ralámuli ra'ícha for their tounge, a guttural and complex language, and it was my later joy to meet the Wycliffe missionary who labored over 20 years to translate the Gospel of John in Rarámuri for the Tarahumaras.
Point of interest: There are over 60 different languages spoken in Mexico, many with ancient, indigenous roots. Spanish came into Mexico when Hernan Cortés invaded Mexico in 1519 and conquered the Aztec Empire in what is now south-eastern Mexico and north Guatemala. Currently, Spanish is the second-most spoken language amongst Mexico’s people; Mixteco rates as the most-spoken, it’s root- peoples coming from the south-western regions of Oaxaca.
Another point of interest: Tarahumaras are called the ‘running’ tribe because they literally run between homes and villages in very steep and mountainous areas... barefoot! Mexico placed 2 Tarahumaras in the 1928 Olympics, and there is a 16-yr-old now training for the next Olympiad.
As far as the spiritual state of the Tarahumara, they were deeply rooted in tribal animism and poly-theism, ancestor worship and a weird version of Latin America’s major religion, Santaria. Very, very few Tarahumaras were Christian in 1989.
Arriving in Chihuahua, we met the Pastor, who was an indigenous Tarahumara, with a church reaching out to the numerous Tarahumara villages in the surrounding mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental. He had contacted the YWAM team to come ‘immediately’, because he had spent a literal month walking up to the villages, inviting tribal members to a clinic promised by a US-based group. His heart was to share the Gospel with his people-group. Well, the US group decided at the last minute not to come, and this Pastor knew many of the Tarahumara had already left their villages to come down to his poor, little church in Chihuahua. This Pastor, who had lost a lung to TB 5 years ago, had a word from God that miracles and salvations were about to happen, and the Lord told him to call us.
I remember getting my first real taste of ‘outreach to the Least of These’ that first night. We slept on the make-shift church benches. The smell of the out-house was... well, significant. The crowing roosters were louder than any concert-band I’d ever heard. Oh, yeah, the huge, flying cock-roaches....
Still, I was totally jazzed because I had a deep, prayer-born sense that GOD wanted to do something way, way beyond anything our little medical team could stir up. As we arose at dawn for prayer and worship, the whole team of 7 people had reports of dreams and visions of GOD doing amazing things. As we held a ‘YWAM-styled intercession session’ (ya had to have been in YWAM to know; those times were SO off-the-hook), the Holy Spirit filled us with wonder and anticipation.
The small clusters of Tarahumara families began to arrive at the church, their little huddles patiently waiting for clinic exams and care.
After a breakfast of cold beans and tortilla, I saw the first ‘patients’, both with obvious TB. and malnutrition. Somehow, we had brought cases of liquid protein to help treat the malnutrition. The non-providers were praying with the Pastor over each person who had come, as he preached the Gospel to each and every one who had come. He and another church Tarahumara brother served as translators, which was tricky because I had to ask really good questions (in English, didn’t know Spanish yet), the YWAM teen translated it into Spanish to the Tarahumara brother, he asked the questions in Rarámuri, answers came, then back again. A simple exam took over a half hour.
My third patient really launched this story. A Tarahumara village leader had brought his wife and their sickly son 4 days down from the mountains. The man told us that his son had diarrhea for a couple weeks, and there was blood in his stool.
As I had the mother ‘un-wrap’ the child (who was bundled up, in a very hot climate), I could immediately see this toddler was near death, presenting as a ‘limp ragdoll’, listless, breathing at 35-40 a minute, mouth dry as the desert sand around us, a heart-beat at 140/minute, and little response to stimulation. His diaper has streaks of stool with blood (severe bacterial infection). He was critically dehydrated, and a few hours from death. We immediately began to attempt to administer oral rehydration fluids (Pedialyte), but the child would only take a teaspoon drizzle into his mouth without choking. We sent the YWAM teen to the local Farmacia, but they had no IV supplies, and neither did we. Our little team, along with local church-fold surrounded the child and began fervent prayer and intercession, pleading for his life. After 2 hours, we were able to only get him to swallow ½ cup of Pedialyte. His diaper was bone-dry, and he was comatose. We gave injectable antibiotics and ground up Tylenol into a suppository, the only meds we really had with us for him. We explored taking him to the city hospital, but in those days, Tarahumaras were basically denied care by the local medical system.
Inside my heart, I was in deep pain, seeing this toddler about to die. God, You’ve got to move! Please! PLEASE!
As day turned into night, people continued to pray for the child, doing warfare in the Spirit-realm and calling out. There was worship, speaking out the Faithfulness of God and calling it down on this dying child. I prayed with the team. The family made a make-shift sleeping spot in a shed attached to the church, that toddler barely breathing.
Exhausted, I slept a little on that rickety church bench, and rose with the dawn and our team to worship, pray, and call out for God’s Goodness as our Banner today.
After those morning vespers, in the light of day and the already-warming temps of the chapparel desert, I was coming out of the church and encountered the father of that toddler. My stomach sank as my head told me that he was going to be grieving the death of his son thru the night... and I didn’t know what to do.
He motioned for me to follow him, and... what! The toddler was alive! Not just ‘alive’, the little boy was awake and fussing and moving and breathing normal and pink and giving his mom a hard time! God had literally risen him from the dead! His mom was giving him sips from the cup (more Pedialyte), which he was freely drinking!
I went and got the team, and the Pastor was with them. Rejoice, we did! Dance, we did! There were tears of joy and squeals of delight and songs of Victory... Jesus is alive, and so is this little boy!!! There was no doubt in anyone’s mind... including the ‘medically-trained skeptics’ ...
God had wrought a mighty miracle! We had seen the dead brought back to life.
I had noticed the Pastor talking with the village-leader-child’s father. It seemed intense. After a bit, the Pastor came over to recount to us the conversation (once again, thru interpreters).
The father-leader committed to the Pastor that he and his family would follow this Jesus he had been told about by the Gospel preaching yesterday, because this Jesus truly saved his son from death, and that He must be the True God. Not only that, but the Pastor needed to come back with him to the village, because he (the village leader) would tell this story, and the whole village will commit to follow this God-Jesus who has the power to raise the dead.
Yeah, there was a lot of Praise and Worship and joy and singing and dancing! This is the Kingdom of God turned up to 10!
There were other great victories as we cared for the sick and prayed that second clinic day. We saw the toddler playing in the yard by evening... from death to life! My heart was in a continual dance of Joy for what GOD had done!
We had been told that photography wasn’t going to be allowed of the Tarahumara on this trip... complicated reasons. However, right after the glorious news of God’s miracle, I asked the Pastor to ask the couple if I may take one picture, and they said yes.
This is the ‘Tarahumara Miracle’ family in 1989.
This picture is fixed in my personal Bible, and has literally traveled the world with me, as a reminder of WHAT GOD DID for a little Tarahumara toddler. What God did then... what He can do again... what He WILL do again...
I hope this picture of FAITH and VICTORY will stay with you, as well.
We finished up the clinic, left at dawn the next day for the long journey back.
Yes, we followed God to Mexico as missionaries in 1991. We served in Juarez for 6 months, then Tijuana for 17 years, and now San Vicente for a decade.
Yes, we have other interesting Tarahumara-related ‘God-stories’.
No, I’ve never forgotten the Tarahumara Miracle of 1989.