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Lowell Brueckner

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What Our Hands Have Handled, chapter nine


Just married, Margaret and I went to live in Cacahuatepec, Oaxaca, in October of 1966. Right away, we began to go house-to-house, explaining our reason for coming to the town and also shared the gospel with the inhabitants. Then, we began to visit the next town, called Amuzgos, to the north. The letter on the right is one of three that we received from people in Amuzgos in November, 47 years ago, threatening us not to return. It states: "Amuzgos, Putla, Oaxaca, November 22, 1966. Señor Pastor, Very esteemed sir. We ask, in the most attentive manner, that you not return to this place to disturb our people, because we will not be responsable for what happens to you. With nothing else to say..." I kept going, anyway, because there were individuals, who asked for prayer. One day, a group was waiting in front of my pick-up with buckets of water, with which they soaked me. Oh well, it was a hot day!



I was twelve years old, when my dad challenged me with these words: “God is going to hold you responsible for the things you are seeing and experiencing.” That’s quite a load to drop on an adolescent. Erwin Brueckner was not one for mincing words. Needless to say, I did not forget them.

My 18-year-old sister had just died of leukemia. God was moving in special ways those days and I would refer to that period for the rest of my life. Nominal Christianity is something I never considered. When I was 20-years-old, I made a solid decision. If I were to settle down to a work-a-day lifestyle, living to accumulate “things” and prepare for retirement, I would drop all pretenses of being a Christian. If I were to name the name, which is above every name, and lay hold to eternal life, then I would enter with my whole heart, soul, mind and body.

Shortly afterwards, I quit my job and gave myself to one year of intense Bible study and prayer. I read a few choice books, which deeply impressed me. One of them was titled, A Passion for Souls by Oswald Smith. In it, he presents irrefutable arguments concerning world missions. He asks powerful questions, which a sincere Christian cannot sidestep, such as: “Should anyone hear the gospel twice, before everyone has heard it once?” If it was Christ’s desire that the gospel should be preached to the unreached, then I wanted my life to count for that purpose.

Oswald Smith happened to be preaching at Medicine Lake Bible Camp, the night that I invited the Lord into my life. It was two days before my tenth birthday. Mom and Dad previously had asked me if I thought about my soul’s salvation. I simply replied, “No!” The question angered me. There is no doubt in my mind that I was born a rebel against God.

I do not remember a segment of the message preached that night in the camp meeting. I only know, as young as I was, I was at a crisis and a battle was raging inside me. Rebellion and pride fought valiantly to keep me in my place and from responding to the call to come for prayer at the altar. At that moment, another thought entered my mind to combat the forces of self: “Are you going to let the devil win, then? Is he going to rule your life?” The argument carried enough force to drive me towards the front. Every foot of the altar bench was lined with people and I had to find a place in the first row of seats. None of the counselors came to me, so my mother prayed and led me to receive Jesus. When I rose to my feet, I literally looked to see if they touched the ground. A load had been lifted.

In 1965, I went to Mexico. The call was simple. Jesus said to His disciples, “Go into all the world.” He said to me, “If you don’t obey, who do you think should?” Soon after, I met Margaret Peterson, who became my wife on May 29, 1966. We were married in a chapel in Villa del Carmen, not far from the city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. My dad played his violin.

We learned about the Costa Chica (The Little Coast) of Oaxaca from a veteran missionary, who made an exploratory airplane trip and came back with a stirring report. The State of Oaxaca vied with the neighboring State of Guerrero as the poorest and most crime-ridden territories in Mexico. A high percentage of the people were illiterate. Black people, descendants of slaves who survived a shipwreck, occupied the villages along the Pacific Coast. In the mountains were Mixtec and Amusgo Indians, many of whom spoke no Spanish. Throughout the Costa Chica, the people were ignorant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was just the place for which I was looking!

On October 6, 1966, Margaret and I drove into Cacahuatepec, Oaxaca. The village of 3,000 had no electricity and no phones. The one dirt road into town would often wash away during the rainy season. Worse yet, there was no law-and-order. I could not help but remember the warning of a pastor in Northern Mexico, “Go into that territory, if you think you must; but I promise you, you will not come away alive!”

Life was not fashionable on the Costa Chica. The walls of the houses, for the most part, were constructed of sun-baked adobe, although there were even simpler structures of sticks, the walls packed with mud. Overhead, the skeleton roofs were poles with tiles set loosely on them. When it rained, a mist would settle in from above. We had vaulted ceilings, you see. Lying in bed, we watched rats run along the wood under the tile. Fortunately, they could not scale the walls. Scorpions, though, sometimes fell to the floor. I doubt that the $20-a-month that we paid for rent was a bargain.

Our living room furniture consisted of three folding lawn chairs and a rollaway bed that served as a couch. We boasted a battery-operated, LP record player that sat on a tray. In the kitchen, we had a card table with four chairs, a butane stove and an ice chest for a refrigerator. Every evening, we would light our two Coleman lanterns. Some of the locals thought we were tremendously extravagant.

The thunderstorms were ferocious. The streets would turn into rivers, which in the lower part of town were uncrossable during the cloudbursts. There was no protection for the houses against lightning strikes. We witnessed two boys carrying another into town after he had been struck and we heard many accounts of similar mishaps due to electrical storms.

Physical and social problems seemed insurmountable. With little medical help and less money to pay for what there was, children died from simple dysentery or measles. Alcoholism was an accepted fact. Most adults died from machete or gunshot wounds and scarcely a week would go by without a murder in Cacahuatepec.

The local residents were suspicious of us. No wonder! Why would an American couple come to such an uncomfortable, inconvenient corner of the world? The young people, who had a little education, thought we might be CIA agents. The Catholic priest was convinced we were there to divide the town religiously.

There were two light plants in town. The icemaker, our neighbor across the street, owned one and the priest owned the other. Over the loudspeakers atop the church, he counseled the townspeople to evict us by any necessary means. One day when I was not home, our landlord advised my wife that I should not leave the house by night. He had learned that a friend of the priest determined to kill me. My decision, when I was so young, to resist the power of the enemy, now took on real meaning.

A photo taken in 2009 of our house in Cacahuatepec, now
with a paved street in front and electric cables.

After dark through the cracks in the front door, we watched a man, striding back and forth in the street. He was taller than most of the men in town and he wore a pistol on each hip. One night, he fired his pistol into a crowd and a bullet went through the shoulder of a little boy. Public sentiment rose against the would-be assassin and he left town.

Every Wednesday, I walked up a steep mountain trail to the village of Ocotlan to hold a Bible study. Though a tenth the size of Cacahuatepec, killings were even more common here. The brother of one of the men attending our studies was a murderer. Our neighbor pointed this fact out to me, when the two visited our home. “There is a man that you need to convert,” he said. “He has killed several people.” However, this man had no interest in the gospel. One night, after I left Ocotlan, he promised his brother that when I returned the next time, they would carry my corpse out of town. Not being informed, the following Wednesday I climbed the mountain as usual. The news that I learned upon arriving, not only concerned the threat, but that two days before, the man’s dead body had been found riddled with bullets, just outside the village.

In the Mexican towns, there are no front yards or sidewalks, but the houses are right off the narrow cobblestone or dirt streets. It was an Easter Sunday night, after a horseback ride of about an hour and a half that I preached in a home in Huajintepec. The door of the house was open to the street, as was a large window, in which a man was sitting. In the middle of my message on the resurrection, there was a shotgun blast in the street. Such interruptions were somewhat common and I continued my talk, but another exploded, closer still. The man in the window leaped to the floor and slammed the wooden window door behind him! Someone shut the front door and the children were hustled into a back room! When we thought it safe, we went outside and discovered two slugs in the doorframe. Where I had stood speaking, I was plainly visible from the street. How the shots could have missed, is only conjecture. Perhaps, the assailant was drunk.

I could tell much more. While giving a Bible lesson in Putla, a large town 50 miles north of Cacahuatepec, a listener interrupted my talk with threats and left the meeting. He returned with a pistol. Then there was a time, when masked bandits blocked the road, as I drove home from Pinotepa, where we did our banking. They took four dollars that I had left in my wallet, after withdrawing money from the bank and shopping. Frequently, there were hold-ups along the roads in the Costa Chica. What was different about this one, was that I was still alive to tell the story. In all other accounts I had ever heard, the driver had been killed. When it became evident that these were not going to shoot me, I gathered my wits about me and gave each of them a New Testament.

A visitor, driving for me on another occasion, plunged out-of-control and down a steep mountainside. I expected the pick-up to roll at first and then wondered if it would ever stop. Brush flew against the windshield. It finally came to a halt, still on an incline, before a 12-foot drop-off. Tracing the path made through heavy vegetation, we noted that it had narrowly missed large trees and had done a 90-degree turn before a massive boulder. It was obvious that an unseen hand had guided us, and then stopped us before we would topple over the embankment. We were uninjured and the vehicle obtained a small dent in the front bumper.

The reality of opposing spiritual forces became very evident in those years of pioneer evangelism. Everywhere we went, we were challenged in one way or another. We invaded enemy territory. We proclaimed the word of God for the first time in many villages and Satan was feeling the loss of many people. Forces rose in defense of his property and we constantly were in danger. I hope, I have made it crystal clear that I would not be alive to tell the story, were it not for the protecting power of the Lord of Hosts.

David wrote in a number of Psalms, “God is my refuge.” The 119th Psalm reads, “Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” Solomon stated, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.” This is not mere poetry. Men of God were writing from experience, knowing the Lord was their protector, as they went about His business.

I can assure you that He still is all the protector that He ever was. When one goes into a place of great need, presenting Christ as the only answer to that need, he steps into the heart of God. He will move all heaven on that person’s behalf. Jesus promised His disciples, “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you.” The Apostle Paul sums it up with a climactic question, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”


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