As I mentioned in my previous blog, The Egg, I served a mission with the K’ekchi in Guatemala. As a missionary, I was blessed to live many beautiful experiences that taught me in one way or another to live a better life and to appreciate everything that I have. Sometimes, the learning moment was so immediate and so visceral, that the wisdom I gained has come back to me later in my life. As I’ve been confronted by a problem or challenge, and life wants to remind me of the hard-won wisdom I’ve gained, it comes…naturally, magically…exactly when I need it.
My experience with The Bull has come to my mind many times since it originally happened, especially when I face a challenge that seems too big or too scary. When I recall this experience with the bull, the way he unexpectedly stormed into my life, charging me with such fierce determination to kill me, he has morphed into a metaphor for all of the biggest problems and challenges that I’ve faced in my life.
The hardest part of facing a challenge is that nobody can do it for me. I have to be the one dealing with it. Even though I am the one who has to “grab the bull by the horns”, it is a blessing to have someone who, like my missionary companion at the time, can help me with encouragement and support.
The following happened around the same time of my previous story “The Egg”, on the outskirts of Senahu. My companion and I met a K’ekchi family that lived in a tiny hut in the middle of a property that was used for pasture. We received a request to visit this family and check on them because the mom was sick and needed help.
The morning that we decided to go look for this family was a beautiful morning. The property, which was within a short walk from our home, wasn’t hard to find and it seemed like it was taken out of a fairy tale story. The verdant vegetation of the area, plus the climate, the light of the day, everything was working together to make it look like an enchanted place.
A hut, a simple structure approximately 15’x15’ made of wood-stick walls, with a low roof made of straw and old rusted tin, sat squarely in the middle of about an acre of pasture with large trees surrounding it. A strong fence made of wood and barbed wire surrounded the property. Everything seemed so tidy, so perfect. I thought that this would be one of the easiest assignments on my mission. I was excited to go meet the family and help them with anything they needed. Piece of cake! How exciting!
Then we made the next move. We approached the gate and were about to open it, when I came face-to-face with one of my biggest fears, a bull. But not just any bull. He was The Bull.
I have always been scared of bulls. When my siblings and I were little, we all walked to school, along with all of the neighborhood kids. There was a dairy farm one block before our school. It was located on one of the back roads in our city, but was the road that we needed to walk every morning to get to school. Most of the time, we had no problem walking through that area, but once in awhile, the cows and bulls from the dairy farm would escape and wait for us in the road. Once they saw us coming, they would sense our fear and would chase us down the road. Of course, as any little kid would, we would scream, cry and run as fast as we could, all scared and traumatized by these animals.
So, as I stood looking at this angry stomping beast guarding the entrance to my mission for the day, it brought back all of the fear of those bulls of my childhood. I wanted to turn around and run as fast as I could.
This bull wasn’t by any means an ordinary bull. Like the setting of the hut, the bull too, seemed conjured directly from a fairy tale. But whereas the hut and its surroundings was tranquil and idyllic, the Bull was the beast…the monster…the dragon of this fairy tale.
He looked huge when calmly eating pasture and standing next to the other cows. However you could tell that he was not Ferdinand the Bull of the fairy tale, who was the largest and strongest of the bulls, who would prefer to smell the flowers than to fight a matador. This bull was the complete opposite of Ferdinand. This bull loved to snort and stomp and to be seen as the fiercest of all. He would destroy not just the matador, but his entourage as well. It was the biggest bull that I have ever encountered in my life.
The Bull towered over his herd of cows. It was plain by his attitude that the surrounding area was his kingdom. He diligently surveyed that kingdom with the intent that any intruder who would dare enter would meet swift retribution by his magnificent horns. He would completely destroy and crush the offender like a rag doll. His gigantic hooves pawing the ground created clouds of dust. He would whip his tail for the sole satisfaction of hearing it make the familiar sound of a sharp sword slicing through air, instilling fear. He would flare his large, round nostrils and blow gobs of snot to show his displeasure at our smell. Fixing his bloodshot devil eyes upon us, he would charge toward us seeming to spit fire and smoke, like a steaming locomotive or a big tornado. He was revolving darkness filled with lightning, thunder, and evil intent. This was The Bull from my nightmares.
We were not prepared for The Bull, as no one had told us about him. The moment we opened that gate though, we saw him coming. That giant came charging towards us at full speed, with no intention of slowing down. Of course he didn’t know that we were there to help his family, nor did he have any understanding that we were there for a good cause. He only saw us as invaders of his territory, only as “those who must be destroyed.”
The moment that the bull came charging and we were running back out of the gate, the man from the hut and his children came out running from the house to rescue us. The bull knew them and allowed them to live in his kingdom. Once they came out to rescue us, he glared, snorted, and turned haughtily away, looking sharply around for anything else upon whom he could vent his frustration and blood-lust.
When we walked into the hut to meet the whole family that day, we found the mother lying on a little mat. Smoke rose lazily from a smoldering fire pit in the center of the one room hut. Without proper ventilation, the room was nearly unbearable. The mom was coughing a lot and hardly able to move, talk or raise up. They all were happy and grateful that we were there to help them.
Within a week, we were able to get a doctor to see her. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Over the next few weeks, and together, with other members of the church and other missionaries, we worked to set up the fire pit with better ventilation. We also educated the family about how to live a healthier lifestyle with better hygiene and eating habits.
The doctor recommended that the mom receive a morning and evening injection of antibiotics over the course of several weeks, to control the TB. Since she was bedridden and unable to go to clinic, the task of administering the shots was given to me and my companion.
I’ve always wanted to help people. Ever since I was a little girl, I used to see the missionaries from all over the world coming into the communities around my country and doing such great service, with care and compassion. I admired them and wanted to be like them. I waited excitedly through all of my tender years to reach the age when I could sign up for a mission.
During that time of waiting, I never imagined that I would have to deal with a bull or with any of my other fears. And now, because this little K’ekchi lady was sick, and we needed to give her the shots, I would have to endure the torture of facing one of my worst childhood fears…twice a day. I wanted to help the lady, but I didn’t want to face this ugly, giant, monstrous bull.
Every morning and every night, we would walk to their home and face the Bull. Sometimes the father or the kids would be there to help us go through the gate. Other times they were gone and we would have to deal with the Bull alone. It took a lot of courage and a lot of pushing from my companion for me to open that gate and take the chance to be crushed by this bull, so that we could reach the lady and give her the shots.
We would wait for the bull to be distracted and away from the gate. The moment the bull realized we were on his turf, we could hear his hooves pounding towards us. For me, it was the drum of my destruction pounding in my ears. My courageous companion, bless her loving heart, would shoot through the gate at a dead run, her long wavy red hair flying all over that pasture, further enraging the Bull as he tried mightily to run down the object of his fury. Each time I had to face the Bull, she ran out ahead of me, slightly veering off course to distract and pull the beast away from the path that I took directly to the front door. Each time, she would come barreling through the door, her bright blue eyes shining with glee and adrenaline, her laughter bubbling uncontrollably from the excitement of besting the Bull and evading destruction once again.
She was so brave! I was a big wimp compared to her! Many times I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to face the Bull twice a day. It was so frightening to me. My companion refused to let me give up. She knew I would deeply regret not overcoming my fear to perform such a vital service for the sick woman in the hut. She would do everything possible to help me overcome my fear.
Once inside, we would administer the shots, make sure the lady had food and basic necessities that she needed for the day. Then we would wait for the bull to forget we were inside. The leaving was as nerve-wracking for me as entering, except for the fact that I felt better knowing that I would be outside of the fence, and as far as possible from the Bull, as long as I made it that is. It never became easier with time. I dreaded returning. It was pure torture for me to know that as soon as I left, in only a few hours I would once again have to face the Bull.
After a few weeks of giving the shots to this lady, she was able to get up and do a few chores in the home. She was also able to attend church once in awhile. It was nice to see that our service was helping her heal, and helping her family. My companion and I visited this family for six months. After that, I was sent to open up a new area, further into the mountains. I went with a new companion, while my red-haired companion stayed there with another missionary. A few months later, I received the sad news that the lady had passed away. I am glad she had a better quality of life for those months before she died. She was able to do some things with her family that she wouldn’t have had the chance to do if we hadn’t been there. We made a difference in their lives.
When I think back about this experience, the thing I remember the most is my fear of The Bull. I remember the many times I didn’t want to open that gate and do my job, not because I was lazy or incapable. Nor was it from a lack of love of service to others. It was because I was letting that fear take control of me. Sometimes I was able to talk myself into conquering that fear. Other times, it was the encouragement of my companion. It was her words. It was also the fact that she was running next to me. I didn’t feel alone in my fear. My beautiful companion helped me fight it and go through it with me.
Many times in my life I have been confronted by “bulls.” Not just the bulls from my childhood, or The Bull. Now I have fought tougher and even scarier bulls of life. I’ve dealt with my fears of failing in life. I’ve overcome tribulations that have confronted me that have threatened my survival.
Many times I have felt like quitting and just giving up. But I remember how I felt after seeing that K’ekchi woman getting up from her bed and walking with her family to church for the first time in years. My memories of her… the smile on her children’s faces, the love of her husband when they all were walking to church together, showering her with their love and affection, proudly showing everyone that their mom was there to join in the worship… this will always be a treasure in my heart. The gratitude that they felt and showed towards us and the satisfaction I had of being part of that miracle, will be a part of my soul forever.
There is an overwhelming joy that courses through me every time I realize that I have conquered a new challenge. It’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction of knowing that I did it! I didn’t give up! When I “Face the Bull” I feel stronger, wiser, better and then I think, “There is no bull big enough to stop me feeling that joy.” Especially if I know that friends and family are there on the sidelines to encourage me and even to “run with me”. They’re letting me know that though I may need to face The Bull by myself, I’m not alone. I have my companions.
Photos by Sandi Gamblin
Editing by Randall Gamblin (firstname.lastname@example.org)