In 1951, Wycliffe Missionary John Beekman and his beautiful wife, Elaine, arrived in Amado Nervo, a small village nestled in the mountains of southern Chiapas. Bro. Beekman had to walk or travel by horseback for many long hours over rough mountain trails to reach the village where he would work and live among the Ch’ol Indians. Over a period of eight years, with the help of the natives, he translated the New Testament into the Ch’ol dialect and Mrs. Beekman translated hundreds of hymns into Ch’ol.
The mountains surrounding Amado Nervo
My father-in-law, Gregorio López, was one of the men who worked faithfully with Bro. Beekman. Missionary John Beekman was very influential in the spiritual growth of my father-in-law, whom I affectionately refer to as Dad López.
John and Elaine Beekman eventually moved to another village called Berea, located on the Tulija River, to begin a ministry to train Ch’ol men to reach other villages with the Gospel. Dad López moved his family to Berea to continue working with the beloved missionary. A few years after they moved their ministry to Berea, John Beekman was asked to became the Translation Coordinator for Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Missionary Hank Stegenga took his place. Bro. Stegenga took over the Bible Institute that trained many, many Ch’ol Indian men who evangelized the Ch’ol villages. Dad López worked faithfully under the missionaries in Berea for 22 years. After the missionaries moved the Bible Institute to the city of Palenque, Dad López moved his family once again back to Amado Nervo.
Gregorio and his sweet wife, Juana, raised 10 children. Their ninth child is the one I was blessed to have married.
Andrew had spoken to us of John Beekman, the missionary to the Ch’ol Indians. My mother recalled a book she had acquired in 1970 called Peril By Choice, by James Hefley. It is the biography of John Beekman and his life and ministry among the Ch’ols. (I encourage you to read that book. It is a very inspiring story.) We were surprised to learn of the connection between Andrew and the Beekmans.
Two months after our wedding, my husband took me to the village of Amado Nervo, where his parents were living. We went to celebrate Mother’s Day.
The nearly two-hour trip up the mountain in a rickety old truck on a bumpy gravel road was exciting to me. I had heard of Amado Nervo for many years, and I was so excited to be able to finally come to my in-laws’ home.
Mom López greeted us with a chicken stew. (She raises her own chickens and prepares delicious chicken stew and home-made tortillas on an out-door fire.) Let me say here that Mom López is one of the hardest-working women I have ever met. She has been an inspiration and a wonderful example of a wise and prudent lady. She reverenced and obeyed and submitted to her husband; she joyfully raised 10 children in the poorest of circumstances; and she goes about her house-hold duties with a smile, untiring, it seems. The house she now lives in is not fancy at all, but she is very proud of her home. Andrew tells me this house is much, much better than any house they’ve ever lived in. Deborah feeding her "ChuChu's" (Grandma in Ch'ol) chicks, August, 2010
The two days we were in Amado Nervo, we were treated like royalty. A few times that Andrew and I walked around the village, some of the older people asked if I was the grand-daughter of their beloved John Beekman.
Every night (on that visit, and every single visit thereafter), before we went to bed, Dad López got out his Ch’ol Bible and hymnbook, put on his glasses, and read to us from the Bible in Ch’ol. He’d lead us in memory verse recitation and in songs and always gave a testimony to the Lord’s goodness. I never understood everything he said, but “Juan Beekman” and “Enrique Stegenga” were sometimes mentioned. How precious to be able to hear him read from the Bible that he had helped to translate!
Dad López and Little Andrew, grinding corn...2008
In later years, after our children were born, Dad López took time to teach them songs in Ch’ol, which they still sing today, among others which Andrew has helped them learn. I cannot help but thank God for the godly heritage my children have. Only the providence of God could have brought about the amazing story we can tell to our children: How God’s grace brought the saving Gospel to the hidden mountains in Ch’ol country, and how Gregorio López was saved; and was blessed to have been able to work with two pioneer missionaries in these mountain villages.
In 2008, Mom López had to be given special medical care in Tuxtla, the capitol city of Chiapas, and she and Dad López spent some time with us in San Cristóbal. Andrew asked his dad one evening, “Dad, do you have Bro. Stegenga’s phone number with you?” He did, and we called Bro. Stegenga on Skype. Over the speaker connected to the computer, I could hear as Dad López and Bro. Stegenga conversed in Ch’ol. Andrew told me that Bro. Stegenga speaks Ch’ol perfectly! As they got ready to say goodbye, Dad López began to weep. His tears ran down his wrinkled face and fell to the floor! What a sweet sight that was to me! I thought, “This missionary was really loved by this Ch’ol man!” I had the privilege of talking to Bro. Stegenga, and he told me, “Your husband grew up in my shadow. I remember him well.”
Last year, I received a message from Bro. Stegenga, saying that he was going to be in the Palenque area, and that he would like to see Dad López. At his 79 years of age, Dad López made the effort to travel to see Bro. Stegenga. I am told that it was a happy, happy reunion. It was the last time they would see each other on this earth, as Dad López passed on only eight months later.
Deborah at the car window as we were nearing Amado Nervo
Yesterday, as I looked over the valley (or “bowl,” as this village was referred to by the missionaries) where the village of Amado Nervo is located, which now looks much different than it did when the Beekmans lived here, I thought, “I am looking at the same mountains they looked at when they looked out of their window. I can see the same spot where the airstrip was built so the M.A.F. planes could bring supplies to the missionaries.” I prayed, “Lord, I want to make a difference. Please use me to make a difference in someone’s life, just as John Beekman and Hank Stegenga made in the life of my father-in-law; thus impacting my husband’s life, which in turn influences my children’s lives!!! Use me, Lord!”
Amado Nervo, the view from my mother-in-law's house