The Mechanic and the Hamburger Stand

Excerpt from “Mexican Soul Food,” a book by Stephen Muscarella

I suppose we all have people in our lives we see so often we take them for granted. This was the case with me and my friend, the mechanic, when I was a young missionary living in the northern sierra of the state of Puebla.

At that time, all I could afford to drive was a beat-up old pickup. Consequently, I spent a lot of time with the mechanic. When I say a mechanic, I don’t mean someone who plugs an engine into a computer scanner and then changes a part. No, I mean someone who was a true craftsman with a mechanical mind. Trini was an artist.

When he did not have the proper tool for a job, he made his own. Once I burned up the thrust washers in the rear end of my Dodge, and we could not find the part anywhere. I looked all over Mexico City. Finally, Trini took a similar washer and adapted it. He promised me that, if I took it easy, I would make it to the border where I could find the real part. Just as he said, I did get to the border using his fabricated part and found a new one.

When I moved to Puebla, I didn’t know very much about working on my vehicle. I am still not an “ace” mechanic, but I did learn quite a bit from my friend Trini. He never minded if I stayed in the shop handing him tools or if I just watched him and practiced my Spanish. 

Trini was an older man who did not have the luxury of retiring. He had to keep on working to pay the bills, but there were times when I knocked on his door and found him drunk or hung over. He was not the most expressive person I have ever met, so it was difficult to tell if he liked me or not. He always treated me fairly on the price, and he always did a top job on my vehicles. He was not just a machine who fixed my trucks, he was a person.

The moment I realized he considered me his friend was when he hugged me after I returned from preaching in the U.S. As I said, he was not normally the most expressive person in the world but, that day, I went by to give him a ball cap I brought him from the States. He hugged me and said, “Güero (white boy), I missed you, I’m glad that you are back.”

As time went on, I got to know the family a little better. Trini’s wife was often sick; his kids were grown. Shortly before his wife died, she attended her nephew’s wedding at our church. After her death, Trini often told me how much his wife had enjoyed that service. I was also at that wedding and I remember the Gospel was preached that day.

Trini was hard of hearing. Sometimes, I had to yell in order for him to hear me. He also had a ‘bum’ leg from an injury when he was younger, which made it harder for him to work on my vehicle, especially in the winter when it was usually rainy.

I found a good deal on a pickup and, although it was used, I finally had a reliable vehicle. This was great for me because most of my ministry was in the mountain villages and I usually drove two to three hours to preach at a service. But this also meant I did not see Trini as often.

By this time Trini’s wife had passed away, and his daughter and her family were living with him. He was moving a bit slower, and I noticed he was making mistakes and forgetting things while working. I heard from his daughter that his health was deteriorating.

One night I had a dream about him. In the dream, Trini was in hell, but I could see him. He said to me, “Why didn’t you tell me about Jesus? I thought you were my friend.” The next day I went to visit another missionary I worked with. I knew he was friends with Trini as well, so I asked him if he had ever shared his faith with Trini. He said he had not, but that Trini had been on his heart lately. I told John about my dream, and we agreed we would both talk to him about Christ. John invited Trini over for a meal, and we shared the Gospel with him. At times, we were not sure he could hear us, so it was comical as we shouted the good news into his ear. He was receptive and he prayed with us. Only God knows the condition of his heart.

I was busy preparing to get married, so I did not see Trini as often as I would have liked, but he was always receptive to the Gospel message, and he always talked about how much his wife enjoyed that wedding service.

Now, instead of working on my pickup, I was preaching and teaching in the villages and buying furniture to receive my bride. I knew Trini was not doing well; the times when I had seen him he did not look good. It looked like he would not be working on cars for a while.

Sometimes, when I came in late from the villages, I would eat a hamburger at a stand in front of the school. I had been there often enough that the owners knew me. Being a foreigner in an Aztec town was similar to being a movie star. We stood out like a sore thumb, and the good and bad were always exaggerated in people’s perception of us.

Because I had recently talked about the Gospel with Trini, I was thinking about this couple who owned the hamburger stand and how I could share the Gospel with them. Sure, they knew that I was a minister, but they had not heard the Gospel in a way they could understand. So I ate my hamburger and went home still thinking about this couple.

My fiance lived two hours away in the city of Pachuca. There was a better hospital there so, usually, when someone was sick enough, they were sent to the hospital in Pachuca. It happened that I was in Pachuca working on wedding arrangements when I got word that Trini was in the hospital there. I went to see him; he did not look good, but his condition was stable and his daughter was with him. I returned to Huauchinango and kept in touch with my fiance who, with her mother, continued to visit Trini and his daughter in the hospital.

Finally, my wedding day arrived. The time just seemed to fly. We left for our honeymoon and, two weeks later, we returned to Pachuca, ready to go on to Huauchinango. While we were in Pachuca, my mother-in-law told us Trini had passed away. She didn’t want to tell us while we were enjoying our honeymoon. She did say that she had shared the Gospel once again with Trini and his daughter had prayed the sinner’s prayer.

The next week we started our new life in the Sierra as a married couple and I took my bride to my favorite hamburger stand. While he prepared my burger, the owner commented that it was a shame about Trini passing away. I didn’t even know he knew him. Not only that, but he knew I had gone to visit him. “But how did you know I went to visit him?” I asked. He replied, “He was my wife’s relative.” He then asked me how it was possible a foreigner went to visit this relative, and he did not. I told him the reason was that Jesus lives in me and that only the Lord could change a heart and make one care about others.

Sometimes it wasn’t so bad being a foreigner. Every day our lives pass us by, the moments become minutes and the minutes become hours, hours become days, days become weeks, and weeks become months, until our life has passed us by. The details are the things that can count for eternity. Do you have people in your life like Trini? Have you shown them Christ in word and in deed? We have the privilege of being salt and light in this world. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

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