Compadres in the Desert

Ideological commitment rings hollow if it is unconnected to vivid relationships with people who are suffering and oppressed. We cannot effectively think or act on behalf of people who are only an abstraction. Those who wish to see more of reality must be willing to really know those who are oppressed.

Bernard T. Adeney

El Toro

From the first days that we moved into the colonia, El Toro’s barbaric cries have rattled our gates. Intimidated , I just didn’t want to see him or his compadres in the street. And when I did, I tried to get out of sight, because as soon as he caught a glimpse of me he would shout bumbling mezcal-drenched  phrases that I could not understand. I only knew that he wanted me to hook him up with some spare change or food.

It could have been the mezcal talking, but several months back El Toro told me his real name. Everything about that moment was different. He approached me as I was sweeping the street, simply to talk. He did not ask me for anything, he just wanted to say hello and see what I was up to. Before our conversation ended he looked at me and said, “Everyone calls me El Toro, but my name is Arturo.” Then he shook my hand as if it were the first time that we met; Juan and Carmen did not even know that Arturo was his given name.

There was a shift in my relationship with Arturo the moment he looked me in the eyes and told me his real name, and it was something that he clearly did not do that often. From my perspective he was no longer the Bull, but Arturo; it was as if a fog lifted and I could see more clearly that this man, drowning away in cheap alcohol, is indeed a beautiful child of God, not merely the neighborhood drunk that everyone avoids and dismisses as a freak. Something clicked inside me and  a wrench was thrown into the gears of my ideological commitment to the people of Palo Chino and something much more vivid began to emerge. 

Thursday afternoon, Arturo lay sprawled out on the sidewalk across the street from our house. El Lobo was trying to drag him against a wall so that he could sit him up. When El Lobo saw me he rushed over to me carrying a dirty handkerchief asking me to drench it in water so that he could put it on Arturo’s head. I went with El Lobo to check on Arturo and El Huesos was there too. As we got Arturo to sit up, El Huesos began to thank me for being there. He told that when he had first met me last summer he thought I was just a stuck-up gringo but he has seen something different in me. He said that he can see that I actually care.

Yesterday the police forced El Toro, El Lobo, and El Huesos (Bull, Wolf, and Bones) to the ground, smashing their faces into the asphalt in front of our house, then took them to jail. This is at least the fifth time they have been taken in this year. When these cats party they do not party inside their houses. They welcome in, unashamed and crying out, the world around them; they drink to soothe the dryness inside. I am no longer intimidated by their barbaric howls or the haze of cheap liquor that follows them around, and I am beginning to see these lonely souls as brothers.


10 Responses to “Compadres in the Desert”

  1. isaac Says:

    Wow Matt. God is amazing. It blows me away how He orchestrates these random little things in our lives that annihilate barriers in our lives we didn’t know we even had. Your writing moves me. Liam and I had a discussion the other day about how Jesus even loves the “bad guys.” It was one of those times where God was telling ME something. I can’t wait to meet those guys. Maybe they’ll pose for me.

    I’ll be sending you some sketches soon. Pray that I am diligent in what God has called me to do.

  2. Isaac,

    We have so much to learn, don’t we? Arturo got out of jail today. Misty and I actually saw him at a grocery store not far from the house and we gave him a ride back to the hood. He fell asleep on the 3 minute ride back. Man, it just breaks my heart; the endless cycle of drunkenness and hopelessness.

    I am sure he would really dig posing for you. We’ll make a big batch of tacos and quesadillas and get some great shots of the hood together.

  3. I love this post, Matt! Very touching and a good reminder that we are ALL apart of God’s family… no matter what we drink to stay hydrated!

  4. […]  You should check out my cousin’s latest blog.  Compadres in the Desert .  He writes much better than I do, and is much more involved in living God’s […]

  5. Gracias, Lisa.
    Man, I feel like I am learning so much; even as I write I am trying to grasp all that God is teaching us. You are so encouraging…

  6. Wow! I had to read this post several times…it moved me this morning. You are right, he is God’s child created perfectly. Thank you for sharing this and allowing God to use your eyes to see this


  7. Brian,

    Your words are strengthening to us here. Amidst the craziness of living in this city, we are psyched about being here. Thanks for walking with us.

  8. I am really moved by the profundity of the revelation in this story. Perhaps the most significant Christian conversion is the discovery that there is not all that much difference between me and the Bulls, Wolves and Bones of this world, when you get right down to it.

  9. B.E-

    You are so right on. We are the same as anyone else. Arch Bishop Desmund Tutu says, ” If we are to be true partners with God in the transfiguration of his world and help bring his triumph of love over hatred, of good over evil, we must begin by understanding that as much as God loves you, God equally loves your enemies.” He loves me the same as he love El Toro.

    You are wonderful, Billie…

  10. Matt…I just happened on to Isaac’s site this morning cleaning up my bookmarks page. I love his creativity! It took me to the blog and I began to read about his sweet conversation with Liam. Which, then in turn, took me to your site and as I read your encounter with Arturo my heart melted and I sit here in my kitchen with tears streaming down my face at God’s amazing grace. It thrills me to see your commitment to Christ and sharing the Good News! I am so proud of you kids, of course I know you are now adults, but you will always be Julie and Mike’s little boy. You are such a beautiful person and a great example of who Chirst wants us to be on this earth. May God RICHLY bless you and keep you as you work for Him. Where ever you are…I know you will be a viable disciple for our Lord. Love in Christ, Marcia

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