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"Buenas tardes!" calls the visitor from outside the building. Rather than knocking, this is the friendly and customary way of calling someone to the door of his dwelling.
"Buenas tardes!" replies a puzzled-looking man, opening the door with the same "Good afternoon" greeting. He is a Mixteco Indian, hundreds of miles from his home village in the mountains of central Mexico.
He has learned enough Spanish to understand his bosses and neighbors in these migrant farm worker camps in the Baja peninsula. Since the man at the door spoke Spanish. the Indian will do his best to use that language. It is the tongue heard most in these camps. Most Indians do not write and they understand their own dialect more than Spanish.
"We are here giving away cassettes in many languages? the clipboard-toting visitor continues in simple Spanish. "What dialect do you know best?"
This visitor would be more comfortable in English actually. He is among a small group of GR staff and volunteers who traveled a few hours' drive south of the border this summer to distribute tapes with Gospel messages in several of these camps. This conversation is typical of hundreds they had as they went door to door each evening.
"I speak Mixteco," says the migrant worker, thinking that it's unlikely anyone will have a tape containing his specific dialect.
"Ah! And are you from Guerrero or perhaps Oaxaca?" asks the GR worker, mentioning the two Mexican states where most of these Indians live.
"I am from very near the pueblo of Tututepec." The migrant is intrigued that an outsider would show so much interest in him.
The GR worker consults a map of towns in the mountains of central Mexico that has codes for languages spoken in each area. He turns to a helper carrying a portable tape player and gives a code number. As the helper inserts the correct cassette and finds the right spot, they signal the Mexican to listen. Then a few seconds of a message is played.
"Yes, I can understand that," he says. He is surprised. because he usually hears nothing but Spanish on the radio or on music tapes. But the GR worker isn't done with the language 'diagnosis' yet.
"But do you understand it completely or just a little? Is it the language you speak at home?" Again the player is used to sample another nearby dialect and the worker asks if the migrant understands it. Finally, a third sample is tried.
"Este mi idioma!" the Mexican bursts out, "That's my language!"
The GR worker sends another volunteer to the bus parked at the edge of the camp, to retrieve a copy of a Gospel cassette in the language of the happy Mexican. The bus has more workers. equipped with tape duplicators and master cassettes of all the Mexican Indian dialects.
Meanwhile, the GR workers have written down the name, hometown and camp room number of the Indian. Local church people and missionaries will try to follow up all who have received the tapes. If there are believers in the area who speak the same languages, Bible studies and other meetings may be held.
Migrant workers are brought to this area for several months of work in the fruit, vegetable and flower fields. Housing is provided in long rows of shacks. One room may hold families with several children or as many as six single men. Despite the conditions, it is a marvelous opportunity to share God's Word. as many of these are unreachable in their home villages.
During their week in Mexico, our GR group distributed 270 cassettes in 42 different languages. (Tracts and Scripture portions were also given to those who only speak Spanish. Although many of them are oral learners, their children are usually in school until about the third grade and may be able to read a little.)