The Art of Mechanics

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[Editor’s Note: Missio first told Julio’s story about discovering the value of his vocation as an auto mechanic just about one year ago. If you didn’t get a chance to read it then, we hope you enjoy it now.]

“My best friend Julio was once just a kid from the street,” David tells me. “He didn’t have a family, and only went to school through the sixth grade. When he was 13 years old, he got a job at an auto repair garage. Rene was working at the same shop, doing odd jobs around the garage. He had compassion for Julio, took him under his wing, talked with him about Jesus, and mentored him spiritually. Julio also developed his talent with cars at that garage; it was where he began to learn the art of mechanics.

“It really is an art. Julio is an auto electrician; he specializes in the electrical features of cars. He learned the trade by necessity, coming off the street as he did, but it became a love. He’s an artist with cars.”

“And I met Julio because of a Russian named Eleonor.”

Who’s Eleonor?

“She’s a 1963 Lada. A quirky Russian car. It was Julio’s car – he called it ‘Eleonor’ – and I spotted it at church one night. So I went over to look at it and liked it so much that Julio invited me to drive it. The thing is, the car had a faulty clutch – it was a totally wacky car – but I was still able to drive it. Julio was delighted that I could.”

An American who grew up as a missionary kid in Bolivia, David went to Honduras several years ago to work on the international staff of a major Christian parachurch/NGO. He and Doris, a Honduran agricultural and animal specialist, worked closely together, distributing goats to needy families in remote villages as part of the NGO’s community development program. “Doris and I would go out to a village and assess the people’s needs. We’d tell them we’d come back and give them goats. They really had to have faith that we would; sometimes they would say, ‘Yeah, right.’ But then, sure enough, we’d be back with goats to give away. The people that showed up got a goat. Doris would use a Spanish proverb to exhort the people to care for their animals. As she taught them better ways to do so, she would tell the people, ‘This goat is a gift from God; take care of it.’ The people would name their animals and get really attached to them. Those animals would make a huge difference to the lives of some of these subsistence-level farmers.”

After years of apprenticeship in the auto mechanic shop, Julio also came to work for the same NGO, but not as a mechanic. He was a day laborer on the company’s national staff, one of the lower paying jobs in the organization. Turnover in the position was high because it was physically demanding grunt work. David remembers, though, Julio’s consistently positive attitude: “He brought a great vibe to the organization. Whether he was asked to shovel sand or make deliveries, he always did it faithfully and cheerfully.” In that part of Honduras, the pay was decent and reliable too. Working for the NGO was also considered very respectable in the local Honduran evangelical church community.

As with many organizations operating overseas, the NGO’s local chapter had two kinds of employees: international staff, comprised mostly of Western expatriates, and national Honduran staff members. Relations between the two were relatively positive, but also not strong or natural. The differences in status between the two sets of staff and living conditions didn’t allow for many true friendships to develop. The international staff lived in rooms at the office rent-free, and the nationals lived locally. Julio rented a tiny room in a house just across from the local prison, a maid’s quarters he called “the shack by the prison.”

While he enjoyed what he did at the NGO and working with Doris, David found living at work claustrophobic. He often longed for reprieves from the expatriate cloister at work and would occasionally spend the night at Julio’s “shack,” which David affectionately called “The Castle.” Julio was truly surprised that David would be willing to visit Julio’s “shack,” much less spend the night. Their friendship grew, and they loved talking about 4×4 vehicles. They would also go off-roading together.

Their friendship really solidified the day they got in trouble with the company. A energetic TCK maverick with a strong adventurous streak, David had suggested to Julio that they “borrow” the NGO’s Jeep over the weekend to venture up a 5,000-foot mountain to explore and camp out. The Jeep was the only vehicle they had access to that could make the trip; Eleonor certainly couldn’t. When David finally convinced Julio of the plan, they loaded mattresses in the back of the Jeep and drove up at night.

“We had an awesome time on the mountain – we ate platanos maduros [cooked bananas]. The whole matter wouldn’t have been a big deal except for a missing magnet. The Jeep got really muddy up on the mountain, so we took it to a car wash. But a magnet on the car got washed off. Someone at the main office noticed the missing magnet, and that was the clue that got us into trouble.” Julio was a bit shaken over the Jeep incident. But David told him, “Let’s not worry too much about what happened. Let’s just get our own Jeep.”

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That decision proved to be pivotal to the deepening of their friendship and sense of vocation. David and Julio searched for a vehicle they could take off-road, and they eventually found a 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 for about $1000. David supplied the cash to buy it. The car needed extensive work, so Julio re-worked it from the ground up, even taking apart the differentials. They called it the mula – the mule – and they agreed to co-own it.

As he tells me about his friendship with Julio and their mutual love of 4x4s and mechanics, I ask David: “What do you think God thinks about cars?”

“The way I see it,” David answers, “God made us to explore his own creativity, and it’s vast. That’s physics – discovering God’s creativity in how the world functions. Humans are clever; we can mimic some of God’s creativity, but only on the most basic of scales.

“For instance, most people think that cars are hard to fix, but that’s not true. A car is just 150 small systems all working together. Humans have figured out how to take these systems and get them working together in a microcosm we call a car. But that’s a fraction of what God has done in this universe. I think God wants us to figure out how to make things like he did. He wants us to discover how to fix them when they break and know how to maintain them to operate well. That’s the art of mechanics.

“Honestly, most mechanical problems are just $10 fixes if you have the time to narrow down the problem to one of the systems of a car. No one fixes an alternator in the U.S. anymore. We charge a ton because of the labor costs. But real mechanics know how to fix an alternator.

“The systems of cars are glorious. Heat, pressure, movement, etc.–all these things work together in that small space. It’s beautiful.” He’s clearly moved as he describes it.

David eventually decided to move off the NGO compound and live locally. He was still happy with his job, but having a bit of space between work and home helped a lot. Around the same time, Julio was kicked out of “The Castle,” so the two of them decided to rent a place together. They lived together for a year, and during that year, the two of them talked about getting to know the 4-wheel drive community in Honduras better, and spent a lot of time talking with people in different villages, forming friendships over these vehicles and on their daring off-road trips, which were growing in popularity. At times they felt a gnawing sense of guilt creep into these adventures. David tells me, “We both wanted to serve God, but we kept wondering if we were playing too much with all this off-roading business. But it’s what we love. When we would take these trips up the mountains, we felt God’s presence. And other guys wanted to be there too; it was contagious.”

After David departed Honduras and returned to the U.S., he and Julio stayed in close contact. Julio continued to work for the NGO, and they still discussed off-roading and 4x4s. They would talk about how one day, maybe Julio would be able to get a visa to the U.S. so the two of them could participate in the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, a huge and historic 4×4 off-roading event. But as time went on, Julio was getting increasingly disillusioned with the work he was doing at the NGO. He would tell David: “I’m thankful for my job, but I can’t take this anymore. I’ve got to get back to mechanics. My conscience and the community say that it’s a good thing that I’m working here because this work is ministry. But it doesn’t seem like ministry to me. This isn’t the work I was made to do.”

To the surprise of his church community, Julio resigned from the NGO to found a garage with another mechanic friend named Johnny. It was a significant financial sacrifice to do so, but for Julio, the decision represented a step towards vocational faithfulness, even if the church didn’t see it that way.

It was not without real struggle. Julio and Johnny opened their shop in one of the world’s most violent and murderous cities: San Pedro Sula. Daily life in the city was suffused with violence. (That culture of violence is only increasing. San Pedro Sula has earned the title “murder capital of the world” two years in a row with the highest per capita murder rate outside of a conflict zone.) “People are killed like chickens” there, and security is always a problem. Their infant garage was robbed many times. Eventually business picked up at the garage, and they were able to earn enough money to live in more secure locations.

“Julio married Doris,” David continues, “and they are an amazing couple. Julio is now employing 5 or 6 guys, and he’s even been able to return the favor he received from Rene long ago by employing him also, the man that once took pity on him and mentored him spiritually when he was just a kid from the street. Julio is doing what missionaries come to Honduras to do but without all the flashy newsletters. He’s living the kingdom life right where he lives. He’s doing what he loves and what he’s really good at, and goes off-roading with a bunch of people when he can. Those trips are becoming a really important part of Julio’s good influence in the area.

Mula2“Not long ago, there was a lot of rain, and one of Julio’s neighbors’ houses was destroyed by flooding. So Julio decided to do something about it. He closed his shop for a day or two and told his employees that they were going to rebuild this widow’s house. They grabbed some materials from the shop, and he and his employees—believers and non-believers—worked side-by-side to rebuild her house. His employees were so fulfilled in this project, and it set such a distinct example that Julio was willing to invest in the community, and set aside a day of profit-making to do some good for a neighbor. They even used the mula to transport the materials there.

David smiles, savoring the truth: “God loves that 4×4!”

In Honduras, Julio’s business continues to grow, and David tells me that people seek Julio out for his wisdom and advice in all sorts of life questions. “God is blessing Julio immensely.”

David recently visited with Julio and, on one of their off-road trips in the mula, asked him again why he left the NGO to start his own business. “Without missing a beat,” David said, “Julio responded, ‘It’s hard to be an employee. You know, at the end of the day, I think God wants us to be dueños,’ which is Spanish for ‘owner.’ ”

As I listen to David recount this dialogue, I find myself inwardly agreeing with Julio, envisioning the kind of dignity and vocational responsibility that comes from ownership and having the authority to name: owning and naming one’s own goat, or owning and naming a 4×4 vehicle. Or a garage. God has his mechanics in the world, and he knows them all by name.

Photos: David Wagner

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