Doyle Knight shifted anxiously in his seat. He was approaching the Mexican border crossing at Brownville Texas, driving a large donated truck heading for Guatemala to be put in service with Water for Life. It had already been a long trip from Spokane, but there was still a long way to go. Really the border was about the halfway point. There were three men in the truck and they made sure their passports were in readily available and for the third time they checked all the documents for the truck and the vehicle they were towing behind the truck.
Crossing the border can be a difficult process. If you drive a vehicle into Mexico and let them know you intend to go entirely through the country, the Mexican authorities require a lot of paperwork. To complete the paperwork you must hire an agent. The agent does the paperwork and all makes sure all the supporting documents are in order. The vehicle must be titled in the traveler’s name and there must be Mexican insurance for the vehicle.
Doyle spent about 4 hours going through the routine to get the paperwork completed. It cost 750 dollars. Then there was a very odd fee. It was 250 dollars and had to be paid in cash. There was no receipt given in exchange for the money. It sounded like a shakedown, but there was little Doyle could do. They had the power to deny him entry. He wanted to enter. It was simple. Pay. He paid and they allowed him to enter. Later, he was to experience the very same thing in order to exit the country. A 250 bribe.
While they were traveling down the length of Mexico, they left the coastal highway for a time. They should not have done that, because the coastal highway is policed with special police and the military has a presence there to back them up. Inland it is not like that at all. There are bandits, thieves, and phony police that extract tolls from unwary travelers who stray from the populated coastal highway. Doyle ran into three of these highwaymen.
The way they do it sounds like a scene from an old western movie. They drag a big branch across the road and put a chair or little table beside the road. They might have a fake badge between them and perhaps a gun. They stop all vehicles. They usually let the cars go by, but if a truck comes that seems like it could be commercial, they stop the truck and “inspect” the paperwork. Believe me, they will find a “problem.” They quote an exorbitant figure. Then they “negotiate” with you till a mutually acceptable figure is reached. It is just like being in the market, trying to buy a bunch of bananas. They have the bananas. If you want the bananas, you pay.
After 4 days they finally made it down across Mexico. They paid the 250 cash (with no receipt) exit fee for the truck and put the bandits behind them.
They had not gone one mile and then the Special Guatemalan police stopped them. This was no branch across the road shakedown, but a fully marked vehicle with lights and an officer who was armed and in uniform. This was the real deal. The officer began to ask questions about who they were and where they were going and whose truck was it and who are they going to visit and how long were they going to be in Guatemala and why does the truck have Washington plates and what is in the truck and what is Water for Life etc. etc. They answered the questions as well as they could and wondered what will happen next and how much the bribe would be. Only the Good Lord knew what was next. Doyle shifted anxiously in his seat.
The Guatemalan Police officer who stopped Doyle Knight and his two traveling companions was all business. He requested the paperwork that showed they had passed inspection at the border and all the passports. He studied them for a couple of minutes. He was looking for an entry permit for the vehicle.
Guatemala is fairly sensitive to the importation of vehicles. They prefer that vehicles (and anything else for that matter) that can be purchased in Guatemala, be purchased in Guatemala. To encourage folks to comply with this rule, there is often an exorbitant fee for anyone who brings a vehicle into the country and who declares that the vehicle will be sold or delivered to someone in Guatemala. The fees must be paid or the vehicle will be confiscated. This is what the officer wanted to check.
Doyle was able to provide the proper paperwork that showed the fees had been paid at the border. The officer wanted to know about the truck and noticed that the truck was to be left in Guatemala with Water for Life.
He wanted to know what that was all about. Doyle told them that he was a missionary and Water for Life worked to provide clean water in villages with no water and that the truck was going to be used to help do this.
The officer seemed to doubt that that Doyle was a missionary. He had seen missionaries from the states before. They were usually dressed well and in nice vehicles. They usually talked about converting Guatemalans to whatever religion they follow and the vehicles were usually full of bibles and literature. None of that was present with these travelers.
Doyle explained that the focus of the mission of Water for Life was just to bring clean water to people who had none, no matter what their religion. They were missionaries bringing life and health, not religion.
Finally, the officer seemed satisfied with the paperwork and accepted what they said they were doing. Doyle waited for the discovery of a “problem” that would signal the start of the shakedown for money as it had in Mexico. The officer handed back all the paperwork and the passports and then instead of the shakedown, the officer stepped back and said, “thank you for helping my people,” and turned away and walked back to his vehicle.
Doyle’s anxiety faded as the officer left. They had made it into Guatemala! There were 4500 miles of travel behind them and just a few hours to our headquarters. This old truck, donated by WFL volunteer Bob Perry, was finally there and would soon be working to bring the blessing of pure safe water to people who have none.
Thank you to Doyle Knight and the many volunteers and donors who made this trip possible. Thank the Good Lord too, who really makes all of WFL happen.