“I remember that my mother told me, ‘Now that you know about the word of God, are you ready to wear a straightjacket?’”
Those aren’t the words you expect a Christian mother to say to her newly-saved daughter. But Gaby knew her mom’s teasing came from a place of inexpressible joy.
Gaby married and had children young, so she spent years trying to recapture her youth. While her husband “worked all the time,” Gaby says, “I really like to be in the streets.” Her mom tried to tell her about God. Gaby thought it was madness to give up freedom for a set of religious rules and submission.
“I used to tell [my mom] that she was crazy, fanaticized with a God,” Gaby says.
But when Hurricane Odile swept through Gaby’s community in 2014, God started her on a journey that would transform not only her life but also the lives of many in her community.
Today she says, “Here I am, wearing my straightjacket.”
The Worst Place for a Hurricane
In 2014, Gaby and her family had moved to a new neighborhood in La Paz, Mexico.
In this case, “new” didn’t mean polished and fresh. Mexico allows squatters to claim a piece of land by marking out a plot and building on it. When enough people build there, the government officially recognizes the community and connects it to electricity and water.
Gaby’s neighborhood hadn’t been recognized yet, and most of the houses were temporary structures made of wood and metal sheet roofing.
It was one of the worst places to be when Hurricane Odile hit.
Realizing God’s Love
Gaby was working away from home when the category 4 hurricane tore through La Paz. She arrived the next day to see the hills strewn with sheet metal roofs and other debris.
“There were many people left without a home because their houses had been destroyed and their belongings had been lost — completely lost,” Gaby recalls.
Thankfully, Gaby’s neighborhood wasn’t alone.
Years before, God had established Rancho el Camino, an outreach that serves underprivileged neighborhoods on the backside of La Paz. The ranch staff observed the damage and then got to work. They helped people rebuild their homes and started a food kitchen for those in need.
“It was surprising because I didn’t expect so much help from them, and that there were such good people around,” Gaby says.
Soon, Gaby found herself helping, too, serving her neighbors in the food kitchen. It was a simple operation, run in the home of the ranch’s cook, Jazmin.
“We were making tortillas by hand, and that’s time consuming,” says Emily Johnson, co-director of Rancho el Camino.
Day after day, tortilla after tortilla, the women in the kitchen talked. Emily invited them to come to a Bible study about Jesus, as well.
Slowly, Gaby became curious about the religion she had spurned. She says, “I began to realize the love of God.”
Gaby often asked Emily if the ranch needed any help. She helped cook at major events and came to the ranch when she needed a time of rest. Several years passed that way, and then Jazmin got an idea.
Joining in Ministry
Jazmin suggested that Gaby come to the ranch as a housecleaner for the summer. Both Gaby and Emily agreed, and it was soon evident that God was moving.
“[I] really got to see how she was giving her life to Jesus … and how God was transforming her,” Emily says. “And so we spent many, many days crying in my kitchen and just praying through things.”
Emily asked Gaby if she would take a bigger role in serving the young people at Rancho el Camino. There were opportunities to mentor young people and help them finish high school. Emily could clearly see that Gaby had a natural gift for working with teens.
“She’s very vulnerable with them because she’s experienced so many of the same things they have. And so she’s able to take what God brought her through to really bless them,” Emily says.
In addition to leading the high school diploma program, Gaby serves as the ranch cook. She also works with Emily to build deeper relationships with parents so they can feel safe sending their kids to activities at the ranch.
Serving with God’s Presence
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Mexico, the ranch began organizing food distribution again. This time, Gaby not only helped, but she served as a major leader in the program.
“I used to serve without the presence of God because I didn’t know Him,” Gaby says. But today, she radiates the love and joy of Jesus Christ. “Knowing God and then living in Him is the best gift I have ever received.”
Each day at the ranch is a chance to share the truth that she missed for so long: Following Jesus doesn’t mean being bound; it means being set free.