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Issue 10-6

The Mexican Who Lives in Our Basement

Cirilo Leon came home after a full day of gardening at the estate up the road, got my rototiller running and explained to me how to start it. It kept stalling out on me when I was trying to do a project. He turned over 1/3 of the dirt in the front vegetable garden that we are just planting—for the first time in the 33 years we have lived here. He rototilled the bed beneath the Anthony Waterer spirea, which should bloom soon, and into which I want to transplant the sweet woodruff given to me by a friend. He finished the bed where the cold frames are scheduled to be set, then turned up the dirt into which I am planning to set stepping-stones to the east woodland garden. In addition, he mowed the lawn.

I finally had to go outside and say, “That’s all, Cirilo. You’ve worked hard today and you’ve done enough here. Don’t do any more.”

Cirilo lives in what used to be the boys’ room in our basement. He returns each growing season from his home and family in Oaxaca, Mexico, arriving at the end of March and returning mid-October. His papers are all in good order since our son, Jeremy Mains, an immigration counselor, has handled those legal requirements.

Cirilo worked for 11 years for my husband’s brother on their 22-acre estate just up the road. But when Doug began to show signs of early cognitive disorder, he and his wife, Fran, deeded their property to the DuPage County Forest Preserve and moved to a retirement center. It was not that Cirilo now had no work—he is the envy of every serious gardener up and down Indian Knoll Road—most homes along this lane sit on several acres of land, at least, and good groundsmen are hard to find.

No, Cirilo had no place to live.

“Come live with us, Cirilo,” David said. “We have a room in the basement. If you can’t find another place, we’ll clear it out and you can stay there.”

So clear it out we did. To make room for Cirilo, we moved six years’ worth of master tapes from David’s daily half-hour TV show You Need to Know. All those boxes and plastic tubs were hauled up to the garage, which made it impossible to get the car inside.

Cirilo’s move into our home started us those awful jobs we had been procrastinating doing, and due to the financial gift of a generous friend, we were able to waterproof, stain, repair, replace and reupholster the rest of the basement. I even had new carpet laid down, bought new bookcases and two new chairs—“new” being the unusual word here. My hairdresser helped me haul a resale coffee and end table in her van. Then because the World Soccer Championship was playing (and Cirilo follows World Cup soccer), we even bought a flat-screen TV—the first television we’ve owned in the last 30 years of our marriage. Since then, we’ve shared wonderful hours watching sports playoffs and good DVDs with our adult children and our grandchildren.

None of this would have taken place had Cirilo not moved into the basement. Eventually we installed a shower in the laundry room and a small food bar with a microwave and a mini-fridge. What a summer! Because of Cirilo’s presence, we made more progress in a few months in our basement than we had for years; neglectful people that we can be regarding the material requirements of life. Cirilo jumped in and cleaned the garage, helped me haul an abandoned kitchen cabinet, which I painted paprika red, and then he cleaned out the moldering contents of the screened-in porch.

Of course, the summer of 2010 was also the summer that flooding rains hit the West Chicago area, with high winds knocking out our electricity and finishing the aging sump pump. Cirilo woke one morning and his feet hit a soggy rug. Everything we had put in had to be hauled out or set on blocks. The month-old new carpet and thick pad, now soaked with grey water, had to be torn out and stacked by the curb. The morning when I thought I couldn’t possibly tear it apart and start again, I came down from my office and long discussions with our insurance company to find that Cirilo had moved and shoved everything either into the garage, the laundry room or the furnace room.

In two weeks’ time, the insurance adjustor came, wrote his report. I ordered indoor-outdoor carpeting (recommended for basements by the water reclamation guy), a n adequate compensation check arrived in the mail, the new carpeting was laid, paint repair was completed, and we were functioning with a clean, remodeled, refreshed basement again.

David and I frequently ask one another, “What would we have done without Cirilo?”

Cirilo often arrives in the States with molé, the special sauce made in Oaxaca that is served on occasions of high festival and celebration. So we invite a table full of friends and he cooks the meal (with frequent long-distance cell-phone consultations with his wife Lucia). Molé—there are four kinds, I’ve learned—takes days to prepare and is made by what appears to be (according to a public-television documentary) a whole village of women. No wonder it is a delicacy—this is not a frozen-meal convenience food.

Because of Cirilo’s presence in our home (we are happy to see him arrive, and glad for his sake when he can go back home to his family), I’ve thought a lot about the words of the title of one of C.S. Lewis’ books, Till We Have Faces. The discussion on immigrants and immigration is only academic until these people have faces and stories and eyes that light up with a morning greeting.

I had been laughing about having to redo the basement after the flooding incident and Cirilo said to me, “Bad things happen to you and you laugh.”

“But don’t you laugh, Cirilo? Sometimes that’s all we can do is laugh.”

“No,” Cirilo replied. “I just get angry.”

That opened up a conversation about his childhood—which I assume had some brutality in it. Cirilo is such a gentle man, such a good worker, loves and misses his wife and three boys so much—that we are happy to provide a home for him where we can laugh about some of the bad things—at least some of the disconcerting things— that come our way, knowing this is part of life.

“I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), Jesus said to His disciples sometime during His last days on Earth. How lovely it is to think that one of our Lord’s last concerns was that we would know there would be a place made ready for us. How easy it is for us to do this for Cirilo—Here there is a place for you, our friend.

My home, my life, my garden, my understanding of another part of the world are all inestimably better because of the Mexican man who lives in our basement. He has been the answer to my prayers in ways I can scarcely count. Cirilo has a face that we know. He will go again this October, and, God willing, come again next spring. And we will be glad to see him again.

Karen Mains


Africa Journey, October 2-11, 2011

Long ago, with many travels behind us, we learned that the best way to see a country is with someone who loves it. Come journey with us, David and Karen Mains, for we certainly love this amazing and perplexing land.

We invite you to join us on an African journey into the heart of Kenya, meeting many people who love and understand the African experience. We guarantee that when you return home, a piece of you will remain with the African people. You will remember with longing the vast expanse of land of the savannah of Maasai Mara, be haunted by the memories of wild-animal migrations, and be filled with joy and compassion at the plucky entrepreneurial spirit of people determined to lift themselves out of poverty.

We are looking for nine entrepreneurial, pragmatic problem-solvers
who believe the world can be made better when people work together.

*  We will make our base camp in Nairobi at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST) in Kijiji, the guest house on campus.
* From there, we will meet Caleb and Eunice Otieno, with whom we partner in the Global Bag Project. The Otienos are the founders of St. Martha’s Ministry, which works with HIV/AIDS widows in the slums of Kibera, where one million people live within a one-square-mile area.
*  Mary Ogalo, the GBP Manager, will welcome us to the GBP sewing room, introduce us to Mary Nduta, our first bag-maker and designer, and then we will visit several other projects where sustainable incomes are being achieved through entrepreneurial efforts.
*  In Nairobi, we will also meet with African leaders of CHE (Community Health Evangelism), a remarkable development ministry that seamlessly integrates scriptural content into some 3500 lesson plans, now being used by organizations worldwide.
*  Then off on safari at Kichwa Tembo Maasai Mara Tented Camp, where we will go back to the settings of the film Out of Africa. We will spend two days in Land Rovers, tracking wild game, and two nights in the compound under the stars. Our porters and guides are from Maasai tribes.
*  We will also visit the Great Rift Valley, take a boat trip on Lake Naivasha, watch the zebra and the hippopotami—and much, much more.
*  A meal at the Karen Blixen house, shopping in the local markets—these two weeks will be full of the experiences of a lifetime.
*  In addition, we will introduce a life-mapping process that will help you integrate the challenges you experience into how God may be interacting with your life story.

The date of the journey is October 2-11, 2011; we will arrive in Nairobi on the 2nd and leave on the 11th. The cost for the land fee, not including airfare (due to the fact that so many travelers use accumulated mileage, or prefer to stop in Europe, or travel more in Africa), is $3500. Any margins that may occur will go to the Global Bag Project.

For more information, contact Karen Mains at Your registration must be in place by July 31 with half your land fee as earnest money. Upon registration, we will provide you with a day-by-day itinerary, send details as to what to pack, and a book list as to what you might want to read to prepare yourself for this journey. Two books up-front we recommend you read before we travel are Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Isaac Dinesen) and When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. (By all means, revisit the film Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.)

Blogging Again

Check out Karen Mains’ blog at

Karen is spending the rest of this year writing a daily record of her God Hunt Sightings. So far she has blogged about “Losing My Checkbook,” “God at the Gas Station”, etc—all divine interventions that happen in everyone’s days but that we don’t recognize because we are not paying attention.

Karen has been keeping track of God’s daily interventions in a prayer journal she has kept for over 38 years. No wonder she has developed good spiritual eye and (in)sight!

Karen would love to hear about your God Hunt Sightings. You can respond in the “Comment” section of her blog.


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“Because of Cirilo’s presence in our home (we are happy to see him arrive, and glad for his sake when he can go back home to his family), I’ve thought a lot about the words of the title of one of C.S. Lewis’ books, Till We Have Faces. The discussion on immigrants and immigration is only academic until these people have faces and stories and eyes that light up with a morning greeting.”



Open Heart, Open Home (poster)
Book by Karen Mains

Karen just had this poster refurbished to hand out at the office, and several of her kids said, “Mom, we want a copy of that.” So we have copies of this poster with the quote, “In this inhospitable world, a Christian home is a miracle to be shared” from her book Open Heart, Open Home.

The thought occurs that you might also like a copy. (CLICK HERE to see a larger-size image of the poster.) Sizes and prices are:

8 ˝" x 11"  for $10.00 plus $3.95 shipping/handling
9" x 14"  for $13.00 plus $3.95 shipping/handling
11" x 17" for $18.00 plus $5.95 shipping/handling

To order a copy, contact us at with a notice that “a check is in the mail.” Checks can be made out to Hungry Souls and mailed to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

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