A Mayan Adventure–revisited by Deanna Duncan

I’m sitting here, staring at the ocean and musing on the goodness of the Lord.  True goodness.  Unspeakable goodness.  Eleven years ago, I was sitting in this same place unaware that I was about to meet a man who the Lord would use to change my life and that of my family.  He has no idea how his everyday work shifted the course of my family.  He was simply doing what he believed he was called to do–what he did day in and day out.  He showed each of us what it meant to lay aside our personal desires and serve our communities.  He showed us the richness and joy that comes from a humble heart and he awoke in my daughter a desire to serve the nations–which she does with beautiful abandon.

I can’t gather you all up and put you with me in a van in Mexico, so instead, let me tell you a story…

“Welcome to my former home.”

OK.  Now, we like to take adventures off the beaten path.   It used to be message boards, but now facebook groups let you bypass cruise organized adventures and meet some locals.   I had read that www.thenativechoice.com offered a real experience–and it still does. I never realized just how real.

Meet Ivan.

In 1940, his dad decided to leave the native Mayan village of Chacchoben and start his own farm.  The land of Quintana Roo, Mexico is flat as far as the eye can see–if you can see through the vegetation–except for one small area.  There, in the shade of a small hill, Mr. Cohuo built his home.

(L) One of the ruins (R) Ivan’s former home

The years passed.  Ivan and his brothers played on the land, and all was well.

Then a professor from Tulane University wandered onto their land and discovered the site of an ancient Mayan civilization.

At first, things were good.  The Mexican government sent officials to this truly undeveloped area.  Some basic infrastructure (schools) started coming to the area, and Mr. Cohuo made a deal with the government to provide his son with a scholarship to study in Mexico City.  There Ivan stayed from the time he was in grade school to his post graduate work.  His family stayed on their land living in the traditional Mayan way (no running water or electricity) until June of 1994 when the government saw the potential for a tourist destination.

Long story short, the Cohuo family was kicked off their land, private investors built a port near the ruins (Costa Maya) and life was supposed to improve for all.

Except it didn’t.

The investors brought in their own people, built a huge wall around the port and beaches, and began to cart the tourists in huge busses straight past any of the local villages and directly to the ruins.  They even built a fake Mayan village and hired actors.

During this time, Ivan was working for Ritz Carlton. He heard what was happening and decided to act.

Ivan and a schoolmate (David) returned to Chacchoben Village and started their own tourist company.  In this village, there is no running water.  Houses are made of sticks.  Internet?  Forget it.  The very lucky have one light bulb in their house.  No one (except Ivan) has a car.  All food is made from scratch and cooked over a fire.

Our host’s home

Now, it would be real easy to become bitter at this point.  It would have been easier for Ivan to just stay in the US in his executive position and enjoy life.

Instead, he not only thought outside the box, he reinvented the box.

He hired widows in the village to make a meal for strangers a few days each week.  He taught them food safety, brought in plates and silverware (they normally eat on banana leaves) and created a set up where tourists could feel comfortable.

He started teaching English to the young men and women of the village.  He taught history.  He trained them to be tour guides.

Then, using his Blackberry (this story is over 11 years old), he created a website.

And waited.

Our Mayan Feast

We, along with scores of others, came.  We learned to dance, make tortillas and saw a life where currency had no great value–what they really love is shampoo, conditioner and lotion (all the stuff they can’t make themselves).

Our hostess, her home (12×12 for 3 people) and her well

 However, what we really learned is to value people.

Ivan “escaped” poverty and lived a life literally foreign to his family and friends.  Yet, when their lands were being taken up and their way of life was threatened, he gave up all of his comforts to come and help.

Now, the investors of Costa Maya are constantly coming up with ways of shutting him down.  A cold front killed many villagers and a hurricane wiped out some of the land.

However, when your heart is for God’s people there is always a solution.

I really don’t understand how he does it, but every widow in the village is provided for.  The youth are learning, and despite every set back, people keep coming.

It makes sense.  God commands us over and over again to care for the poor and makes promises such as the one in Proverbs 19:17.

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Ivan is just that promise in action.

Thank you, Ivan, for showing us the power of caring.

As the days, weeks and even years passed, our family still talked about Ivan and how instead of thinking a problem was too big, becoming bitter over the unfair treatment of his people or even just relaxing into the monetary rewards of his current life, he fought for his convictions and did it in a practical way that provided for others.  He has become an Ebenezer stone for our family–a reminder of the power and goodness of the Lord regardless of the situation.

Do you have Ebenezer stones in your life?  If not, lean into the story of Ivan or if you have your own, please share.  We are all built up by the stories of God’s goodness.  He is just so, so good…

Deanna is a lover of all things created by God but especially mountains, her family and golden retriever puppies. Wife, mom, business owner and small group leader, she finds the greatest joy in the life stories of the people of the Bible and the author of each one of them–God.


Mahahual Caribbean beach in Costa Maya of Mayan Mexico




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