Lee Short faces extreme job hazards every day. A missionary in Mexico for the past four years, the Anne Arundel County native has been shot at by robbers and threatened by underworld extortionists. Street thugs have trampled his son's face.
"It's dangerous. It's a different world," says Short, home last week visiting his parents, who still live in the same house on Danza Road in Severn where the missionary grew up.
A month ago, Short and his family missed disaster by minutes when sewer line blasts killed 191 people in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.
The missionaries live an hour from the city, but were taking care of passport and financial business before Short's monthlong furlough. Short, his wife, Carol, and their three children were at one of the explosion sites, an old bus station, when the building started shaking.
He told the children it was an earthquake, not knowing that gasoline had leaked from a pipeline owned by the government oil company, setting off explosions across the city.
The Shorts continued on to a bank. About 15 minutes after they had left the bus station, it exploded.
"The gas was so strong we were gagging on it," recalls Short, a tanned, intense man with dark hair and mustache.
Five miles of the city streets were destroyed and 20 square blocks leveled.
"I don't know if the paperwork I had done is still there," says Short, 37. "I was shaken by the tragedy, all those people, and also by the danger my family had been in."
Short, who attended Anne Arundel County schools before graduating from Anne Arundel Community College, knew Mexico wouldn't be a vacation.
He knew that becoming a "faith missionary," living solely on donations, with Globe Missionary Evangelism, an interdenominational mission board, wouldn't be easy.
But the Mexican people are his family now, Short says. Some of his zeal is motivated by the poor showing he says the Christian Church has made in Latin America. "I'm not criticizing the Catholic Church," says Short, who was reared as a Catholic. "But people in Latin America have been disillusioned by almost 500 years of Christianity. Christianity has not come to the level where it meets application in people's daily lives."
In the past 10 years, the evangelical Christian movement has grown across Latin America. But there aren't enough trained Mexican ministers or lay workers, Short says.
Short, a father of three, hopes to help train the Mexican ministers to effectively work with their own churches.
When he first arrived in Mexico, nightly meetings would draw between 50 and 500 people to see a Christian movie and hear a sermon. Local pastors begged Short to stay and teach them, but he was limited by time and his then-imperfect Spanish.
Then he thought of video. In rural communities, even houses with no running water have color televisions and VCRs. Putting Bible teaching on video in Spanish would be an excellent way to use existing technology to help the Mexican Christians, Short thought.
So he started the Video Institute of the Americas (VIDA, which means life in Spanish). With the help of Mexican volunteers, VIDA has created 20 hours of teaching tapes, along with a workbook. The program allows pastors to stay with their families and remain within the economic structures of their communities, while learning the Bible.
Short returned to Anne Arundel this month to raise money for VIDA, which he also hopes will start a Christian-oriented TV program.
The Shorts have built a 30-by-90-foot brick building to house the video operation. The programs, Short says, would provide health information and counseling, not the tele-evangelism to which Americans are accustomed.
For example, the programs would try to convince people not to put their wells near sewage lines. But people who save their whole lives to buy a concrete block house are prone to spend money on electronic appliances such as televisions, rather than nutritious food, says Short.
"They have to be taught there's a better way to live, to re-prioritize their lives," he says.
The poor living conditions have been an adjustment for Short and his family, all of whom were constantly sick their first two years in Mexico.
Medical care is about 50 years behind western medicine, Short says. When he and his family came down with symptoms such as swollen tongues covered with large bumps, they had to treat themselves.
In Manzanillo, where the Shorts spent the first part of their stay, the water smells of sewage and is often filled with disease-causing bacteria.
The Shorts found ways to build their resistance. They have learned that drinking milk from green coconuts a half-hour before eating breakfast kills some of the parasites. Another drink, made from crushed papaya seeds mixed with the meat of the papaya, helps kill worms.
However, becoming acclimated didn't prepare Short for the day bandits shot at him, or the time a street gang stomped his son's Josh's face into the ground. Surgeons have decided to wait until the 14-year-old turns 16 and his facial bones are fully formed before they attempt to reopen his nasal passages.
Even now, living an hour from Guadalajara where the conditions are somewhat better, the shower water sometimes smells of sewage, and the Shorts sometimes break out in sores.
But, says Short, "There's no place I'd rather live. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do with my life, I believe, and I have a sense of purpose."