Last Sunday, 57 junior highers and 9 adults finished a trek across America in a charter bus, rented vans in San Diego, and crossed the border into Tecate. The sheer size of this group enabled us to plan a massive project in an inner-city neighborhood in Tecate. No other mission organizations or social programs have ever worked in this neighborhood besides Experience Mission, and our contacts in the area were extremely excited to have this group paint and refresh parts of their community.
During the week so far the group has transformed a drab, rundown neighborhood into a brightly colored, cheerful place for children to play and people to gather and socialize in the evenings. The basketball court has been freshly painted, two playgrounds have been renovated with fresh paint, wall murals, sand, new swings, and fences. The group even thought to use old tires as stair steps down a steep hill.
While it is exciting to observe the work the group has down in this community, even more importantly it is extraordinary how many relationships have been formed with the locals. Children have helped paint the walls, adults have opened their homes for us to use their restrooms and store our supplies overnight. Several youth have begun attending the evening programs, and we have been able to translate the messages. During free time, there is always a soccer game going on in the street with both youth from the community and the church group.
We have been able to help a community in need this week, which is exciting and a privilege to be a part of God’s work, but the lessons that both us as an EM staff have learned this week and this group has experienced has reminded us that through love we can all learn from one another. The generosity the people of Tecate have extended to our group this week has been tremendous and a powerful lesson for these youth to experience and strive to model with everyone they meet.
We’ve had a great first week – thank you for your prayers, and we are excited to see what God has in store for the remainder of this week.
In my dad’s favorite and oldest joke he tells me that he loves work – he could watch it for hours. And as I sit here typing this blog, I think I know exactly what he means. This week, the group from Grace Church in Wichita Falls, Texas has been busy completing hard manual labor, and I have had the pleasure of watching them along the way.
I have been able to visit one work site in particular, and the youth there have truly impressed me with their constant hard work despite heat and humidity, blisters and sunburn, and tiredness and aches. In this particular site, we are building a house for a woman name Isidra. Construction on the house began over six years ago but was not finished due to money, lack of labor and a devastating hurricane that passed through the area. Since then, this 97-year-old has been living in borrowed houses, waiting to see her dreams fulfilled and her very own house finished.
With this story in mind, the students from Grace Church arrived at the site the first day and were introduced to the enthusiastic, elderly woman. She was thrilled to have all of the life and vivacity that the youth brought to her home, and she spent the entire day sitting in the doorway of her borrowed house, sending praise and blessing up to God, and watching the students finish the walls that had been started so long ago.
After a few hours of learning and observing, the students set to work with machine-like consistency. Three or four of the young men spent their days mixing cement: they carried heavy buckets of water to mix with bags of cement and calcium and shovels full of gravel and sand. Others learned to lay bricks with Abel, the church pastor and the maestro of the site. They meticulously placed every brick in line with the measurements that Abel had given, being careful to have just enough cement and the right amount of spacing. Throughout the day, the team rotated through a prayer chair, in order to have someone constantly praying over the house, the mission team, and the community.
As the week comes to an end, I am excited to report that the house is coming to a finish. Abel is hoping to begin with the roof today, and the team is eager to see their hard work pay off. In fact, I should actually close this blog and head out; it is about time for me to return to my favorite part of the work: watching it.
As much as I complain to people back at home about the temperature in Ruiz, you would think that I would not longer be shocked by the oppressive burst of heat when I first step off the bus onto the streets of my favorite pueblo. But here we go again: my fourth time traveling to Ruiz, and I still cannot believe how hot it is. As I walk to the church to meet with Abel, I grumble to myself about the relentless sun. Why did I ever agree to come back to this climate? I’m a winter girl, not a summer girl. In that moment I look up from the sidewalk to see a young man coming towards me on his bicycle. “Emily!” he exclaims, and I immediately recognize him to be Esteban, a worksite maestro who has helped with the construction the last few years. We enthusiastically shake hands and begin catching up on life – what have you been doing this past year? Did you travel to the U.S. like you had hoped? What are your plans this summer? It is wonderful to see him again.
Esteban soon rides away, and my team and I continue our walk to the church – a walk which sees little respite from the sun. Alyssa and I are getting pretty tired so we stop in a store to buy some water and Gatorade. As we sit in some lawn chairs, Jim strikes up a conversation with Rosa, the woman behind the counter, and together we all chat about the weather, her daughter’s school, and the friendly little dog that is running around the store. Heading back out to the street, Rosa makes us promise that we will come back soon.
We finally reach the church, which appears to be empty. Approaching the building, we find a neighbor outside and we ask him if he has seen Pastor Abel. He was around today, the vecino explains, but he hasn’t been in recently. We chat for awhile (his name is Jose) and before we leave he runs to grab us a pile of mangos, recently picked from the backyard. They are just ready to eat, he explains, and he sends us on our way with fresh fruit in hand.
As we begin our walk back to the hotel, my mind wandering with thoughts of Esteban, Rosa, Jose, and all of the others that I know I will soon come across, I no longer feel as hot. Mind you, there is sweat dripping down my back and into my eyes—but somehow, it just doesn’t seem to matter quite as much.
– Emily (June 3, 2008)