As a family, we have wanted to go down to Tijuana and volunteer to build a house for a family in need for awhile now. We had that opportunity this past Saturday and what an experience it was! Our church partners with a group called Caravan Ministries (http://www.mexicocaravanministries.com/) that is based in Tijuana so we were able to hook up with them and get on a team. I was very anxious about it since I’ve never been to Mexico but had heard all the horror stories about getting pulled over by the federales for money, the extreme poverty, drug wars, crime, and crazy traffic. I had to give all that to God because I knew He wanted us to do this as a family. I’m so glad I listened.
The day started bright and early as we met our group at a Taco Bell at 6AM just north of the border. There were about 20 of us gathered around, shivering in the early morning chill. We made introductions and got brief instructions from our leader and then were broken into 3 groups. We had 3 houses to build that day and each team was assigned to 1 house. We carpooled down so we had another gal, Anna, who was a little older than Simone, ride in the truck with us and she left her car at the Taco Bell.
So off we went! We followed our team leader down to the border and crossed without getting a second glance. They just waved us through. The difference between the US and Mexico hit us immediately. The hillsides were covered with little cardboard, wood, or metal shacks. One on top of another. There was trash everywhere. It was foul and felt very oppressive. Traffic was insane. There was no regard for stop lights or stop signs. If you can go, you just go! It was complete and utter insanity.
We made it to Caravan Ministries home base and had another orientation, inspirational talk, and a little worship and prayer. They then assigned us to missionary leaders who would tell us what to do and lead us to the job site. Our team was assigned to Tyler and Paisley. Tyler had been there since January and Paisley (who was only 17) had been there 3 weeks.
In orientation they told us not to drink the water, not to pet the stray dogs, and to eat everything on our plates for lunch. The family we were building for was providing lunch for us and they only made $12 a week so it took them 3 days of wages to feed our team.
So we loaded up the trucks with lumber, plywood, tools, painting supplies and all the building materials and headed out to the build site. The drive to the build site was an adventure unto itself! The traffic was chaotic with no sense of order whatsoever. We joked around that the stop signs which read “Alto” actually meant Go instead of Stop because no one was stopping! Same thing for traffic lights. You just went whether there was an opening or not and just hoped you would make it through unscathed. We had some close calls but made it to the job site in one piece.
The build site was located in a beautiful valley that was just starting to become populated. The houses that were there were already being built, one on top of another. The family we were building for had 5 children. Now when I say we were building a “house,” it was actually a 12 x 12 one room structure that looked more like a shed. Can you imagine living in a “house” that is no bigger than the size of your living room with 5 kids? There was no running water and no electricity. They had an outhouse for their bathroom which happened to be about 2 feet from the front door. Pew!
So we got to work building this “house.” We all just migrated from one job to the next depending on what our leaders told us to do and what needed to be done next. Measuring out the wood, marking the wood, sawing the wood, nailing the frame of the walls together, putting up the walls, nailing the walls together, nailing the structure to the cement foundation, nailing together the roof, lifting the roof up and nailing it on, putting the tiles in place and nailing them on, painting the structure, and adding a window and door. We did this all manually with hammers and hand saws. It was amazing how fast it went up.
We were able to spend a little time with the kids also. Simone brought some of her stuffed animals and gave them to the little kids. One teddy bear was almost as big as the little girl who got it. We gave the moms a couple sacks of clothing too.
For lunch, the family fed us chicken, chips and pico de gallo, bread and butter, beans, and a tamarind punch. It was very good and we each ate everything on our plates and even went back for seconds. I was able to tell the mother “La comida es muy bueno” and I could tell she was very pleased about it.
When we were done building the house, we all gathered inside with the family and prayed over them and the house. They got a Bible signed with a little word of encouragement from each of us and the mother held it like a treasure in her hands. Then we kissed them all and left them to their new home.
We were a weary bunch but happy and fulfilled as we made our way back to home base. Once there we unloaded the trucks and cleaned the paint supplies and then parted ways to head back to our privileged lives in the US.
The border wait was 2 hours and 15 minutes- plenty of time for me to reflect on what we had just accomplished. Everyone has their own opinion about Mexico and the Mexican people but what it boils down to, for me, is the basic needs of the human condition. Politics, government, religion, and cultural disagreements aside, we are all human beings. When you give abundantly, it opens your heart to the possibility of change- for yourself and for whomever you are helping. We are cheerful givers. It’s the least we can do to show our Lord how grateful we are for all our blessings and His great sacrifice for us. “And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:10.