I thought I had seen it in the states.
Here vast and wide-spread.
I feel like I’m in a post apocalypse movie… survival and make-shift society. Dust covers everything, trash everywhere. Stick fences with debris clinging, flapping in the consistent breeze.
There are two seasons each day.
One in the sun and one in the shade.
We retreat each evening to our oasis by the bay. Where toilets flush and a hot meal awaits. Life is so unfair to so many. Each day four crews of 14 have a task to serve the Christians here. Day one we provided VBS to the young children. We had perhaps 60 children. Many dressed in their best, wearing jewelry saying Jesus or a simple cross.
The large brown eyes stare and give bashful smiles to us. The biggest smiles always reserved for after I take their photo and show it to them.
During the evenings if your team wasn’t handling VBS, the teens had a devotional with the teens from the church. This is the first mission trip of primarily teens to this part of Mexico. Because of the many years of mission trips to San Quentin the children of the church are now teens and the goal was to reach out to them. This was neat to witness as the two groups became comfortable together while serving the community, worshipping together, sharing meals and playing soccer.
Another day we made home visits to the families who have teens in the church or who are in need of extra encouragement. We went to the grocery and bought bags of fruit to give to the families we visited. $16 bought 10 bunches of bananas and 60 oranges. A treat for these families. We visited 6 or 7 families.
We greeted each family as they stood huddled together in the doorway of their home. We heard their stories, sang and prayed for what was on their hearts. Many request were equal to the prayers we say, sickness, unfaithful family members, and prayers for their children. Some prayer request were not from our world. Request for fresh vegetables and medicine. Each home and small yard were fenced in with sticks and tarps of whatever materials they could find. Some homes concrete, some wood. Few with power or running water. Outhouses in every yard, clothes hanging out on the line and a dog somewhere nearby.
The lucky ones had chickens & a little vegetable garden striving to grow with little water. One family shared cucumbers with us the father had gotten from his work. In their window hung a blanket our children help make in VBS at home many years ago. I remember us all sitting on the floors in circles making them. Many of those kids are here today. It makes them so happy to see the blanket being used.
Perhaps the hardest day for many of us to witness. But the faith of these families made me think of what is in store for them one day and never has Revelations 21:4 meant so much to me. “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death, there will no longer be any mourning or crying or pain, the first things have passed away.”
But they are not sad people who pity themselves. This is their world. Their story is everyone else’s story too.
We had two vans driving us around. One we rode and one with the Mexican teens. After our first visit I noticed a few of our teens get on the Mexican van and with each additional visit more and more rode with them. I loved witnessing their courage.
Construction day was another of our service days. Each team spent a day working on a house that we would complete in 4 days.
It was hot, dry and dusty. Challenges were met on every front. Generator not working, or the exact tool not on hand, and finally the second bus breaking down. No one was deterred as hand saws replaced the power tools and everyone pulled together even more so. It’s the way it is here.
The family of 7 watched from the doorway of their cardboard house as our team put a door, roof and 2 windows in their new house. Lunch was delivered by the kitchen crew. Children from all around came to eat as well. Each of us seeking shade to enjoy our meal crawled in the vans, trailers & bus. I didn’t eat my bread so I shared it with the hungry dog sleeping under the bus. He wagged his tail stirring up dust. Gratefulness in his eyes. Later, I saw a teen give him water in a cup.
The afternoon ended with me throwing up in a ditch across the road from our construction site. A little boy walked up to see what I was doing. He was eating a ziplock bag of Cheetos. Wished I knew the word for sick in Spanish. Luckily this passed and left me with a fever for the long night but thankful to all the prayers lifted up for me as I tried not to dwell on the possibilities of what ailed me.
I awoke to feel much better and now I sit as I write this on the porch of our oasis. The shade and breeze my company. I think now as the buses & vans drive out of what they will encounter today, whose life will be touched and who will be lifted up in His name.
Some images will never be forgotten ever. Kim carrying a big box through the airport that had rolls of irrigation supplies to make hula hoops for the children, an idea his daughter Sarah saw on Pinterest, the little dirty hands reaching thru the fence for beanie babies brought by Cassie, my son and husband both using hand saws simultaneously, one on the roof and one on the ground, and Mishka sawing a third for their window. And Michele playing 4 square with the children as though it was the best game ever, and the huge smile of the star soccer player being encouraged by his friends as they chant his name to join the game after the “Americans” scored. Or the joy in Missy’s face after visiting an elementary school & sharing her experience with me. And Diana’s good morning smile as she served breakfast, finally being on a trip with the teens she serves everyday. These things and many more quiet moments I will always cherish as I saw God working through us.
As our week in the San Quentin community came to a close so did the construction of the house. The family that received this house, were chosen by the members of the church because of their needs. They currently live in a cardboard house with no roof.
Their story is like many others living here. They rise and go to work at 530 riding one hour both ways. The mom rises at 330 to build a fire and cook food for them and the children. The oldest daughter no longer goes to school so she can care for the youngest. The parents now harvest onions. 75 lbs in a bag for which they are paid 30 cents a bag. They harvest 60 bags a day. When the crop is finished they await until the another crop is ready. Being out of work some weeks. While we worked I watched Gabriella wash laundry with a scrub brush and pan of water and hang them out on the line.
Our team donated money, unplanned, from our own pockets to buy this family mattresses and a used gas stove. A small group met to deliver these items to them. Building them bunk beds and a bed frame from the leftover wood, their used mattresses were brought into their house and she learned how to use her stove.
I was present in the evening, in a small circle as their home was finally finished and I heard my son pray over them. The trip was completely worth this moment.
Tonight the parents will not have to sleep on the floor. In the morning Gabriella will not have to build a fire.
The next morning our entire group came to the house to see the finished house and to dedicate the house and to bid them goodbye as we headed North to Ensenada. Pictures were taken, the children showed off their beds, and the stove had been used. Matt had been the spearhead on the construction site and he opened his bible and read.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Matt placed the keys to the house in Gabriella’s hands. As my turn came to hug her tightly, I took this picture of the shiny new keys in her sweet brown hand. God is good.
We all spread out over the house and laid our hands on it and prayed. Prayed for their future and their health, their faithfulness and their family. I touched their beds in prayer and her stove in prayer. Powerful morning on this desert. It was holy.
I can’t apologize for the length of this post nor my thoughts. My emotions flooded out when I wrote these thoughts while there. I respect those that have been making this trip for years and years. It is a difficult one. The traveling itself is hard, but I regret not making this trip sooner.
As we drove into Baja on the mountain side was a large cleared area with rocks spelling out Romans 10:9 and I looked it up while on the bus ride. “If you declare with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” My prayer is our actions and words this week declared to those we served that we believe Jesus is Lord.