Blast From The Past: Mexico 2004

Here’s my journal from my mission trip to Mexico in 2004:
February 15, 2004
flight to El Paso

“So put me in the water; put me in the fire/Put me in the world, and I’ll walk that wire.” –The Elms

I bought this huge duffel bag at the Army-Navy surplus store, $30, thinking it was the best way to take everything with me. I didn’t like that I couldn’t organize my stuff that well. I’m getting ready to walk out the door to load my stuff up, and I can’t get my bag thru the door to the garage! Finally, I squeezed it through, and I decided the duffel bag wasn’t the way to go. With half an hour before time to go, I decided to repack everything into my suitcase. MUCH better!
I’m excited about the group we have on this trip. There’s Brandon, Brittany, and Amanda—3/5 of my student leadership right there. Then there’s Ashley, Justin, and Jacob, all leaders in the band. Of all the students on the trip, I probably know Mandi the least, and I really know her pretty well. And then there’s Brady…what can I say about Brady. Knowing Brady and his heart as well as (I think) I do, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was that he chose to go, but somehow I was.
Among the adults, of course, there’s Greg and Linda, as well as Chad, all church staff; then there’s Jennifer, whom I’ve known forever. To top it all off, there’s Jill and Erin. Having this group here makes the trip worthwhile!
It’s unusual to me to be on a flight with people I know and to have people to talk to. Jennifer and I are next to each other, and the other adults are right by us. All the kids are within reasonable speaking distance as well. Jennifer and I have had some good conversations so far about her missionary trip to China that starts this summer, as well as about other stuff in general.
The funny thing is, we have several students—Brittany, Mandi, Ashley, Justin, and Brandon—who have NEVER flown before! I’m interested in their perceptions of and reactions to things on the flight. For instance, Ashley I going to the bathroom as I’m writing this, and no one has explained to her what an airline bathroom is like. When she came back, she sarcastically told us “it was awesome.”
Do I really know what to expect on this trip? I don’t know. I feel like I’m pretty open to what the Lord is going to show me, and I think it’s a good sign that I don’t have any preconceived notions. For so long, the whole idea of foreign missions was one I never truly bought into. I don’t know why, really; I guess it was just something that seemed distant not just physically but psychologically, too. Several things have brought about some changes in my views though—meeting missionaries all those years I worked at camp, Jennifer’s experience in China a couple of years ago, Linda and her team, etc. The Lord has worked in me through those things, and now here I am on my way to a week long mission trip. If you had asked me if I’d do something like this ten…five…even two years ago, I would have said “no,” probably pretty emphatically. Greg and I have had these types of conversations before, and he has seen things the same way as I have; heck, if he’s a pastor and he’s felt this way, I know I’m not alone!
All that brings me back around to the question of what I’m expecting to get out of this trip. I don’t think I’ll come back wanting to be a missionary to Africa or Romania or something; I mean, God does some amazing things, but you know… I expect a changed attitude toward foreign missions and perhaps toward the poor—not like I’m Ebenezer Scrooge right now, but more like seeing need in people more clearly. God might increase my sensitivity, though He knows I’m sensitive enough as it is.
We’ve been on this plane a while now, and everyone’s getting restless! I know I am… It’s been a pretty turbulent flight, and they’ve kept the seatbelt sign on most of the flight, but that hasn’t stopped most of us from getting up from time to time. Chad, Greg, and Brady are kinda loud, too. I bought the current issue of Relevant Magazine, and the cover article is about Mel Gibson and The Passion Of Christ. I can’t wait to see that movie! I gotta work on the devotion for tomorrow night…
I’m going to Wal-Mart with Linda and whoever else is going. I’ve pretty much written off sleeping tonight!

February 16, 2004
in Juárez

“I wanna be Your hands/I wanna be Your feet/I’ll go where You send me.” –Audio Adrenaline

Last night was an experience at Wal-Mart. Linda, Erin, Jill, Brandon, Justin, Amanda, and I darted around Wal-Mart looking for bargains and gifts for the kids in the family we’re building the house for, then we went to Taco Bell.
The view from the church in El Paso was breathtaking; there are beautiful mountains behind the building. All the students were taking pictures. We met up with Jason, the missionary, right after breakfast, and we loaded up. We crossed the border shortly after 8:00, and at first Juárez looked not that much different from an American town. Then we passed through an industrial area and into an extremely poor area. The church we’re staying at is fairly nice. Everyone is sleeping in the sanctuary. We laid the concrete slab foundation/floor for the house today while Brady and Chad built the walls to frame the house. I was impressed with how hard everyone worked, especially Brandon and Ashley mixing concrete. It’s 7:00 pm local time, and Jennifer finally got the luggage that the airline lost. Everyone’s ready to crash, and it’s about time for me to lead the devotion…

February 17, 2004
in Juárez

“Keep the faith ‘til the battle’s won/Pass it on.” –Lone Justice

More work on the house today. We framed the house, at which point I really began to feel pride in what we’re doing. After that, we put up insulated sheathing and chicken wire (for the stucco) on the outside and insulation on the inside. We also roofed and wired the house. Sheetrock and stucco and whatever else will come tomorrow. The wife of the pastor of the church near the house offered to feed us lunch, and most of us took her up on it. We had the best burritos I’ve ever had, along with some quesadillas. As soon as he heard the word “quesadillas,” Justin’s facial expression changed from fatigue to enthusiasm instantly. Jill tried to ask the lady (who did speak pretty good English) what kind of cheese they use in Spanish, but she would up asking “¿se llama queso?” (Do they call you cheese?). When Jill finally asked her the right question in English, her response was “Chihuahua Cheese.” Some of the kids had funny looks on their faces, and I got tickled imagining someone milking a chihuahua. Turns out Chihuahua is the state in Mexico, and that’s what the cheese is named for.
When we got back, Erin, Brandon, Brady, Amanda, and I made supper—sloppy joes—and then a few of us went to the park across the street. Brandon, Brady, and Justin managed to get into a basketball game with some local teenagers. Ashley managed to roll coming off the slide, which got the attention of everyone at the park, and the rest of us who went just enjoyed ourselves. We also talked to a few kids there and at the church where we’re staying.

February 18, 2004
in Juárez

“Let me be your shelter.” –Lone Justice

We finished the house today!!!! It was such an amazing process to see through. I was in charge of making the stucco—1 part water, 1 part concrete & lime mixture, and 3 parts sand. I could make it in my sleep now if I had to. It was a tough process, but I think I’d rather have done that than anything else. Several of the kids (mainly the boys) were frustrated at the process of putting the stucco on the house; it was weird how the girls all did much better at this than the guys. Amy, Jason’s wife, helped the girls with the stucco; her help was invaluable. The grandmother of the family that we’re building for fixed lunch for us; it was the only real interaction we’ve had with them. She made burritos with beans, potatoes, and cheese, along with some SPICY green chilis. They were pretty good.
After we finished the house and cleaned up, we dedicated the house; that was a special moment. The pastor from the church close to the site prayed in Spanish, and Greg prayed in English. We didn’t find out until today that the family is not Christian at all. They believe in Christ, but they mix a shallow belief with some form of idolatry. (There was this place on the mountain up above the area where we were that was the idolatry temple—very scary.) From my shallow knowledge of Spanish, I could tell that the pastor was praying for their souls. I can only hope and pray that we were a witness to them.
We got back early this afternoon, and Jill, Jennifer, Ashley, and Justin diverted from the cooking plan and made hamburgers with the leftover ground beef to go along with the hot dogs that were part of the plan. Both were especially good.

February 19, 2004
in El Paso

“Some of this picture’s coming into view.” –Patty Griffin

After supper last night, several of us played Guesstures; we had a blast and laughed so hard! Brady was particularly funny, picking out props that were clear across the room, running to point them out, and running back to grab the card. We pretty much stayed up late—well, later than we have all week. Erin, Jennifer, and Justin cooked up a weird prank to play on Greg. They cooked three extra hot dogs last night, and they took the weenies and tied them to the rearview mirror of the van.
We got up early this morning and cleaned up the church campus. After that, around 9:00 or so, we went to the house and gave gifts to the pastor and his wife at the church there. We had a sweet time of prayer there, and then we went to see the house one last time.
After we unloaded the tools and equipment at the Casas por Cristo office, we went to the market in Juárez. A little of that went a long way! I bought blankets and souvenirs and helped Brady pick out a couple of things. He also bought himself a soccer jersey; it was funny to watch him bargain with the people there. Brandon bought this guitar with all the money he had left, then he got upset that the strings were fake and he couldn’t get his money back! It was hard for me to, but I felt sorry for him. Erin bought me this cute little mini cowboy hat keychain that says Recuerdo de Ciudad Juárez.
Our passage across the border was a breeze—no wait at all. We ate lunch at McDonald’s in El Paso and came back to the church there. Erin and I took a few of the kids to Wal-Mart to get pictures developed (I had 145 on my camera!). We hung out in the furniture department while we waited for the pictures to be developed, and we made fun of Erin’s purchases of nut butter and crack cream.
We had some interesting weather today. All week long the weather has been beautiful—clear blue skies, warm days, cool nights. We woke up this morning, however, to 30 mph winds! In Juárez, where dust is king, it was almost like a sandstorm at times. When we got over the border to El Paso, the winds got stronger, gusting up to 50 mph. Driving to Wal-Mart was a bit scary, and when we had time to kill at the church and it was quiet enough, you could hear the wind whipping against the building. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it! As we left Wal-Mart, Justin’s hat blew off, and he had to chase it clear across the parking lot! Other than that some guy in a Mustang nearly ran over him, it was hilarious.
We went to a restaurant called Cheddar’s for supper; it was pretty good, especially the mashed potatoes. Afterwards we picked up Krispy Kreme (the hot sign was on) for snacks and breakfast, and Greg had a really neat devotion before we said goodbye to Jason and Amy. We have to leave out at 6:00 local time for our 8:00 flight; Linda and I think that may be cutting it close…I’d better get some sleep!

February 20, 2004
flight home to Atlanta

“I’ve had some time to think about you/On the long ride home.” –Patty Griffin

At last night’s devotion, Greg asked for volunteers to speak up about what God had taught them or spoken to them about this week. Some of the students spoke up about laziness or materialism; some adults talked about their heart for missions. I didn’t speak up because I didn’t know if anyone else would have understood this like I do, but I think the Lord was showing me a thing or two about vision. My nature is to look at the details and tasks in the smaller-scale picture, and it’s harder for me to see the big picture. I believe a project like this helped me to look at things with a broader outlook in mind. That may not be the most profound or life-changing lesson anyone has ever taken away from a trip like this one, but I feel like that’s how I’ve been changed as a result of this trip. Another thing that amazed me—and touched me—was how, in the face of poverty and persecution, people like Eligio and Carmelita, the pastor at Casa de Oración and his wife, live happy, simple lives that seem to be free of stress. I want to be like that.
We’re flying home now. HOME. That was we did—we built a home for this family. I’m impressed by and thankful for the level of teamwork we achieved. These kids (and adults) were great! It was funny at the airport…several kids got stopped at security and got wanded for various reasons. Justin had his disposable camera in his pocket (his money clip got him on the way to El Paso Sunday night, even though he realized later he had two bullets in one pocket!), and Brady wasn’t sure why they stopped him. Ashley had bought whips for her brothers at the marketplace in Juárez, and she made the poor decision to put them in her carryon. They took her aside, as she was scared! I knew there was a chance that they might confiscate them and that she would be upset if that happened, but they put them in her checked baggage instead. I finally got my pictures organized and in order! I still have a few to print up, and I’m planning on printing some for other people as well.