Last week I led a group from College Avenue Baptist Church to Ensenada, B.C. Mexico to build a house for a family living in poverty and to conduct a VBS (Vacation Bible School) program for neighborhood children. There were 36 of us in all who went, ranging in age from 4 to 70 (or so). We had quite a few families on the trip this year—parents with their kids—which is one of our goals. I don’t think there is a much better way for parents to pass on the values of the Christian faith than to serve together on a mission trip.
I organize the trip at CABC but it wouldn’t be possible without the immense amount of work that YUGO Ministries does before we ever get there. They work closely all year long with local pastors in Mexico to identify families in desperate need of housing and get things ready for us. By the time we arrive, the slab has been poured and the building materials are all in place. All we have to do is provide the labor and get to work. YUGO also provides a top-notch base camp where we are given sleeping accommodations, meals and times of worship and teaching from the staff.
This year we worked with Pastor Carlos Santana of the Puerto del Cielo church (an Assembly of God congregation) just southeast of Ensenada. The family of five who we built the house for lived a short distance from the church in a deplorable dirt floor shack with a tarp for a roof and walls made from sticks and scraps of plywood. When we arrived, they told us through an interpreter “We have been praying for this for a very long time.” It is an awesome experience to be the answer to someone’s prayers.
We built the house in just four days (Monday through Thursday) and like most YUGO houses, it turned out to be a beautiful home—complete with a functioning kitchen (stove and refrigerator), table and chairs, bunk beds, area rugs on the floor and other amenities. We presented the family with the keys to their new home on Thursday afternoon and while I’ve witnessed this scene many times before, I’m always deeply moved by the joy that a simple three-room house can bring to a family who have never had one. I can only imagine how they must feel every night as they turn out the lights and go to sleep on those soft new mattresses under a strong roof and surrounded by solid walls that won’t fall down.
Because the Puerto del Cielo church is located in a heavily populated neighborhood, our VBS program attracted more than 150 children. We weren’t prepared for that many kids but we managed to stretch our resources and make it all work. Children came from all over the neighborhood to play games with us, sing songs and hear Bible lessons prepared by our team. It was thrilling to hear the children recite Bible verses from memory and listen so well to stories about Jesus. This year we gave all the children t-shirts with “Cristo me ama” emblazoned across the front and we sent them home with Bible story books in Spanish that they could read with their parents, siblings or friends. A Mexican pastor told us a few years ago that he went to a VBS program just like ours when he was a child. “I went for the candy,” he said, “but the seeds of the gospel were planted in my heart.”
I had one little mishap on Thursday afternoon as I slipped and fell onto the gravelly dirt road in front of the house we were building. I came down hard and cut a gash in my hand and leg, but I wasn’t hurt too bad. Mostly I was embarrassed. I was moving a little too quickly on the sloping path looking for the keys to the rental van which I had somehow misplaced. I was feeling a bit anxious at that point–and apparently it showed on my face. As I picked myself up and limped over to the van still looking for the lost keys, our construction supervisor Ricardo came over to me, put his arms around my shoulders and whispered “Pastor Wayne, I love you. Don’t be discouraged. Everything is going to be all right.” It’s amazing how Jesus sometimes speaks to us through other people. Everything was indeed all right. The van keys showed up, I dusted myself off and the rest of the day was pretty much perfect.
I’m always exhausted after my week in Mexico, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. Every year I wonder if I’m getting too old for this … but I keep going back. It has of become a kind of spiritual discipline for me, a way to get re-centered and to have an immersion experience in self-denial and service to others.
Overall, we had a great week. Thanks to YUGO for making it all happen and thanks to CABC for supporting us so well with finances for the house and lots of prayer support from the congregation. We’ve made plans to do it again next year (same week in August) so if you’d like to go with us, give me a shout. If you’d like to know more about Yugo Ministries, visit their website www.yugoministries.org.
Below is a highlight video of the week made by YUGO. It includes another church from Irvine (a Chinese congregation) who were also in camp, building a house on the other side of Ensenada. You’ll see many of our team, the children we served, the family and the house dedication.