Just returned from our second mission trip to Mexico this summer and it was a very special one. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about this trip because most of our July team were newbies and we didn’t have a lot of Bob-the-Builder types. But they certainly rose to the occasion after we got there, and were a fun bunch to be around to boot. Again, our team was made up mostly of families from College Avenue Baptist—the King family (Dave, Debbie, Trevor and Holly), the Klabunde family (Bryce, Jolene, Kayla and Amie), Susan Wayne with her two grandsons Austin and Gavin, Barbara and Sarah Darby (mom and daughter), Matt and Craig Ebersole (college-age brothers), two excellent interpreters (thank you Esther Tejada and Rebecca Harver), Chris Curtin (college student), Noah Stern (recent high school graduate) and me—for a total of 20.
Like our trip in June, our objective was to build a house for a needy family and to conduct VBS (Vacation Bible School) for neighborhood children at a local Mexican church. YUGO handles the logistics and provides the infrastructure to make it all happen. We stay at their Ensenada Outreach Center, a place I’ve watched grow and improve over the past 15 years. The EOC staff is helpful and very good at what they do yet they appear to stay as invisible as possible to allow visiting teams of short-term missionaries to feel like it’s all up to them. Even though the house we built pretty much went up on its own thanks to YUGO, we were certainly proud of how it all turned out at the end of the week.
We built the house for a single mom whose name is Yelni. She has an 8 year-old daughter named Regina. They had been living with Yelni’s parents which was not only a cramped environment but a hostile one for Yelni, a recently-converted Christian. Yelni wanted a place of her own where she could freely raise her daughter up in the faith. Yelni told us that on Sunday, Regina said, “Tomorrow I get to meet Jesus!” Yelni asked Regina what she meant by that and her daughter replied, “Jesus is coming to build us a new house!” Wow.
YUGO works with local pastors to help identify families who need homes and to help them acquire the land they need. We discovered that Yelni’s home was being built on property adjacent to her sister’s house in an agricultural area south of Ensenada. There are no utilities there (running water, electricity, plumbing or sewer systems.) We provided Yelni with an outhouse and a propane cook stove.
On Monday afternoon , after the house was framed and the siding went up on the outside walls, Yelni took her Bible and began copying verses on the back of the siding between the studs. I shot a few pictures. Even though the drywall would soon cover up all this scripture-on-the-walls,
Yelni wanted to be surrounded by the Word of God in her little home. I’ve built a lot of houses in Mexico for poor families but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.
Each morning, half of our team went to the church to conduct a VBS program for children. The church is called “Fuego del Dios” which means “Fire of God.” This little church seats about 50 people and has no electricity. In order to hold church services at night or plug in a guitar amp, Pastor Nicolas has to power up the church by starting up a small generator sitting outside the church.
The first morning when we arrived at the church, we didn’t see too many kids. But Pastor Nicolas wasn’t worried. He jumped in our van and directed us to a migrant farm camp a couple of miles from the church. We returned with 33 children stuffed inside our 15-passenger van. The next day, we not only had a van full of kids, but I picked up another couple dozen in my pickup truck. I had 12 kids inside the cab of my truck and another dozen in the back. Not too safe, but we didn’t have to get out on the highway. Mostly dirt roads.
Our VBS team did a great job preparing Gospel lessons for the children and our interpreters put them into words they could mostly understand, although some of them didn’t speak Spanish. They come from Oaxaca (Wahaca) and speak a dialect called mixteca. They are beautiful, lovable children who live with extreme hardship every single day. It was fun to watch them play our games and win candy and prizes. One day we took pictures of all the kids and let them decorate picture frames. The next day, we had glossy photos for them to take home. Some of those children had never seen a photo of themselves before.
I led the children in a few gospel songs in Spanish that I have learned over the years (like “Yo Tengo Gozo”). After that, the Bible story and lesson is taught. One morning, Jolene Klabunde, who was teaching the lesson, asked the youngsters if they were ready to receive Jesus into their hearts. She asked them to respond by getting up and going outside to be counseled. At once, every single child (about 50 of them) got up and went outside. It took two or three times explaining to the children what their “decision” was all about. Pastor Nicolas said that he attended a VBS just like ours when he was a child. The seeds of faith were planted there, he said. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure that the children understand what they need to know about Jesus.
We finished the house in three days, finishing on Thursday. We furnished it with a number of amenities that we brought with us—bookshelves, rugs, linens, cooking utensils and the like. We also built a front porch for Yelni, using some lumber that we had used at VBS in an object lesson to depict the Cross. So she had scripture verses on her walls and a cross in her doorstep. The dedication ceremony was very moving as the group passed around the keys in front of the house and offered a few words of encouragement and blessing for Yelni and Regina. Dave King, who led our construction crew presented the keys and the celebration began. Yelni fixed a nice meal for us (which she had prepared earlier in the day) which was delicious. Some kind of Mexican soup with corn, chicken, onions, peppers, tortillas …
Well, I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. We came home on Friday after a couple hours of being tourists at “La Bufadora,” the Mexican “Spouting Horn” a few miles south of Ensenada. We also made one more stop at our favorite street taco shop. Dave King commented that one of the best things about the trip was getting to know a bunch of people from our church he didn’t previously know. I agree. I especially enjoyed getting to know the Kings better and working closely with Bryce Klabunde, one of our pastors who really worked hard preparing the VBS program for this trip, as well as his family. A lot of good things happened in Mexico including a new realization for me that God is charge, not us. Despite all our best-laid plans and expectations, God always surprises us with all kinds of miracles and blessings that just can’t be predicted or described. Thanks to all who supported and prayed for us.