Tag Archives: YUGO

I have been busy organizing another intergenerational mission trip to Ensenada BC Mexico for College Avenue Baptist Church this summer. We’re calling it MexiGO! 2014 and once again, we’ll be working with YUGO Ministries out of their Ensenada Outreach Center. We’ll build homes for families who live in poverty and we’ll give neighborhood children a fun week of games, crafts and Bible stories as we conduct Vacation Bible School at the local iglesia. The date is August 3-8, 2014 (Sunday through Friday) and we’d love for you to consider going with us. You don’t have to speak Spanish, you don’t have to know anything about construction and you don’t have to be a member of CABC. I’m encouraging families in our church to consider trading their usual vacation week at the resort or amusement park for a week of ministry in Mexico.

For more than 20 years, I have conducted ministry trips to Mexico for youth groups (teenagers) but these intergenerational trips (adults and kids together) are the best by far. It’s such an amazing thing to watch parents and kids, young and old people working side-by-side and discovering together how rewarding it is to serve Christ by serving others. If you want to pass your faith and values on to your kids, this is a great way to do it.

Here’s a short promo video for the trip:

One of the students appearing in the video, 13-year old Sarah Ziegler, wrote a paper about her Mexico experience and gave me permission to reprint it here:

More Powerful Than Montezuma’s Revenge
Sarah Ziegler

Lifting the beanbag toss game off the ground, I hurried my way past the swarming children to the monstrous white van and loaded the game into the trunk. Then shepherding the kids, missionaries and Mexicans alike, I plopped myself down with an exhausted sigh. A young boy around six years old snuggled into my lap and joyfully poured Ensenada’s russet dirt on my old, tattered jeans. I listened intently to a familiar story spoken in a foreign language. Behind me, the sounds of saws and hammers informed me that the tiny house was nearly finished. That meant the week was almost over, too.

The Sunday beginning this special week, my family and I packed and traveled to Ensenada, Mexico with our church. We arrived and settled in for a one-week stay. I felt like I had traveled to a new planet. For example, driving to our destination, bright pink, orange, red, and green mansions loomed over the van in one neighborhood. In the next, cardboard boxes and tarps provided a roof over many families’ heads.

Finally finished with our long journey, we exhaustedly passed through the courtyard of the Ensenada Outreach Center, our headquarters for the week. A team of interns at the center enthusiastically greeted us. After unpacking in our rooms, we returned to the courtyard where we received many hugs from the family for whom we would construct a house. The family included a mother, father, and two sweet little boys, Eloy, 4, and Alexander, 1. Their current “house” consisted of a broken garage door for one wall, a bent up cardboard box for the other two, a tarp for the roof, and no door. The family’s things were jammed into the tiny “house”. It only took a day or two to realize how right I was about living in a different world. In the mornings, instead of waking up on a spacious bed in a spacious room, I found myself waking up in a room, smaller than my room back home, with my whole family sleeping therein. Instead of surveying a big closet filled with numerous clothes, I pulled out the same pair of jeans and t-shirt from a tiny suitcase and slipped them on. Throughout the day, a little girl or boy would ask me a question that I couldn’t translate. I would give the best answer I could, earning strange looks and laughter from the kids. The fake smile would appear on my face as I felt my face turning almost as red as the soil. Annoying as it is, Americans can’t drink Mexican water without disposing of it in a way I’d rather not mention. Consequently, showering and brushing teeth require lots more work. No singing in the shower aloud if you don’t want to get Montezuma’s Revenge. Brushing teeth had to be done with bottled water.

Completely opposite to my American mode, I never caught myself feeling bored, yet the only entertainment at EOC was ping pong. Oh yeah, foosball was always available, too. And there were always friends to spend time with in person, not on a text app. I’ll not even mention that we didn’t get to do this all until after dinner. Instead of occupying myself with online games, texting, and playing with friends and on electronics all the time, I did a lot of enjoyable work and spent great time with friends who care about me. Although I really enjoyed it, I didn’t quite realize all this until I found myself sitting on the red soil of Mexico, half-listening to Roberto’s lively story. I had been shaking off the dirt, trying to keep a smile on my face while the youngster laughed as he quickly restocked my pants with dust.

Suddenly, something struck my indignant little brain. Here I sat with the gifts God gave me of precious children He loved and a simple week to escape the distracting lifestyle at home. He gave them to me out of love, but I took a long while to appreciate it. I was focused on the filthy, dirt-covered clothes I wore for the fourth time as well as on avoiding Montezuma’s Revenge from the water. The kids laughed at me sometimes, sure. But they still loved me, and everyone else on the team, for bringing some joy into their lives of hardships. I had an opportunity to love them back in that genuine love God offers. At the same time that I stopped thinking about the hardships and started thinking about the amazing gift of God’s love for this little child and the others surrounding us, my leg stilled and allowed the redness to heap up. I realized how much love I felt for the kids, despite the giggles at my poor Spanish and the awkward conversations. God loves these kids so much, I thanked God for them and said I’d try to show them a bit of the love He intended to give.

The little boy looked up into my eyes and smiled a huge smile, almost too large for his darling little face. For the first time today, I returned him a smile just as genuine.

Sarah is going with her family again this summer and you can go too! If you would like more information just contact me and I’ll send you all the details.

Last week I led a group of 20 people from CABC (College Avenue Baptist Church) to Ensenada, Mexico for an intergenerational short-term mission trip. Once again, we stayed at YUGO Ministries’ Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) and worked with their staff to build a home for a family living in poverty and also to conduct a VBS program for neighborhood children. We have partnered the past few years with a small church in the community of Salitral called “Fuego de Dios” (Fire of God). Pastor Nicolas Gallegos shepherds a small flock there and does a remarkable job of reaching out to this little community. YUGO’s “Houses of Hope” program helps local churches serve families in the neighborhood in a very tangible and practical way. Families who receive new homes feel a special connection to their local church long after the house is built, and the ministry continues.

We built a home for a family of six who were living in a one-room house that was built for them by another ministry (Amor, perhaps) many years ago, probably when the family was much smaller. The new three-room house that we built was right next to the old one, so the family can now use both. Their kitchen, which was outside, can now be moved inside. The children will now have beds of their own rather than all sharing a common one.

We also conducted a Vacation Bible School program at Pastor Nicolas’ church each morning for about 35 children. Along with games, crafts and Bible stories, we did a puppet show each day. I built a portable puppet show stage made of PVC pipe and curtains and I purchased some pre-recorded puppet show scripts that were in Spanish, so our puppeteers only had to move the mouths of the puppets in sync with the dialogue. They worked great, although on the first day, one of the children began crying hysterically when the puppets started to talk. Apparently the little guy had never seen puppets before and they scared him to death. You can imagine what a small child would think upon seeing such odd-looking creatures come to life. He seemed to like (or at least to tolerate) the puppets the rest of the week.

It was a good week of ministry. Although our Mexico team was smaller this year than last, we had a good mix of people who worked hard and accomplished much. Chuck and Shannon Fisher, with their kids Jon, Sara and Chris, are old pros—this was their third year in a row. Bill and Debbie Gossett, with their two sons Joe and John, came out all of the way from Minnesota. Laura Morales, a single mom, brought her two children Roy and Victoria. Sara Fisher invited two of her friends (Tori and Maddie) and made up the puppet team. Bob and Luanne Holaday, longtime members of CABC, joined me as senior members of the team. Esther Tejada and Oscar Miramontes served as our interpreters. Bryce Klabunde, CABC’s Pastor of Soul Care, also came for the third year in a row and helped immensely on the construction team.

This was my fifth year doing a family mission trip to Mexico and my third with CABC. In my view, these trips perfectly accomplish my ministry goals as “Pastor to Generations” at CABC. It’s my favorite week of ministry of the year. Hardly anything else comes even close as a vehicle for passing faith from one generation to the next.

A week in Mexico is a complete immersion experience in intergenerational discipleship. Parents and children serve Christ together, working side by side for five days. They engage in extended conversations about faith and values. They participate in doing something together that is truly remarkable and very significant as they impact the lifestyle of a family much like their own. They worship together and receive biblical input each day from the YUGO leadership who help them process and learn from what they are experiencing during the week. They have a fun, positive family experience which rivals any family vacation or family camp. And with Mexico being so close to us in San Diego, it’s not expensive and easily accessible. All that’s needed is a passport and an appetite for some of the best street tacos on the world.

Hopefully we’ll be doing it again next year. Let me know if you’d like to go with us.


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.



Dedicating the new house

I just got back from a week in Mexico with a group of families from my church, the first of two trips that we are doing this summer. Thirty-three moms, dads and their kids spent July 17-20 at YUGO’s Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC), a terrific base for short term missions in Baja. I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years or so with both youth groups and family groups and YUGO’s staff is always helpful and accommodating.

I have to admit that on the first day of the week, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the week. Normally, my wife Marci goes with me and we arrange to get a private room at EOC rather than sleeping in the dorm rooms. Marci had back surgery the week before the trip so she couldn’t go on this one. So I stayed in the dorm room with all the other guys (16 of them) on a corner bunk in the back of the room. It brought back memories of being a cabin counselor at junior high camp, except there was a little more snoring from the adult campers. But as the week progressed, I got used to it and really enjoyed the time bunking down with all the other guys.

In just four days, our team built a beautiful new home for the Aparicio-Lopez family (mom, dad and two kids) who had previously lived in a borrowed home of one room and a trailer. They had no furniture, so we outfitted the home with three beds (a double and two singles), linens, a table and chairs, rugs, curtains and shelves filled with dishes, pots and pans and other cooking utensils. Our dedication ceremony and presentation of the keys to the house to the family was a powerful experience for all of us. “This is our dream come true,” they said as they entered their new home. As one of our team members commented afterwards, “We built them a house, but it became a home very quickly.” One of the children, a teen girl, jumped up on her bunk bed and just stayed there for the longest time. She couldn’t believe she now had her own bed.

While half of our team built a house, the other half conducted VBS programs in two locations near the construction site. I spent most of my time with the VBS team. I’ve done this many times and over the years I’ve built several carnival-type games which are always a hit with the Mexican children. They love to win dulce (candy) and play juegos (games.). About 80 children came to our programs and memorized key Bible verses in Spanish. They also heard Bible stories about Jesus. Our team did a great job of presenting the Gospel in a very clear way and almost all of the children prayed to receive Christ as Savior on the final day of VBS. They heard Good News and they wanted it right then and there.

On Wednesday night, we visited a small Mexican church, the home church of the Aparicio-Lopez family. The pastor preached a short sermon on John 4 (the woman at the well) and during his sermon pointed out that he was about 10 years old when he found Christ at a VBS just like the one we conducted. He came for the candy, he said, but found Jesus also.

I played my banjo for the church and they loved it. I called it a “bano” and got a few laughs.

I am always deeply touched by these mission trips. Since moving from youth mission trips to family mission trips, I am even more deeply committed to them. It is a powerful thing to watch families serve God together on the mission field. Rather than having kids go home and try to explain what they did to their parents (which they almost never do very well), the family has a shared experience which powerfully impacts their family for years to come. This is our second year doing this at CABC and almost all of the families who went last year came again this year. And we have another trip planned for July, made up of entirely new families. Last year we took 25 people; this year we have 50. I’m hoping that this momentum continues.

I was very happy that this year, nobody got sick. Last year, there was quite a bit of illness which spread through the camp. But last year, a group from Memphis Tennessee was in the camp and we believe that they imported the illness from Tennessee. We called it the “Y’all flu.” The only mishap this year was the breakdown of one of our vehicles in Tijuana on the trip home. But they made it across the border and everyone got home safe and sound.

If you want more information about our family mission trips at CABC, contact me anytime.


One of the great things I get to do at College Avenue Baptist Church is to plan and promote intergenerational short-term mission trips. Here’s a video we showed in church this past week:


I just returned from a wonderful week of ministry in Mexico with 25 College Avenue Baptist Church parents and their kids. We built a very nice new home for a poor family and we conducted four days of Vacation Bible School (VBS) in two separate villages involving more than 150 children.

Since I joined the staff of CABC as Pastor to Generations, this mission trip has been a dream of mine. I’ve participated in dozens of mission trips with youth groups over the years but have always felt like something was missing from them—namely the involvement of parents. Even though I believe in youth short-term mission trips and the powerful impact they can have on kids, I think they fall short just a bit. Typically when teenagers return home from a mission trip, their parents rarely understand the significance of what their kids experienced. (“Now, if you’re through changing the world, how about cleaning your room?”) I exaggerate here, but not by much.

So this family mission trip to Mexico was something I was really looking forward to doing for a long time. There is much processing and reflection that still needs to be done but so far there is a feeling of euphoria that makes me want to think this has been somewhat of a high water mark in ministry for me. Watching moms and dads serving together last week in Mexico was absolutely thrilling and I’m so looking forward to seeing how God will use this experience to change those families forever. One parent told me that his family has already decided to start serving meals on a regular basis at a local homeless shelter.

We arranged the trip through YUGO Ministries and stayed at their Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) near Estero Beach. They set everything up for us and provided us with supplies, meals, the program for the week and very nice accommodations. One parent commented that she felt a little bit guilty staying in such a nice place while serving the poor. I understood completely what she meant but reasoned that since our trip was only a week long, it was such a blessing to have our needs provided for by YUGO so that we could concentrate on meeting the needs of the people we were there to serve. It’s a great introduction to the mission field and a wonderful ministry that YUGO provides for churches and individuals who want to be challenged and stretched.

The only negative of the week is that several of our people got sick. I don’t think all of the sickness was Mexico-related however. We were doing ministry during the week jointly with another group of families from Memphis, Tennessee, and apparently one of their families came to Mexico with the flu. (We started calling it the “Y’all Flu”). Fortunately, it was not too serious and did not hamper our efforts too much. But it’s never pleasant to be sick while you’re far away from home.

I posted some photos which I took on my Flickr page. Since I spent most of my time with the VBS team, they are mostly photos of our VBS activities and lessons. You can view them here.

If you would like to go on our next trip, just let me know! We’d love to have you.


Category: Ministry

Giving a child a "capuche."

I just returned from a week-long (June 7-12) mission trip in Ensenada, Mexico with a group of families from Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.   My good friend Ken Elben is the student ministries pastor there and he invited me to come, which I was happy to do.  I’ve always enjoyed these trips which include building houses for poor families and providing a daily “VBS” (Vacation Bible School) program for neighborhood children.  I’ve put together a few carnival-type games which we take down there and use to attract the kids, then we do puppets, drama, crafts and a Bible story.  This year most of the children came from migrant farm-worker camps, the poorest of the poor in Mexico.  Despite the dirty faces and ragged clothes, they are beautiful children who enjoy laughter, candy, play, love and attention just like all children do.

Many groups have cancelled mission trips to Mexico this year because of violence along the border and the threat of swine flu.  In Ensenada, neither seem to be an issue and the staff at YUGO Ministries did a great job of easing everyone’s fears, both before and during the week of ministry there.  Mexico seemed pretty normal to me except for fewer tourists in downtown Ensenada.  The cruise ships have stopped going there also, at least for now.

Meanwhile, know that there are some dedicated Christians who live and work in Mexico day in and day out, serving the poor and faithfully proclaiming the Good News.  If you ever get a chance to work with them for a week or two during the year, don’t pass up the chance.  It can be a life-changing experience for you, as it has been for me.

guitar-girlIn our VBS programs each year, I like to take a small guitar with me and let the children strum while I play the chords with my left hand.  The children are always amazed that they are making music while everyone else sings along.  The photo (right) and the  short video clip below was taken Monday when we visited a small church in one of the poor neighborhoods. The children come to eat a meal provided by the church. We spent a few minutes with them singing songs, including “Christo Me Ama” (Jesus Loves me).

Category: Ministry, Personal