Pilot story by Marjorie Woodfin
Photos courtesy of Brookings Presbyterian Church
Four young women and two adult chaperones from the Brookings Presbyterian Church were part of a group of 175 people from eight churches that built homes for nine families in Tijuana, Mexico, in June.
Chaperones Joe and Helen Donahue, along with Kelly and Teri Garvin, Michelle Carrillo, and Amandha Ochart, joined the group boarding buses at the Mexican border for the hour-and-a-half ride to the Tijuana campsite.
The trek to Mexico had begun a day earlier with a two-hour drive to the Jacksonville Presbyterian Church followed by a 15-hour buse ride to the First Presbyterian Church of Oceanside, Calif., where they spent the night.
When reporting back to the Brookings church members after their return home, all said it was dirty, tiring and frustrating, but also an awesome and rewarding, experience.
Upon arrival at the campsite where the kitchen and dining tents and administrative facilities were set up by an advance team, participants set up personal tents.
"The wind was blowing and we were dying in the heat," Teri said, adding that they were split up into different teams. "I met some really cool people."
The campsite was approximately 45 minutes from the different home sites, and they were instructed to leave sites by 6 p.m. on work days because there were some gang-related activities near some of the sites.
Most of the homes they built were 22 by 11 feet, but Kelly worked on a double. She said that with 20 people all trying to work on a 22 by 30 foot site to build a home 22 by 22 feet, with plans that "didn't mean anything," leveling the ground with shovels and hoes, and mixing cement by hand for the foundation, meant there were plenty of adjustments to be made.
With only four days to build the homes, everyone worked hard to get the foundations in, walls up, install the chicken wire, tarpaper and stucco on the walls, and build the roof. Most of the homes were finished before the teams left and those requiring some additional work were to be finished by a mopping-up team.
Each home received a formal blessing and, as the keys were turned over to the father, the mother received a quilt and the children were given a broom.
All of the families to receive homes must be qualified by Amor Ministries, the group that organized the building program. Amor Ministries has supervised construction of nearly 20,000 homes in Mexico during the past 25 years.
The family must own the site, or be in process of purchasing and be in dire need to qualify, Joe said.
One of the families had been living in a cardboard box after their former home was firebombed.
"I've never been so humbled in my life," Helen said. "I came away with a refreshed attitude, insight and outlook."
Helen, who was not part of a building team, served as one of the cooks who provided three meals a day for 175 people.
"I was so tired. I'm not used to those big pots," she said. Everyone said the food was excellent. Amor Ministries arranged all of the advance logistics and provided all supplies and food.
However, there was more to the experience than just the hard work, with quiet time scheduled each day for Bible reading, lesson study and journal preparation. All participants mentioned spiritual growth as well as hard work.
Each evening a "family group" was held to talk and pray about the day's work and how it related to the lesson. The theme of the camp was "Nero, Zero, or Hero," using Philippians 2:5, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."
A Father's Day community church service, attended by the visiting builders plus about 300 Mexican worshippers, was held in a large building with one end covered with a large blue tarp, left open for expansion.
The two-hour service included an hour of enthusiastically sung praise music and a sermon delivered by a missionary in Spanish with his wife translating into English. Midway during the service the two switched languages.
"If you didn't feel God in that room, I can't understand it," Helen said.
Amandha said, "I just want to thank our church for making it possible for us to go." She talked about the campfire meetings, the skits by the counselors, the awards ceremonies, the silly songs and worship songs. "My favorite was the hundreds of people praising God together" she said.
All of the Brookings participants talked about the opportunity to meet and worship with the Mexican families. Joe said. "Each family was on their site, helping in the building and wanting to be involved."
"I learned a lot about them, and how they really cherished each other," Amandha said. "It made me realize how much we have. I definitely look at what I have differently and realize that's not what matters."
Kelly said about her team's family, "I enjoyed being around the family. We got to know the father really well."
The trip for the Brookings students and chaperones was funded by members of the local church who purchased $20 mission shares to raise $2,280.
All of the food left over was given to the Mexican families. In addition, the Garvin sisters who were outfitted by their father with full tool belts for the trip, each left her tools with her team's family.