It was 5 in the morning, I got into the car and took the trip to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield (air field…sounds like a corn field). I am halfway awake, as it is early in the morning and I only went to bed at 3 am from staying up writing a paper, one I should have written prior to the night before I left. I am not exactly a bundle of joy, but little do I know what will take place in my life and heart over the next 5 days.
After arriving at the airport and having a Scooter’s latte, and seeing the smiles I so adore from my church family, I began to rise from my sleeping state, though the sun was still sleeping. We loaded up and sat on the plane, ready to roll. At this point my stomach begins to turn, and I’m not sure if that is the anticipation of the take off or the excitement of the reality that I am on my way to Mexico for an awesome trip. I’m guessing both. The flight was short, and we were landing in Phoenix, AZ in the blink of an eye. After a Wal-Mart trip, sand volleyball with a bunch of drunken Arizona college boys, and a relaxing 10 minutes in a hot tub, we settled down for an anticipated short night of sleep.
We woke up at 6 am to make the 4 hour drive south to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Our group of 49 arrived around noon that Saturday, and sent up our tent city on the Amor Ministries campsite. Amor Ministries has been in Puerto Peñasco for years, and partners in organizing our trip. After our camp is up, we head out to meet our family for the first time. We know only their names and ages at this point, and we have been praying for them for a while, so we are all giddy!
Amor chooses to build homes for people who own land in a land fill. We drive through this sandy terrain of trash, and dodge all of the dingoes on our way in to meet the Merino Hernandez family. After getting stuck in what seems to be quicksand, we already spring our team work into action pulling out all four 15 passenger vans. The father of the family (which we did not know at this point), Jorge, jumps in to help us get the vans free. After the final van is out, Jorge says with a tear in his eye, “Thank you for coming,” to a few of the members of our team.
Walking up to the site, there is nothing but sand and dirt, some building supplies under a makeshift tent, and a same SUV the family was driving. Out of the car comes two 2 year old twin girls, a 9 year old boy, and we see 2 car seats with two beautiful 5 month old babies belted in. Then I turn to see Alba, the mother of these gorgeous kids, and she herself is beauty contained inside of this language barrier we have. She doesn’t know how to express what she feels at this point. She smiles bigger than I thought possible, and she has energy in her that is equivalent to that of the sun. Jorge comes to her aid, as he knows English and can help her express her feelings to us.
We hug and talk briefly with them, but then it’s time to work. I began sifting sand that would later be used for the stucco. Others in the group are working on the foundation, digging out the sand to find a sturdy dirt ground, and they frame where we want to put the concrete foundation. The family is still interacting with us, we are all hugging and smiling together, and the children are slowly warming up to all of us. We depart from the site, with quick goodbyes to the family, and we decide to stop by the home we built last year because they live in the same area. We arrive to find no one home, but when we turn to leave, all of a sudden there is yelling and we see a woman running down the street, pregnant, hands waving, and the biggest grin possible. It is Maria, the mother of the family from last year. Now, if you knew her, you would know that she is the last to show emotion: stoic, strong, and appreciative, but not outward. This was a huge contrast to the year before. She recognized our white vans and got really excited to see us. It was beautiful. Soon after, her husband and 4 children arrived home and we all said hello and hugged, and after a quick visit we left the family of 6 (almost 7!) to head back to bond with our team at the campsite. Showers are taken and dinner is served back at the Amor campsite. A time of worship and sitting around the campfire ensues, and then we slip away into sleep on our air mattresses preparing to face the next day, the most strenuous day of labor.
It’s Sunday morning, and as all of our friends and family back in Omaha are on their way to church at Stonebridge, we have already been working on laying the concrete foundation for hours. I did everything from hauling concrete mixes in wheelbarrows to using a trowel to smooth the poured concrete foundation. The framework was being built on the side, and with 50 people the work seemed to go by quickly. A lunch break with sandwiches for all, and then back to work. However, throughout the day with such a large group we were able to rotate in and out of jobs. I got to spend some quality time with the family, mostly with Alba and the babies. Alba is a woman who truly has joy in her life. She loves God first and foremost, loves her family, and loved us the moment we showed up. Let me tell you about Alba’s recent encounter with God, and the trust she has in him:
Alba and Jorge had been having relationship problems, as Jorge was at work so much, supporting his family, and at the time Alba was pregnant with the twins. She was stressed, he was stressed, and tension was there. So, Jorge quit his job in order to be with his family and help Alba back in December of last year. He decided that family was more important than income, which I would agree with, but I’m not sure how many people would actually go through with this leap of faith. He trusted that God would provide. During this time, Alba and Jorge restored their relationship, but then money began to dwindle. Their landlord was letting them make smaller payments, but still they were struggling. Alba and Jorge had been in deep prayer about their situation, and were relying on God through it all, amazing. Then they get the news that they are being evicted November 16th this year, so they needed to find somewhere to go. Instead of losing hope, Alba continued to pray, and one day God told Alba that God promised them a house. Jorge just trusted this and continued to rely on God. Shortly after, they got the news that our team was coming to build them a home. This was God’s promise fulfilled, we were the answer to their prayers and they were the ones we have been praying for. We finished our house on November 10th, and they now have a place to live and shelter their five beautiful children. I am still in awe of Alba’s trust in the Lord.
Our second day on the site came to an end, and after all of the cement was done and smooth, the framework was finished and sand was sifted, we packed up and cleaned tools and said our goodbyes for the night. This time goodbyes to the family were longer, more meaningful, and full of a mutual love. Back at the campsite I braided hair, talked with people around the camp fire, and enjoyed the night I was given. I had trouble falling asleep, knowing tomorrow was a big day, but finally I drifted off.
I woke up genuinely excited to be awake at 6 am (and this is saying something for those of you who know me, mornings are not my forte) because this day is the best day of them all. We now have relationships established with the family, and can’t wait to reunite in the warm Mexico morning, starting another adventurous day together. Today is the best because we get to see what I would call the “first draft” of their home. Let me explain the building process on this day:
1. Frame work goes up, is squared off, and the roof framing goes up
2. Plywood covers the roof; tar paper goes over the framework of the four outer walls and the roof
3. Shingles are placed on the roof, and chicken wire is stretched over the tar paper on the four walls while the stucco is being mixed
4. The doors and windows are set in
5. Finally the stucco goes over the chicken wire to complete the first layer.
So this day is a day when working as a team makes the process smooth. With fifty people, it’s hard to tell what could happen, but with our common goal to serve and help this family, we had no problems. During this huge build, I stop to observe everything around me. I hear the children sing worship songs in Spanish for their little VBS, and see Alba still smiling, and Jorge helping frame and stucco his home; I feel like God had to have been smiling down on us, this picture I have in my head on our worksite was near perfection. It was the way the earth was intended to work: unity, laughter, fellowship, working hard, and sharing God’s love. It couldn’t have been a better day. Goodbyes seemed to be longer still leaving the near complete home. We as a whole know that tomorrow is coming, goodbye is drawing closer, and our hearts don’t want to face this just yet. It is another bumpy ride through the sand dunes back to Amor camp. We then discovered that Jorge and Alba would be joining us for dinner at the campsite that night, and we couldn’t wait. After another shower from a bag, a delicious dinner was ready. Jorge and Alba finally showed up and we enjoyed laughing and sharing our stories. I got to talk to Alba a little while she sat and ate her dinner and we laughed over exchanging the words “hot chocolate” in each other’s languages. I learned to say “chocolate caliente” which was much easier for me to say than for her to say “hot chocolate.” In these moments of laughter though, I realized that language is not a barrier when you have love in the mix, God’s love. All it takes is effort from both sides and communication is always possible. It was astounding to see our cultures collide, yet mesh completely. It goes to show that we are one in Christ, and all things are possible through Him.
The stars began to shine as the evening set in, the Milky Way engulfed the sky, and a time of worship around the fire perfected the day. Watching Jorge sing the worship songs, seeing Alba hold her husband’s hand as they praised God, beauty I can’t explain. The night ended when they left the campsite, and I slipped into my sleeping bag for a cozy night in the tent. It never felt so good to lay down in bed, thinking about the events of the day and slipping into perfect dreams.
This was it. Waking up this morning was bittersweet, because we were going to hand over the keys this afternoon, but with the keys we would also exchange goodbyes that would not be easy. The finished home would mean our finished trip and this caused an exciting devastation that hung over the campsite this morning; however our moods are still great. We go pedal to the metal, full throttle through the sand, one of our last bumpy rides until next year. Spanish music plays in the car as we bounce around the van, and the joy contained in the 15 passenger van is almost too much to handle. We jump out at the work site and we’re eager to finish so we can have more time to say goodbyes and love on one another. We have 3 hours, and in about an hour and a half we finish with the last coat of stucco. Amazing. So, here came the overflow of picture taking, smiles, tears, and hugs. We hand over the keys, the 5 month old babies cranky in the Mexico sun, but it seems appropriate. We are all a little cranky, a little shaken, and unready for our departure from the family. These moments are kind of a blur to me. We pray, Jorge prays for us in Spanish, and I don’t understand most of it, but I understand the intensity and his cry of praise to God. He then asks for a pact. Not a contract that could be changed, but a pact. Jorge asks that we inform him of when we would be back next year, because he needed to be a part of our team, our family, for the next mission. He cannot form the words of gratitude he wishes to express, and only tears can sum up the emotion. We agree that they are a part of our Stonebridge family, and will be in contact with him. Luckily he has access to check email, so this eases the goodbyes, knowing this is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I got to hold the babies one last time, hugged Alba many times, and she asked me to promise to come back next year, “proximo año.” And I promised.
At that, I had to just turn and walk to the vans. No looking back, trying to hold my head high knowing lives were changed in Mexico. However, I know that though this family was changed by our team, truly our team was changed by them.
We make the drive back to Phoenix, tents stowed away with our luggage in the trailers behind our big white vans. Crossing that border was something fierce; the reality of going home sets in. Though, it seemed to be easy knowing that what was just built is not left behind and forgotten. As Jorge said, he was grateful for the home, but the relationships built were the pinnacle of this experience. These bonds cannot be forgotten.
We settle down into our hotel in Phoenix, and I feel so guilty checking into a super classy hotel by the airport with running water, electricity, a pool, hot tub, and all of the coffee and hot chocolate you could want. It doesn’t seem fair that we had to leave that family behind to come to something “better.” I don’t know that it is better, I feel like it’s just a catered life of expectation we as Americans live. Looking at the 3 elevators and 1 employee elevator, I realize that’s just for speed as though one elevator isn’t good enough. I complain about the firmness of the bed the moment I sit on it. I quickly back track and appreciate the fact that I have a bed to sleep on for the night. Transition is hard, but life lessons are even harder. Nothing is the same after you’ve experienced life on the other side of the fence (or border).
While with the family in Mexico, I experienced true love, true reliance on God, and the importance of family. The Merino Hernandez Family has priorities right: God, family, work, money; in that order. Going to bed that night, I reflected on this, and what I need to take away from Mexico. Aside from all of the bonds that happened, I also take away a new outlook on needs, on sacrifice, on relying on God, and on being satisfied. Not that I will have everything right, but I will be more conscious of these things in my life.
This is it, and lucky for you the blog is coming to the end. After going through the airport security twice due to liquids in my carry on, I was in the terminal and ready to leave. This is a side note, but over the past 5 days I’ve seen God encouraging me to pursue nursing. There were many conversations that lead to someone encouraging me to go into nursing. I feel like this is something God showed me over the past 5 days.
Well, I say goodbye to the Arizona heat and load onto the plane. The flight back is entertaining with the lovely ladies I sit by, and sooner than I thought possible we were back in Omaha. It seemed like I blinked and I somehow ended up back at Eppley where I started. Time flies when you’re having fun! Hugs at the airport, and I drive back into reality with my sore abs from so much laughter and a nice bronze tint to my skin. Though I move forward in time and in life, a piece of my heart will always belong in Mexico.