My kids are in their early 20’s. Since they were toddlers, our family has been involved in mission trips to Mexico to build homes for the poor. It has changed our lives.
Our first few trips to Mexico were exciting. Our toddler and infant in tow, we followed the Church caravan, having no clue what we would find. Poverty, we heard. People without homes, we heard.
One of my first memories is driving along a dirt road, one of many, with directions to turn right at the water tower (which turned out to be no more than a small water tank atop a small roadside stand). Our stomachs were full from a great breakfast and strong coffee. We were all rested from sleeping in a rented home on the beachfront, where 30 of us shared what beds we had or pitched tents on the beach. The cars, minivans, double-cab pick-ups in front of us kicked up dirt, making it harder to see the sporadic dilapidated shacks we passed. Shacks with rotting walls, blankets hanging as makeshift doorways. Small fences usually surrounded the properties- barbed wire and a few plants lovingly kept. Trash littered the streets, flew into yards. Kids whizzed by on rusty bikes.
And the dogs. Lots and lots of mangy looking dogs ran the dirt streets, many looking like they had lost the better part of a fight or hadn’t eaten in a long time. I suspected most had never seen the sharp side of a vaccine.
Our happy caravan slowed down and came to rest in front of a tarp covering a small stove and a cot. There were no walls to the “home”. A woman sat nearby washing her daughter’s hair from a bucket at her feet. They smiled and waved at us.
This was the family we were building a house for in one weekend.
Day one, the cement flooring was poured in the ground. We ate lunch at the worksite, played with the local children, watched trucks come by selling potable water to the residents. Water we realize the residents had been giving to us to make the cement. Water we would use the next day to mix the stucco. We used their bathroom- nothing more that an outhouse built of rotting plywood walls and curtain for a door. We had to bring toilet paper with us. We used a bucket of water to flush the porcelain toilet that sat oddly alone in the dirt room.
Day 2, we framed the walls, put on the roof, wrapped the walls in paper and chicken wire, then the first coat of stucco. The family helped stucco the home, with the children getting more on themselves than the walls. But we saw the sense of pride this gave them. One of the mission goals has been to show the local residents that they don’t need fancy tools to build these homes. We work with no electrical tools, just good old fashioned hammers, nails, shovels, and dirty, backbreaking work.
Day 3 we showed up to find the family had moved a car battery into the home to give energy to a lamp, and had set up a bible to read. We put on a second coat of stucco. The family made us a wonderfully simple lunch with food that is estimated to have cost them weeks worth of their income.
Prayers were said. Keys to the house were presented. The family moved their mattresses to the floor of the home. Hugs were given, tears and smiles shared.
And that was it.
No bathroom. No running water. 2 windows. 1 door. The happiness and pride we in these families to own even such a simple home was heart stopping. This house now kept their kids from sleeping on a dirt floor, risking pneumonia. It gave the security of being able to lock up your belongings. Some semblance of safety and ownership. Home.
This is what I learned that trip, and over the years since. There were lots of families like that, with no shelter, no running water, no bathrooms, no electricity. They work jobs that pay in a month what some of us get paid in a couple of hours in low paying jobs. They tend to pay the government to be allowed to live on those dirt lots, with no running water, electricity. Those fortunate enough to have a closed home structure may have extended family living there with them, leaving crowded homes with no privacy.
The people we met were grateful for to have a warm, dry home. It gave them a chance to make a better life, to provide a safer life to their children. They would invariably feed the volunteers on one of the work days. We have had homemade pineapple empanadas, chicken tacos, Posole, homemade tortillas filled with meats and love. An extravagance they barely could afford, but freely gave.
When the kids were younger, life less complicated, we took the kids on the trips regularly, instilling in them a sense of mission and outreach. My husband has been able to continue the trips, while high school schedules took over the rest of our lives. The people we met will forever be ingrained in our memories. Our now young adult children’s lives have been impacted by what they did and saw during all those trips, and have continued outreach and mission work in other facets of their lives.
Between our Church and numerous others, we have seen that section of Mexico become dotted with hundreds of homes, but much more is still to be done.
Consider mission in your life. It will change your perspective forever.