Written by trip chaperone and Mexico Mission Coordinator Jennifer Wagner
What do nine college aged young adults from schools across Texas and 4 (slightly older) chaperones from diverse backgrounds have in common? A love for Jesus and His people and servants’ hearts! We traveled together between July 7-11, 2021 to Ciudad Juarez Mexico to serve alongside Operación Abrigo led by Jose Luis Portillo and Love and Literacy led by Marion Surles.
Ciudad Juarez is just across the border from El Paso Texas. After a slight delay in our flight to El Paso, and a stop at Wal-Mart for necessary items, we were driven across the border by Lorenzo and Emanuel (a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Texas El Paso, who also happens to be Jose Luis’s nephew).
We stayed in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, in a complex built by Jose Luis and many volunteers (including our old friend, Larry Cox!). The accommodations are rustic but comfortable and because we were building a similar structure to replace a family’s shipping pallet and cardboard house, we could hardly complain. Three delicious meals were prepared and served each day in the dining hall by Omar and Juliet, Jose Luis’s brother and sister.
Our first afternoon, we traveled 15 minutes to the neighborhood José Sulaimán to meet Maricela and her family who live in a home built by Operacion Abrigo many years ago. Custer Road has built several houses in the Sulaimán neighborhood and has a long relationship with Maricela, so it was nice to re-connect.
This was a first trip to Mexico for some of our group, and the first drive into the neighborhood can be an overload to the senses. The sandy, dirt roads are rutted from vehicles and from drainage pouring out of the sewer lines. I marveled at our drivers’ skills navigating the potholes and the other drivers! And speaking of the sewer lines, one would get an occasional whiff of a strong sulfur odor. And then, there is the trash. There is no organized trash pickup, and it is too dry to burn, so it collects in the ditches. The wind blows in the desert and carries trash everywhere, especially those light plastic bags which catch on everything. And dogs of every shape, size, and color are wandering everywhere.
But then we met the people, and all the chaos faded to the background. We were warmly greeted by Maricela and Pablo and their children Ever, Kevin and Melanee. Despite the 90+ degree heat, it was pleasant beneath the shade tree in their front yard. Jump-ropes broke the ice and fun was had by all!
Every evening, our group met in our dining hall for fellowship, music and Bible study led by Rev. Tim Morrison and Dr. Rev. David Rangel. Our discussion began with recognizing that God is love and we are commanded to love our neighbor. We looked at who our neighbor is, and we spent time understanding cultural competency and paternalism and how it can affect our relationships with our neighbors. We considered John Wesley’s three simple rules, three types of grace and quadrilateral and how we can apply these ideas to our mission work and lives. We studied Micah 6:8, Hebrews 10:24-25 and Hebrews 11:1, discussed worship and concluded with meditating on our sending forth, ‘Now What?’. It was an amazing spiritual time that augmented the work and relationships we encountered during the day.
On Thursday and Friday, with the help of experienced maestros, we built two cinder block houses. It was hard physical labor in the hot sun, but so rewarding. The first family is a single mother and three children ranging in age from 6-12. We only met the mother at the home dedication because she was working at the factories during the day, however her father worked very hard alongside us. The other family is a two-parent family with three children ages 12-17. This mother worked alongside us, sometimes carrying two 5-gallon buckets of concrete! Playing with the children of both households was a treat for everyone.
Friday afternoon, we dedicated the homes with scripture, Matthew 7:24-27, prayer, and song. The families are so appreciative of the homes which have a wood and tar paper roof, concrete floor, glass windows and a solid door. We also gave housewarming gifts of books for the children, wooden crosses made by a CRUMC member and three bags of groceries to each household.
Saturday was our day to work with Marion Surles and Love and Literacy. Over 40 children were eagerly awaiting our arrival to read, sing and play. We began with reading some of the over 80 Spanish language books donated by the CRUMC Chancel Choir. Each child had the opportunity to choose a book to read and take home. The remaining books will be kept by Maricela for the neighborhood children to check out from the makeshift library in her yard. The children enjoyed singing with guitars and even participated in some “Tim-ography”!
What an amazing opportunity to work with our neighbors to give a hand up (not a hand out) and to share God’s love. If you would like to experience this, join us November 4-7, 2021 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico! For more information, contact Jennifer Wagner .
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