Ten of us left Southern Illinois at 6 AM on Saturday, February 19, headed for Reynosa, Mexico in an untested 14 passenger bus we purchased so we could give it away. We arrived at San Antonio, TX around 9:30 PM with tired backsides and thankful hearts…our untested bus had passed with flying colors! The next day we drove on to Reynosa and ate a great supper at the Cornerstone camp owned by Vamonos Ministries. a camp we had helped build in previous years and which was our home base for the week. Did we eat great Mexican food all week long? Absolutely! Did we have some great salsa with every meal? You bet. Did I gain a couple of pounds? Uhhh. Yep.
Not a project
If I could emphasize one point, it is this: we did not go to Mexico to do a project. I hate the sound of that phrase. Why? Because “doing a project” implies that the people themselves are projects. I don’t know about you, but when I think of myself as someone else’s project, I feel a bit less than human. This being said, I realize I am splitting hairs and that one can do a project without thinking of the people as such. Still, I like to think of going to Mexico as a way to partner with my friends in building God’s kingdom. Yes, we built some cement block walls, but the real focus of the trip was to cement the relationships we have cultivated over the years. Besides building walls, we helped run a daily Vacation Bible School, shared meals with Pastor Desiderio and his family, refreshed other friendships and made new friends. Whereas those walls we built will someday collapse, I like to think of these friendships as extending into eternity.
Why a wall?
The wall was indeed a project. It is needed because Pastor Desiderio’s church is landlocked; it cannot grow horizontally and is therefore limited to growing vertically. Thus the second level. Since our last trip, the church has removed the truss roof, formed and poured support columns, beams and a new ceiling to the lower level, which is also the floor for the second story. Although none of us had ever laid cement blocks, we learned and worked like crazy all week long. Some tied reinforcement, some carried cement bags, sand, aggregate and water up to the second floor (in 5 gallon buckets). Some mixed the grout and others built the walls. Even in February, it was over 95 degrees some days. I emptied my 20 ounce water jug several times a day and kept myself lathered up with sun screen. I also slept good.
What about the bus?
We found the 1996 14 passenger bus on E-bay, only to discover that, amazingly, it was located in our tiny Southern Illinois town. After meeting with the owner and explaining what we planned to do with it, she agreed to remove it from the auction and sell to us for only $3,000. We drove it to Mexico not knowing exactly what plans God had for it, but trusting that someone could put it to good use. We were right: through our friends at Vamonos, we found a pastor who feeds 20 to 30 children breakfast every morning and then gives them a ride to school…in his pick up truck. When pastor Valente saw this bus, he was moved to tears. He told us that he had been praying for transportation for eleven years and that on this day, his prayers were answered. By the way, in case you are wondering, we flew home.
Was it dangerous?
We trust the people “on the ground” to tell us candidly if the area is dangerous. Hugo and Sylvia, who live there and drive the same routes we took daily, reported no signs of danger in that area for the past two years. Is this credible? Yes. Two years ago, when some drug activity was happening in this area, they advised us not to come. They also realize that they could lose credibility (and future American work teams) if we run into dangerous situations after they give us a green light. As in any US city, some areas should be avoided while others are much safer. Yes, we could have put ourselves in harm’s way if we had gone to the “wrong part of town” at the wrong time of the day, so we limited our travels to daytime on safe routes. This being said, we never felt the slightest fear. I honestly believe that, with these precautions, we were just as safe as we are in the States.
Our church has been sending teams to the Reynosa area for around 15 years now, always working with George and Jan Waterman, founders of Vamonos Ministries. Please take a minute to click the link in order to see the camp that we helped build and which serves as our base when we are in country. George and Jan, although still involved with Vamonos, have turned the ministry over to Hugo and Syliva Gonzalez, who live in Reynosa. This long term partnership has created a continuity that helps us feel like we are not only a part of Vamonos, but a part of the local churches we serve. On our next trip, for example, we will see the progress on Desiderio’s church building and also visit Valente to see how his church (and the bus) is doing. I emphasize these ongoing relationships because, if you are considering short term mission trips, you may want to likewise develop such connections.
Knowing the people, the history and the community not only makes me feel connected to these people I love so much, but motivates me to return again and again.