This trip was sponsored by the University of Evansville (UE) Neu Chapel. Twelve students and five adults, myself included, went on the trip. This short journal highlights my time in Mexico, including a few pictures that I took on the trip. I hope you enjoy reading about the trip and that you will support missions in the future. (For a larger picture, click on any of the smaller images below.)
We left very early Sunday morning, December 30, arriving at the Evansville airport at about 5 AM. Our plane was to leave at 6:15 and now-a-days one needs to allow lots of time to go through security. We reached the El Paso airport at around 3 PM mountain time and were greeted by our host, Jose. We boarded a small church van (all 17 of us!) with our bags on a trailer pulled behind. Getting into Mexico was a breeze; as we approached customs we saw a green pass light, so we sped on through. So much for customs! There is a stunning difference between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. El Paso looks like most middle class neighborhoods, with nice homes and cars and trucks in the driveway. In Juarez, the houses are more like row houses with little or no yard. There are bars over all windows and doors, and some of the houses and their garages are surrounded by razor wire. It was like going into a war zone, although I didn't really feel unsafe. There are dogs everywhere, and yes, all of the sidewalks are covered with, well, you can guess. We stayed in a house on Chapultepec Street, just off of Venezuela Street. The house was quite large, with lots of bunk beds and three bathrooms. It was rather pleasant, but because the houses are right up against one another and have few windows, it was rather dark. It was also damp, with a slight odor reminding me either of a smelly sewer or sulfur in the water. I kept the door to the bathroom next to my bunk closed as much as I could. That helped.
There are some things one must remember when staying in Juarez. First, do not drink the water; don't even open your mouth in the shower! And don't throw toilet paper down the toilet. That's right, for some reason the sewer pipes don't accommodate toilet paper, so each toilet has a small garbage can next to it for the paper. Hopefully someone takes out the trash EVERY day. I did NOT like this aspect of Juarez living!
Our house on Chapultepec Street.
We spent the first day taking walks around the house and visiting the market across the street. This was a very small, simple market; didn't even have Chap Stick. But they had some great cookies that cost only 4 pesos (about 40 cents) and Coca-Cola in a bottle! It seems to taste better in a bottle. That evening Jose's wife came over to make dinner, (sometimes American and sometimes Mexican) and then we played cards until people began to fall asleep. This pretty much set the tone for all of our evenings. Eating good food and playing cards. We played Oh Shmotz!, Uno, Dirty Uno, and Ucher.
The next morning we were up by 7 AM and Jose's wife had breakfast ready by 8. After a short devotion period lead by one of the group, we were carried off in two vans to the work site about 30 minutes away. Going from our home to the work site was like going from earth to the moon. About 5 miles out, the road turns to dirt, and the dust is just incredible. Juarez doesn't get much rain, and it is very dry; dust covers everything. Everyday, while traveling this dirt road, I was sure the springs of our old van would surely break; but alas we always got there safely. Where we were going is called Rancho Anapra. This was once a ranch (although I can't imagine anything grazing there, it is mostly sand) that the government had bought. In what I think is a very pro-active move, the city purchased the ranch and now sells the land to people moving north to Juarez hoping to find work in the American-owned businesses located just south of the border. This is NAFTA, Mexican-style.
The city installed lighting, water, electricity and sewers. Everything is there for people who purchase the land. A small plot sells for 1200 pesos, or about $130, which is very reasonable. Presently there are many families moving into Juarez every week, and the city is putting these people in places such as Rancho Anapra. However, even the "good-paying" jobs in the American industries only pay about $45 per week and though it is possible to purchase the land, it is very expensive to build a house on the land. This is where Operation Hogar comes into play. (Hogar means home.) So far Operation Hogar has built 700 homes for people moving into the Juarez area looking for better jobs. And they have an 8 month waiting list. Our job was to build a cinder block home for a family of four. So we arrived at the site with two experts whom we called the "maestros," the name of one being Manny. They really didn't speak much English, but they did know how to put up a cinder block house in one week.
If I remember anything about this first day, it will be the cold. We all expected the temperature to be in the 50's, but it was in the 40's, and Wednesday it was in the 30's! It was a very good reason to keep working and moving.
The first day we set the foundation with concrete and began to set blocks on top of it. I had never set block before, but there was lots of help. I think I did OK, but I wouldn't want to do it for a living.
Setting the foundation.
Lunch time, Jose's wife would show up with authentic Mexican food. Yummy!! From the first day, we began noticing a few young children hanging around the work site, and we decided to hold our Bible School on the 6 by 10 foot trailer that we used for hauling work materials. The children loved it, because they found that if they all moved from one end to the other, it acted like a teeter-totter! We soon had them coloring and making crosses out of beads, plastic thread and pipe cleaners. The children had a great time and we had lots of fun playing with them. We played soccer and also gave them horse-back rides. The week began with only about 4 children, but ended with about 20.
There are a few things that happened every day. One of these was the constant influx of dogs, especially at lunch time. Seems everyone has a dog in Juarez, and most of them look half-starved. And then there are the rooster crows. Just endless. One would think they would realize that the sun is already up and they could give it a rest. But no, on and on they crow!
The children of Rancho Anapra.
Monday was New Year's Eve, which we spent at our host church, a United Methodist Church in downtown Juarez. The service was very much like a celebration with upbeat music, and the people were very friendly, even though they couldn't speak English and we (except for two students) couldn't speak Spanish. Thankfully they had an interpreter there so we could follow the service and the Pastor.
On New Year's Day Jose gave us a tour of Juarez. We also visited a Juarez Mexican market, where we stocked up on cookies, pastries, . . . , you get the picture. After this we had lots to eat while playing cards.
Wednesday morning we were up early and ready to begin more work on the house. And it was VERY cold. The high was in the 30's, and there was no heat in the house, at least not on the first floor, where I had my bunk. One of the engineering students figured out how to turn the heat on for the second floor but the first floor froze. For this, he was designated the "hero of the day" by the second floor occupants. Work on the house progressed well as the days went by. We did complete the house, although some of the small details remained to be finished after we left. The house was only about 300 square feet, basically the size of a small bedroom, with a concrete floor.
Slow but sure progress on the house.
I was told that in time the owners of the new house will probably plaster the cinder walls to make the place more livable. I would love to see it one year from now. However, the people living in Rancho Anapra are very poor and it would seem that their chances of living an easier life are remote. Most of the houses have electricity, but they are very drafty. There is no indoor plumbing, just a faucet outside in a yard of sand. Everyone seems to have an outhouse. And this only about 70 yards away from the fence marking the US/Mexican border. Every day these people wake up and walk outside their modest homes, and look across the valley and see the opulence of the United States and El Paso. El Paso seems so close and yet so far away.
The US/Mexican Border.
But still I saw many signs that these people have hope. The small effort to grow a pine tree in the "sand-yard," keeping a tire around the small seedling until it can fend for itself against the dogs and children. I also saw one family installing a bay window on a small cinder block home; home improvements happen even in Rancho Anapra. And the smiles on the faces of the children.
We talked a lot about hope and faith on this trip. I remember what the Pastor said about Operation Hogar, "We are in the business of giving hope." And that is indeed what we were doing. This small cinder block home was a free gift to this small family, something they could use to begin their new life in Juarez. For me the whole trip was summed up in a morning devotion given by the UE Chaplain. The devotion was based on Mark 2:3-5. Although I'm sure you know the story, let me tell it to you again. It is the story about some men who bring a paralytic to Jesus for healing, but they cannot approach him because the crowd is so large. So they make an opening in the roof of the house to lower the man to Jesus. Verse 5 is the most important and I'll quote it: "When Jesus saw THEIR faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" Notice, as the Chaplain pointed out, when Jesus saw THEIR faith, not the faith of the paralytic, he had compassion and healed the man. So it was with you and me. Because of OUR faith in sending and going to Juarez, Jesus has had compassion on a small family in Mexico and provided them with a modest home and hope for the future.
Our work is done!
Back in Evansville most of us were able to get together for lunch at Turoni's. Here's a picture of the group back in Evansville.
Back in Evansville.