Spring break was coming up and I was ecstatic! Now was the trip I had been waiting for all year. My church youth group was going on a trip to Juarez, Mexico. I had been on this trip the last two years, but this year my younger brother and my dad were coming with me.
I knew this year would be better than the past two years combined. Finally, April 1st came! We left at 3:30 that morning and drove straight through to El Paso, Texas with 60 kids piled in five 15-passanger vans. The van ride seemed to take years, but we finally arrived in El Paso.
We unloaded our trailers at a small church near the border. We all slept in the main room, boys on one side girls on the other, and adults in the middle. The next morning we woke up and were off again.
We crossed the boarder and drove through Chihuahua. We continued to drive into the country. There were no stores or busy streets like there had been in Chihuahua. Instead, there was house after house built of wooden crates, cardboard, and box spring mattresses. This was no surprise to me, but you could hear the gasps and see the looks of astonishment from the newcomers. About thirty minutes later we reached the Casas headquarters.
Casas Por Cristo (Houses for Christ) was the organization we would be working with that week. Their job was to find families in need of homes and volunteers like us who would build one for them. We gathered all of our tools and headed to our work sights.
On my worksite, there was a woman and her husband who had two daughters. Their oldest daughter was eighteen years old and had two children. They were living in a tiny ‘house’ made from scraps of wood, black board, and cardboard.
They also had a dog, few chickens, and a duck. We would be building them a two-room house, with two windows with glass and screens, a ceiling fan, and a porch light (not that they had a porch, but you get the idea). These things seem like nothing special to us, the bare minimum in a house in the United States.
But these things were a big deal to a family whose bathroom was an outhouse with no sink, shower, or running water and a house with no real walls or solid foundation. After our first day ,we went back to the orphanage we were staying at. We unloaded all of our stuff into the big gym where we would all be sleeping. We ate dinner and then got a chance to play with and get to know the children at the orphanage. We played games with them, ate meals with them and sang worship songs with them.
The next morning we were up at 6:30 A.M. and off by 8:00 A.M. We worked on the house form 8:30 A.M. until 6:30 P.M., with a break for lunch and water breaks as we needed them. We then returned to the orphanage, ate dinner, had craft time with the kids, sang in worship, had small group time, and then we were in bed by 11:00 P.M.
For the next three days, we followed the same routine. On the second to last night, when all the houses were finished, we invited all the families that we were building for to have dinner with us. We cooked the food, and went and picked up the families that had no means of transportation, and brought them back to the orphanage to share a meal with us. We spent the whole meal talking and drawing on the tables covered with white paper.
It still amazes me that two groups of people, from two completely different cultures, speaking two different languages, can still find ways to communicate. On our last day, we woke up and packed our luggage. We then went back to our worksites for one last time to dedicate the house. We invited the Pastor of the church that had contacted Casas about the family, and the family’s relatives and neighbors.
After we were done we gave gift bags containing toys and coloring books to the children, and hung a plaque so everyone would know that the house was built by God. As we headed back home, I took with me a feeling that I had felt many times before, but this time it was permanent.
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