My trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries was a challenging but definitely a worthwhile experience. It taught me the value of manual labor, the rewards of doing something selflessly for others, and the importance of making connections with people that will last a lifetime. Over spring break in 2007, I left on a two-day car ride with my church group from Fallon, Nevada to a remote, underdeveloped portion of Mexico. With a group of 40 teens, in a car-pool of eight vans and a pickup truck with a trailer attached, we ventured down to Tijuana to build houses for families in need. During the tedious 24-hour drive down to our campsite, each van became a family, singing songs and making up raps about each car’s adventures (which included everything from wrong turns to sketchy food). We stayed the night in churches along the way, each night meeting new people and making new friends.
Upon our arrival in Mexico, we met other church groups from all over north America who had journeyed from their own parishes; some from as far away as Canada. In a campsite with more than 500 people, the campfire songs and prayers rising from the various groups at night were enough to touch every person at our site.
Our work on the houses began the next day when we were split into teams to build one house per team at different sites. Power tools were not allowed as one of the conditions for our parish group to help us better connect with the Mexican people who did not have any. It took each group five days to finish their designated houses. The first day, we began by leveling the ground and framing the perimeter of the house. We mixed cement by hand, poured, and leveled it for the base. The framework was established the second day, followed by the roof. On day three, we surrounded the house with tarpaper and nailed chicken wire over it. The fourth day our group relished stuccoing the house, enjoying chucking the grey goop at the walls to get it to stick. The recurring ‘misses’ after throwing a handful of stucco would frequently meet the back of a fellow teen. After that day the team walked away sticky and grey, but feeling accomplished at the sight of the nearly completed house. The last day of building involved tarring the roof and setting the door and windows in place, we added the final touches to the house, and returned to our campsite. We had built three houses in five days. It was the most rewarding feeling in the world.
During these five days friendships developed, nicknames were forged, and memories were made that will stay with each of us forever. Around the campfire at night, we shared stories from the day, sung songs, and met teens at different sites. The families we built for were incredible people. Despite the language barrier, we connected with them and their gratitude showed every time we looked into the faces of the children. On our last day in Mexico, we invited each of our families to come back to our campsite to celebrate with us. It was the youngest birthday and we decided to give her a party in addition to celebrating the completion of the houses. The most memorable moment of them all was when all 40 of us were sitting around our campfire; we asked her if she would like to say anything. She stood up hesitantly and said with tears in her eyes, “Thank you. You gave me the best present anyone could give. You gave me a home.”
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