Sunday, March 17, 2013

Final Words

It's hard to wrap up a week like this in a few blog posts.  It's been challenging, strengthening, painful, hard, joyful and silly all at the same time. 

There's so much more that I could say about this trip.  I could talk about the crazy conversations in the van, the kitchen mishaps in Mexico, playing on the swing sets at the church, the spoon game at Golden Corral, the block castles we made with the kids, the many dogs that were on our work site, the tumbleweeds that we hit, the card games at the church late at night and so much more.  But, while those are memories that we have of the trip, it's not the things that made an impact on us.  

On our last night in Juarez, we sat in the church and sang "Desert Song" and "Mighty to Save" in the kitchen.  With all 37 voices in one small room, the sound filled every part of the church up to the rafters.  (It was awesome!) Afterwards, Mitch opened it up for people to talk about what parts of the trip that stood out to them and this is what they said:

Nate talked about how the communication barriers that we faced with our families didn't really matter.  While he wishes he had paid more attention in high school Spanish (that was a pretty common theme that night), he realized that you don't need to know the same language to make an impact in someone else's life. 

Emma mentioned how Maria, the younger mom we built for, was always smiling.  Even though her situation is hard and they have very little (her husband makes $100 a week to support their family of 6),  she was always happy and smiling. 

Brandon had never been out of Michigan and the biggest part of the trip for him was seeing the actual homes that these families live in.  It's so easy to hear about the tragic conditions and not really care, but when you actually see it and can put names to faces and ages to children, it starts to sink in a little bit more and you start to pay attention.  Brett agreed and said that seeing faces make a bigger impact than just hearing the statistics. 

Jim, who was adamant up until 2 weeks before that he was not going to Mexico, challenged everyone to not just leave mission trip mode once we got back to Big Rapids, but to continue in it 24/7/365.  We went down to Juarez to not just build a family a house, but to show them Christ's love.  Students aren't just here to go to classes, they are here to spread the love of Christ on campus. 

Casey, a senior from FSU, talked about her first trip when everyone on the way home was asking her if she was going to come back.  Outwardly, she was saying "Oh, maybe.  I'll think about it", while inwardly her thoughts were "Heck yeah I'm coming back!" This trip was her 3rd time to Juarez and she continued to go every year because she loves the chance to make a difference in other people's lives. 

Cassie S. was another student who had a lot of excuses for why she wasn't going to Mexico, but as each one got shot down, she realized that she really didn't have a reason to not go.  Her final excuse was that her parents wouldn't be excited about the idea, but they were (hehehe).  So, Cassie came on the trip and by Wednesday night could say that it was the best spring break she's ever had.

Hannah also had a lot of excuses (are you noticing a theme here?) as its her last spring break before she's getting married and it was a week she could have spent with her fiance.  On the trip though, she realized that God needed to be her first love and that the trip was a chance for her to put God in that rightful place again. 

Kelsey, a freshman on her first trip, said that while she was working on the houses, she was able to see and learn from the go-getter students and found role models that she can learn from not only on a work site but here on campus.  She told me last night that she's excited to come back again. 

Lauren P. (the fantastic photographer) told all of us about how her heart had been broken by the lack of communication we had with the family.  We built them a house, but what difference does that make in eternity?  This trip made her realize how much our efforts depend on God to move on the hearts of the families that we build for.  We have no idea what God is doing in Maria and Martha's and their children and husband's hearts even now, but it's not our place to worry about that.  God has it all under control. 

Our hope and our prayer has been that our students would be challenged and encouraged to grow in their relationships with God and those around them.  That they would be forced to be open and vulnerable to what God wanted to teach them through this experience. 

We will probably never know what happens to Maria and Martha, Vincente, Leslie and Evangeline and all of the others.  But we do know that we were able to make a difference in their lives and our prayer for them now is that they will be able to make a difference for good in their neighborhood, their city and their country. 

Thank you for all of your prayers, your encouragement and your support as we journeyed.  It was really cool to see how many people had read the blog each day and be able to share the daily experiences with you.  We're glad to be home with you, but we're already looking forward to returning next year to a city that will  not be forgotten. 


We are home.

It's hard to believe that Spring Break is over already and that we're actually all home (even MTU should be home by now), and enjoying a day of relaxing before classes start again tomorrow.  This trip went so fast and it just doesn't feel like it should be done yet.  I definitely enjoyed being able to sleep on my own bed with a clean pillow though!

For our last day together, we went to the City Museum in St. Louis, MO.  If you've never been there before, it's well worth the visit! There isn't a lot of actual museum about it, but tunnels, caves, slides, crazy staircases, a 10-story slide, towers to climb and tiny spaces to go through.  It's a giant jungle gym for people of all ages. We went last year and had a great time, so we decided to go back this year to help break up the drive and have some fun together before we started splitting off to go home.

At City Museum, Baleigh, Casey, Kelly and Nicole decided to try and find all of the smallest areas possible to squeeze through (there are a lot!) while Ryan and Drew ran on the hamster wheel.  All of us did the 10-story slide (not recommended for those recovering from car sickness!) and climbed in the towers outside.  Dakota, Nate and Brett all slid along one of the tower chutes on their backs and tried to convince others to go to, but no one else felt the urge to try it.  Trista, Hannah, Peter and Jenny had fun playing dodgeball in the ball pits and a bunch of the students from Van 1 made yet another music video while playing.  It was a lot of fun and the perfect way to stretch out all of the kinks and cramps from sitting in the car for 24 hours.

We left St. Louis around 3 and everything was going great.  We managed to find our way out of the city, despite the construction on almost every corner, and were cruising along towards Bloomington when Brandon got sick.  At first we thought that the couple people who had the stomach flu had food poisoning, but when 6 people wound up sick throughout different days, EMT Jon decided it wasn't food related.  There must have been some bug that someone picked up and very graciously shared with everyone else (their mom taught them well).

We had dinner at Steak'n'Shake in Bloomington, IL where we said goodbye to Scott, Megan, Dakota, Brandon and Nicole.  We had to jumpstart their van after a light was left on for 9 days in the Wal-Mart parking lot, but everything seemed to be running fine when they left.  We got a text from them a few hours later and Brandon was still sick which was making for a longer drive home, but they're all still really glad they came and hoping to come again next year.

As we continued on the road and dropped more people off, the extra van space became a luxury for those trying to sleep.  Casey found the that 2 bucket seats in the mini-van made a great bed and Kevin L. was stretched out on the back bench.  Andrea was dropped off in Joliet and then we made two other drop and runs in the Grand Rapids area for Hannah, Peter, Cassie S, Nate, Brett and Kelly.  It's amazing how  much more room the vans had the last hour of the trip!

Joe, Jon and Matt had the hard driving shift from the MI border to Big Rapids.  As co-pilots got sleepier and everyone else in your van is snoring, it makes it hard to stay awake!  The freezing cold from opening and closing van doors definitely helped as did the walkie-talkie games and conversations about billboards, speed limits and cartoon characters.

We finally pulled into Big Rapids at 3:48a.m.  Everyone helped unload the vans and get them cleaned out.  Then, while the students spread out between friends or the ministry houses,  Joe, Baleigh, Mitch and I ran the vans back to Grand Rapids.  We finally got home around 7:45 and promptly crashed for the next several hours.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip.  We were gone for just shy of 10 days, drove 3,506 miles and spent approximately 80 hours in the vans, went through  8 states and 2 countries, built 2 houses from the ground up and got to share God's love in a tangible way to those in a city that so many have forgotten. .

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On the way home

There's really not a lot to tell about the last 24 hours...mostly because we've spent it all on the road.

We grabbed breakfast at Chick-Fil-A yesterday morning and left El Paso around 10a.m.  We were in Texas until after 9p.m.  This group has declared that they have bladders of steel and the staff believes them.  We've been pulling 4 hours drives in the car without a break!  They're doing great and aside from really long stops for meals (not our fault, the restaurants we've been going to have not done well with large groups), we're making great time.  We're already 3 - 3.5 hours ahead of last year's schedule.

Either food poisoning or the stomach flu went through a few students over the past 36 hours.  Dakota and Brooke started it with chills and aches and then it moved onto Kelsey about 12:30a and Kevin L. around 9a.  They have all been quarantined to our minivan (the ugly duckling) and Brandon has bravely been the student who chose to ride with them.  They slept most of the day and night and everyone seems to be doing better this morning!

Van 1 has dubbed themselves as the "fun van" and have made several music videos on Cassie S's phone and posted them on Facebook.  Van 2 is the quarantine van and Van 3 is the "chill van".  Van 3 has played games with sticky notes on foreheads, Monopoly Deal and Phase 10 as well as plenty of naps.

We're Caseyville, Missouri eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel before possibly heading to City Museum in St. Louis.  It's a jungle gym for adults essentially and we had a great time there last year! There's a St. Patty's Day parade going through downtown however, so we're trying to figure out the logistics.

Everyone is doing well.  We're all ready to be home and out of the vans (they seem to be shrinking with each hour on the road), but it's less than 10 hours from here to get home (not counting food and bathroom stops) for FSU.  MTU has about 13-14 hours to go.  

It's been a long week, but really, really good.  We're impressed with the depth of character that we're seeing in our students, their willingness to serve wherever we are and their flexibility and ability to adjust when plans change on the fly.

Thank you for your prayers. We love you!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Juarez

We said goodbye to Juarez this morning.
Even though we haven't known this city that long, it has a special place in our hearts. It's the city where so many refuse to go because of the danger that it represents. But to us, it's a place where we were able to make a difference, where we made a dozen kids smile, where we gave a family hope and most of all, where we shared the love of Christ in a tangible way.  God was able to work through us, a group of inexperienced college students without much Spanish knowledge, to bless two families with brand new houses. How cool is that!
We kept the same schedule as the work days and got up at 6:30.  Scott experimented with the coffee maker again (we could have a whole blog post about our kitchen mishaps!) and got 1 pot of coffee made that was quickly claimed by staff.  We ate breakfast and then cleaned the church we stayed at in Juarez. Kelly, Heather and Brandon helped split up all of the extra food and dishes that we had from the week and we boxed it all up for Maria and Martha.  

Maria and Martha had no idea that we were coming and were so surprised with the boxes of food.  The smile on Maria's face was huge!  It was so much fun to surprise them with it.  Baleigh's jacket had been left at the work site, but she chose to left it there after finding a pretty dirty dog curled up on it.

We crossed the border in El Paso instead of crossing in New Mexico last year. The crossing took longer, but it was a lot closer to where we had been building than the New Mexico border.  It took about an hour to get across the bridge, but the border patrol officer was really nice. He was collecting all of the passports to check them and mentioned that our van smelled like feet.  We didn't have the heart to tell him that there was a good chance it was us and not the shoes by the door.  (After 4 days without showers while working in the desert, even deoderant wasn't really helping anymore). 

We went to the Casas compound to help them prepare for the upcoming year of building.  For the past 7 years, we have helped them assemble all of the electrical, painting, roofing supplies etc, that they use throughou the entire year.  It's a way that we can give back to a ministry that serves those around them in so many ways. Some of the guys also worked on chipping wood.  It was hot today! The students did great and we're proud of them and their hard work and cheerfulness! 

After shopping at the Casas gift store (we all now look like a gang with matching T-shirts), we went to a church in El Paso that has showers.  In under an hour, we had all 36 people through 5 minute showers.  An ice cold shower has never felt that good!  It was great!  All of us feel better, look cleaner and smell so much better!  Although, the Mexico dirt has a way of clinging to you and there's a very real possibility that you'll still be washing dirt off in a week. 

Dinner tonight was the annual food fest at Golden Corral.  The Casas leader who works with us and their families come with us for dinner and we get to treat them after all of the work that they did for us throughout the week.  It's a good chance to relax, play games and enjoy time with the new friends you made during the week and enjoy lots of really good food!

Tonight, we're back at Paseo Church in El Paso for the night.  We're up and moving at 6am tomorrow with a trip to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast.  After that we'll be back on the road for Michigan!  It'll take us the better part of a day to get through Texas, but the rest of the drive goes faster.  We're all looking forward to being home with our own beds and warm showers, but we wouldn't give up this week of spring break for anything!

As we're driving, I'll be able to post some more of the stories from the week and the memories that we have.  Thanks for reading this blog throughout our trip!  We're looking forward to telling you more about it in person in a few days :) 

Day 3 in photos

Our build plaque

Kayla and Melissa

Kelly doing stucco

Melissa, Kayla, Cassie, Emma and Faith

Ryan doing stucco

Brooke and Brandon knocking
out the drywall

Andrea touching up the trim

Almost done!

Lauren giving piggyback rides

Kevin and Emma
with the kids

Melissa praying in the house 

Jon praying over the house

Casey presenting the keys to Martha

Matt nailing the sign on Martha's house 

Kevin R. nailing the sign
on Maria's house

The whole group in front of Maria's house!
Back (from L-R) Megan, Matt, Kevin R, Kevin L., Nate, Baleigh, Casey, Heather, Ryan, Drew
Row 2 - Kayala, Casey, Kelsey, Jon, Emma, Jim
Row 3 - Trista, Kelly, Cassie, Melissa,  Jenny, Maria, Faith, Cassie, Andrea, Mitch
Front - Joe, Kate, Lauren, Brett, Hannah, Becca, Brooke, Brandon, Scott, Dakota

Day 2 in photos

Dakota playing on the teeter-totter at the church

Melissa getting lauched

Praying at the start of the day

Setting the walls


Black Boarding
Megan moving a
roof section

Matt, Joe and Trista
playing with ladders

Jim working on the roof 

Love this picture of Kelly,
 but it won't rotate! :(

Cassie playing with the kids

Cassie and Leslie

Vincente and Jim

Jim, Jon and Heather on the roof

Doing the chicken wire

Kate and Evangelina

The kids loved Dakota's camera

The kids castle and drawbridge

End of Day 2

Day 1 in photos

Arriving at Maria's former house

Casey cutting chicken wire

Emma, Trista and Jenny painting the trim

Nate shoveling concrete

Brooke, Faith and Lauren P
Painting the trim with the kids

Pouring the slab

Roomies!  Brooke, Baleigh and Faith

More slab work

Just for you,
Kim Turner!

Our poor van...or rather, Enterprise's poor van. 

Jenny playing with the kids

Juarez at night on the way home

Hanging out at the church

Cassie's ready for bed :)