Tuesday, March 18, 2014

These are a few of our favorite things...

We are home. 

We left Michigan Tech in Bloomington, IL around 8p.m. on Saturday night and they left for their 9 hour drive through Wisconsin.  After we dropped them off, we pushed hard and tried to finish the drive home as fast as we could.  We just wanted to be home. Van 1 pulled into Big Rapids around 2a.m. on Sunday morning, with vans 2 and 3 about 30 minutes behind. (The other two vans dropped off Mike, Chris, Emily and Danielle, while Van 1 brought some sick passengers straight back to Big Rapids).  After dropping off students at their apartment complexes or dorm rooms, Mitch, Joe, Baleigh and I jumped back on the road to take the vans to Grand Rapids and return them to the rental company.  Some people (my grandpa included) said we were crazy to leave at 3:30a, but honestly, we would so much rather get them taken care of that night rather than have to get up and moving again on Sunday to drive them down.  Besides which, after unloading the vans in 8 degree snowy Michigan, we were WIDE awake for the drive! By 6a.m., everyone was back in Big Rapids and sleeping for the next 13 hours. 

It was a good trip.  Every student I've talked to since we've gotten home has had only good things to say and they're already excited for next year!  They caught the excitement to build homes in the city that so many have forgotten.  They're ready to return to Juarez and bring hope to even more families there. 

I asked each team to think about what their favorite parts of the trip and share them with you. The ones that are marked with an asterisk (*) were on their first Mexico trip with His House.  Here are the highlights in everyone's own words:

Team Robey:

My apologies!  This is the closest I have to a team photo for Team Robey at this point. 

Kelly W. - "The dedication of the houses and getting to talk to the families.  Someone told the interpreter that I spoke Spanish and I was really glad that I got to talk with the family during the dedication."

*Justin H. - "Being able to visually see the progress on the house over three days and being able to watch the great work ethic on my team.  Everyone jumped in to help on everything that needed to be done."

Jon S. - "The dedication of the house." 

Faith K. - "The dedication and seeing how appreciative the family is."

*Brittani F. - "Building the house in general because I'd never done that before, and we got to give it to the family."

*Lauren S. - "The dedication."

Drew B. - "A combination of the plaque at the dedication and working with people I didn't know well."

*Sydney H. - "Being able to experience this trip with my best friend, to watch him experience new things and the opportunity to grow closer together in our walk with God."

*Brandon B. - "Watching God do His work was amazing. It was cool to make new friendships but also strengthen the ones that I already had through God."

Nate R. - "Actually being with my full family for the first half of the trip."

Sam R. - "I liked sleeping in and doing drywall."

Gabe R. - "Visiting Carlsbad Caverns."

Team Hogoboom:

(Just to clear up some confusion, Jesus is the homeowner we were building for. His name is pronounced Hay-zues, not the biblical pronunciation of Jesus.)

*Daniel S. - "Building the house and getting to work with everyone in my group and getting to know them."

Nathan C. - "Serving alongside my best friend and watching God work through our group."

Cassie S. - "Hanging out Thursday night (til the early morning) with Keleigh, Mike, Andy and Nathan. And serving alongside my best friend all week at the work site."
*Kristin M. - "My favorite part of the trip was the appreciation of the family that received the gift of the house. The feelings of awe were inspiring."

*Mike P. - "Watching Jesus (the home owner) interact with all of us. And how the Pastor tried to be a blessing to us too by visiting with us."

*Glenn H. - "Helping the family was cool. I appreciated how they fed all fifteen of us lunch for two days - giving us their food."

*Kathryn P. - "Talking to the family and getting to know the others on the whole team. The people on the trip are really cool."

Jim H. - "Jesus (the homeowner) was a bro."

Melissa B. - "Jesus and how helpful he was. Made it easy to communicate with the family."

Emma L. - "How interactive our homeowner Jesus was. He always helped out and was like a part of our team."

*Chelsea V. - "Stepping out of my comfort zone and seeing how grateful the family was and how they said we're God's angels."

Joe H. - "Jesus making the effort to call us by name and get to know all of us (even our majors/jobs). You don't see adults on the worksites do that often. And the jobs that brought our team from strangers to team to family."

Kate H. - "Our work team was so good and they all were incredible to work with. And that we were able to be an example and a blessing to their neighbors and reach out to them as well."

Team Baleigh:

Danielle B. - "Our build group and how well we worked together."

David K. - "Playing with the kids and talking to the family, and the dedication."

Becca C. - "I really liked playing soccer and games with the kids and seeing the house come together by working as a team."

*Tanner A. - "Working/building with my hands to help somebody. I wish I knew more Spanish!"

*Chris P. - "Watching the walls go up and the smiles on the kids faces as they did."

*Mike R. - "Changing the family's life in the 3 days and spending time with my brother (their team leader Andy R. is Mike R.'s brother) and all of my new friends."

*Keleigh R. - "Having the opportunity to serve God with Andy (my brother) and my brothers and sisters in Christ. It was great to be the hands and feet of Christ for the families and further relationships with some great friends."

*Alex W. - "When people weren't building, they were playing games with the neighbors. Especially 5 boys who loved playing football. We got to ministry to them and enjoy time with them. And building the house by hand. I've never done that before."

Cassie M. - "Interacting with the kids and hearing the family talk about how they knew the house was a gift from God."

*Chelsea P. - "Everything I learned. I never thought I'd be able to do half the stuff I did. I also liked to see how happy the kids were."

*Tori H. - "I really loved my build team."

*Jessica D. - "Interacting with the people on my team and the family. The 13 year old daughter wanted to help us and worked on learning English with us. I enjoyed helping translate."

Baleigh N. - "I loved the team that I had and it was great blessing the family."

Team Tech:

*Caleb W. - "To be able to serve those less fortunate than I."

*Sarah L. - "Bonding with peoples."

*Sasha B. - "Seeing how little Carol had, yet how much she cared for her animals. It showed me how I need to appreciate more of the little things in life."

*David B. - "I found the quiet times enjoyable."

*Jack H. - "Working on the stucco."

*Erich A. - "Son bathing! (Get it?!)"

*Justin M. - "When Carol dragged brought me into her house and started feeding me random food."

*Dutch - "Categorizing the different breeds of dogs."

*Sam W. - "When Sasha gave the bandana to Carol."

*Zach A. - "The ability to serve others, whether it was Carol or working at Justin's house."

*Kayla Z. - "It was nice being able to speak Spanish; a skill that I have that isn't used daily, but can be put to use to do God's work."

*Duke - "A lot of bunnies."

Brandon C. - "Watching the people around me learn and grow and how that helps all of us."

Scott A. - "Spending time with everybody."

Megan S. - "Carol, the toothless sweetheart that reminded me of my grandma."

We're glad to be home, even if it meant coming back to classes and snow, but part of our hearts remain in Juarez with Jesus and Lidia, Saul and Veronica, Pedro and Carol, and Maria and her children.  We pray for them daily - that their houses will remain standing (it was a bunch of inexperienced builders after all!), that they would thoroughly enjoy their new home and that they will be able to use it to be a blessing to the others in their neighborhoods and churches.

Thank you to everyone who financially supported us on the trip, who prayed for us along the way, who read our blog and shared it online (we more than doubled our readers from last year!), who texted us encouragement and who cheered when we got home.  We couldn't have done this trip without you!  You are a blessing to us and to all of those in Juarez who have a brand new house.  We love you!  

We'll return next year to bring more hope, more houses and more Jesus to a city that so many have forgotten.  We have not forgotten Juarez. 

Team Robey's Photos

While we were in Mexico, the different connections we needed to get photos from Team Robey weren't working (I shouldn't be surprised.  Technology rarely works when you need it to), but now that we're home in Michigan, I finally have some from their team!

Their team had the tightest working conditions because the Casas house was being built very close to existing structure (check out the stuccoing photos to see what I mean!), but they pulled together and managed to tie for second place in finishing their house!  Way to go guys!

Presenting Team Robey:
Before they started building

Getting the foundation ready

Kelly and Faith measuring out the boards for cutting

Skreeting the concrete

Here come the walls!

Raising the roof!

Kelly and Emily

See what I mean?  Not a lot of space!

Nate and Justin stuccoing

The house is almost finished!  Kelly was the team's interpreter for the week.

Congratulations Team Robey!  You did it!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Texas is the state that never ends...

It's hard to believe that even though we went through the "skinny" part of Texas (the small little square at the top) and you can go 75 miles an hour on almost every road, it still takes about seven hours to get through. And the scenery doesn't really change at all between New Mexico and Texas which makes the combined almost 24 hours seem even longer.  Now that we're in Missouri, it feels like the drive is flying by.  

We're eating breakfast at a Bob Evans in Springfield, MO.  We haven't packed this place out quite yet, it's bigger than a few others we've stopped at.  It's only 3.5 hours from here to St. Louis, another 2 from there to Bloomington, IL where we'll split into two groups (MTU goes through Wisconsin to get home and Ferris & Friends will continue through IL and MI) and then finish the drive home.  Depending on how long the rest stops take, we might make it home at a fairly decent time, which would be an awesome change.  All of us are ready for beds that don't move, that aren't a constricting mummy sleeping bag and that doesn't require sharing a room with 55 other people, with half of them snoring. The sleeping spaces in the van are getting smaller and attitudes are getting grumpier in the middle of the night, but daylight makes everything better.  

Today is one of the hardest of the trip because everyone just wants to be home.  We're so close after the days of driving, but yet it's still a long way to go.  The tendency is to get grumpy and irritated with your neighbor who's taking up more space than you think they should, the rest stops feel like they take forever, and you just want to stretch your legs out without hitting the seat frame in front of you.  But, for the most part, the students seem to be doing really well.  We're able to travel more efficiently (you can go farther between breaks at night because everyone's bladder is asleep.  At least, that's how it supposed to work. I jumped the curb accidentally and woke up my entire van and then we needed to find a Wal-Mart fast.  My bad), and their attitudes are good.  They're thoroughly enjoying breakfast and the sunshine outside and groaning about the weather forecast for Michigan for the next week.  

It's been a really good trip.  We're glad that we came and thankful for the friendships that we've made and the opportunities to serve that we've had.  

Some photos from the last few days:

Team Baleigh after showers and getting clean on Thursday

Breakfast at Chick-Fil-A yesterday


 Driving in the vans yesterday


Carlsbad Caverns

Whale's Mouth formation

We're in the final stretch to get home and we're getting excited to get there.  Thank you for all of your prayers!  We'll see you in a few hours!

Friday, March 14, 2014

We're only 1,534 miles from home...

We're in Carlsbad, NM, grabbing lunch and enjoying the sunshine.  We haven't made it too far yet today, we're only about 166 miles from El Paso, but we took a detour and hiked through Carlsbad Caverns.  That was an amazing stop!  We're all really glad that we went!

After a solid night's sleep on carpeted floors Wednesday night, we all felt ready to tackle a day of hard work with Casas yesterday. Our students worked hard!  Every year, His House students pack all of the kits to build Casas homes.  Yesterday, a team packed over 140 crates of electrical and roofing equipment and completely emptied Casas's stock of supplies!  They did a great job!  Another team went to Justin Kirklin's, a His House alumni and current Casas staff, and did landscaping in his new back yard.  That team worked really hard and wound up removing a extra-large trailer worth of dirt before laying down new rocks.  Justin and his family are very special to Ferris State and we were really excited to be a blessing to them. 

After quick showers back at the church (even cold showers feel good after 6 hours of shoveling!), we went to Golden Corral for our annual celebration dinner with Casas staff.  We take them out to dinner as a way to say thank you to them for all of the work that they pour into us and every other team that comes down to work in Juarez, Acuna or Guatemala.  And the buffet style restaurant is one of the best places for all of us to go for dinner and it finally fills all of the 6' plus college guys up.  I think Tanner finally stopped after 3 steaks! 
Casas and His House at Golden Corral
Following dinner, there was another run through Wal-Mart to replace stinky sweatshirts and ripped jeans before we went back to the church to go to bed early (well, early for us. It was around 11p local time, 1a Michigan time).  A group of us went to vacuum out the vans and get all of the "Satan's teeth" out of the carpets and seats.  "Satan's teeth" are sharp burrs that cling to everything, thrive on the Casas compound and have a tendency to find the most tender spot on your foot to sink in.  We did pretty well, only one person has found one in their shoes today!  We also stopped at Chick-Fil-A for our traditional "hit the road" breakfast this morning. Chicken for breakfast seems odd for a lot of people, but the restaurant there always takes great care of us and the food is really good!

The past 2 years, we've stopped in St. Louis, MO to go to the City Museum as a fun afternoon out of the vans and just hanging out.  This year, we opted to go to Carlsbad Cavern's instead and wandered through 2 miles of caves, stalactites and stalagmites, limestone deposits and pools.  It was amazing to see God's creativity and the massive amounts of detail in each formation.  It was almost overwhelming to look at!  We played, hiked and took pictures for a couple of hours and then waited in a massive line to ride the elevator the 754 feet to the top.  It was definitely worth the detour!  

We're headed straight to Michigan from here.  According to Google, we're approximately 22 hours from Big Rapids, not counting any food/gas/emergency bathroom stops or time changes along the way. It's going to be a long drive, but we're all sinking into a food coma anyway so that will make it a little bit easier :)

Wendy's internet is moving ridiculously slow so uploading any other photos isn't really working.  Hopefully, wherever we stop for dinner tonight will allow us a better connection.  We're excited to be back home, (although not at all excited about the snow!) and be able to tell all of you about our trip in person.  Thanks for your prayers!  We'll see you soon!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Drywall and Dedications - Day 3

Wednesday morning, all of us woke up to the sound of wind howling outside the SHOC.  We all expected a sandstorm that would make building difficult for all the teams, but especially Team Robey who still had to tar paper and shingle their roof.  Thankfully, the storm was not that bad at all.  The sand blowing around on Tuesday was a lot worse than on Wednesday.  Praise God!

All of the teams learned on Wednesday why drywalling is not a favorite job for many.  It's very time-consuming, you have to be perfectionistic and the houses provide only a small working area.  Thankfully, it wasn't hot outside and the dust wasn't too bad either, which made it more bearable.   A couple of the teams were short on supplies and the right tools and it took a lot longer than planned to get it done. But, their attitudes were great the whole time and the drywall looks fantastic!  

Stuccoing was a lot of fun for everyone.  It can be hard to learn, but our students picked up on it quick!  It was a lot of fun to watch them learn and to watch them enjoy the process as well. The wind did blow the dry lime/cement mix into our faces fairly often (powdered lime does not leave a nice aftertaste), but's fun and satisfying to smear mud on a wall.  It's an excuse to be a kid again!   

After each house is built, the local pastor comes and leads a dedication service with the family and the team.  During this service, the family is told that they don't have to pay anything for the house, we're giving it to them because we want to show them God's love for them.  We pray over the house, the family and their ministry to their neighbors through their new house.  Then, students from each group present the family with the keys, a Spanish Bible and nail the Casas pro Cristo plaque above the door.  The dedication is always a favorite part of the last day. But this year was very special for all of us.  In addition to the gifts the family already received, the students raised an additional $1,028 to buy even more gifts for the new houses.  Each family received a new set of dishes, pots and pans, pot holders, towels and washcloths, welcome mats, curtains and curtain rods, broom and dustpan, mop and bucket and soccer balls.  Team Baleigh also gave the little girl on their site a brand new doll, just for her.  The families were so excited for these extra gifts - their smiles were huge!  Three of the families also have refrigerators coming to them from us that will be delivered to them soon.  It was really cool to be able to give them not just a house, but some of the things that make a house a home. 

Gifts for Maria and her children
 Team Hogoboom:

Team Hogoboom with Jesus and Lidia and Jesus's mother
 Team Tech:

Team Tech with Pedro

 Team Baleigh:


Maria and Larissa, Miguel and Mia.  Mia gets to celebrate her first birthday in their new house!

Team Baleigh with Maria, Larissa, Miguel and Mia

Team Robey hasn't given me any of their pictures yet, but their team did very well.  They started behind on Wednesday morning, but managed to get caught up quickly and finished second that day!  They were building for Saul and Veronica's daughter, who will be moving into her new house soon.  

We are so thankful for the time that we had in Juarez.  It hasn't been an easy trip, (although we have been able to take more showers than we thought we could!), but it's been very worthwhile.  Most of the teams got to interact with the family they were building for on a daily basis and get to know them personally.  We're very thankful for the students who stepped out of their comfort zones to interpret for us as we worked.  Their Spanish might not have been exactly right, but the families loved being able to talk with us. 

It was hard to leave Juarez last night.  There's so many people who still need help and who still need a better home, but we'll be back next year to build more houses for more people here and to continue to make a difference. Thank you for your prayers and your support of all of us on this trip.  You helped us to make a difference in the lives of many people in Juarez.  Not just the families who got a house, but their neighbors, their churches and their communities.  When someone is willing to come to Juarez and build a brand-new house for someone, it gives hope to many others that people still care about Juarez.  They know that they are not a city forgotten by the world, but that someone remembers and someone cares about THEM.  Thank you for helping us get here and be that light for them.   

We're almost finished here at Casas and the students are starting to go through the store here.  Tonight, we'll go to dinner at the Golden Corral with the Casas staff and enjoy one more night in El Paso before we head back to snowy Michigan tomorrow morning.   We'll have more stories from the trip coming along the way as we travel. 

 We love you!