Monday, July 26, 2010

Mexico

OK, so many of you have said that I need to update my blog about our Mexico trip.  First of all, I didn't know I had so many readers, and second, I really don't even know where to begin!

I wish that I could start this post by saying that I know exactly why God called us to go to Mexico this summer, but I can't.  Instead, I have the most amazing stories about one of the most amazing and hardest weeks in my life.  So I will just start at the beginning, which means this might turn into a really long post!

Our trip started early in the morning on Saturday.  At 3:30 in the morning to be exact!  We left our dark, quiet home in time to arrive at the Dayton airport by 4:30 for take-off at 6:00 AM.  The plane ride out was great.  I was nervous, Emily bounced up and down and couldn't stop talking from excitement as we took off.  Allie was quite nervous too, although I am not sure if it was from riding in a plane or from anticipation of arriving in Mexico.  To be honest, I am not sure if I was nervous of the plane, or the arrival either.  We were finally leaving for Mexico!

We arrived in the Mexico airport around lunchtime, and it was HOT!  We loaded the charter bus, fully equipped with a low-functioning air conditioner and lovely curtains covering the windows.  Apparently, they didn't want all the people wandering the streets of Monterrey to know that we were a bus load of Americans!  We drove about 45 minutes through some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen and finally arrived at the Back 2 Back campus.  We had a short meeting, had a great time with a pool party on campus with a couple of the children's homes, and then had a cookout with the kids.  Emily and I got called into serving dinner, which was so much fun!  Emily passed out napkins to the kids and I passed out "sandia", watermelon!  The kids were so excited about this dinner.  To us, it seemed somewhat meager: hamburgers, nachos with cheese and peppers, and a slice of watermelon; but to them it was paradise!  I was touched by the smiles on these beautiful faces and the gratitude that they showed despite the language barrier.

I had hoped to journal every day, but by the end of Saturday, I was so tired that I couldn't even keep my eyes open.  Here's what I wrote in my journal Sunday evening:

"I wanted so badly to write at the beginning of this day, but time would not allow it.  Now, at 7:00 the day is nearing an end, I am yet again exhausted, and I have so much to say.  Words can not even begin to describe what I have seen over the last 24 hours nor can they describe the huge range of emotions in my heart.  Every part of what I am doing is a huge step out of my comfort zone and another opportunity to rely on the Lord.  From getting onto the airplane, praying for safety in the air, to holding the sweet baby at the Rio.

This place is gorgeous and amazing.  It is far more beautiful than I had imagined and unlike anything I have ever seen.  We are surrounded by palm trees and the most amazing and majestic mountains.  And yet, right in the middle of it all is a poverty and need unlike anything I have ever seen."

The view from campus.

On Sunday we went to one of the Rio communities that Back 2 Back serves.  We brought lunch to serve them and we also got a day to just "play" with them by watching the World Cup soccer game.  After a meeting in the soup kitchen, a mere slab of concrete with a wood roof, we walked through the Rio to invite the residents to come join us for Sunday worship, lunch and the soccer game.  This was by far one of the hardest walks I have ever been on.  To be face to face with that level of poverty was heart-breaking.  The Rio is literally built on the city dump.  The homes are built, by hand, with whatever they can find when the garbage truck comes (which is actually a horse-drawn carriage).  Some of the homes were built out of the side of a hill, using a tree trunk for a wall, a mattress for another wall, and a table or box for the 4th wall.  Most homes had a tarp for a roof.  There was trash everywhere, stray animals were running around and leaving their "stuff" behind.  This was the farthest away, physically, emotionally and mentally, from my quaint suburban home in West Chester.  I wasn't afraid at all.  But my heart broke over the "stuff" I have filled my home with compared to the lack of "stuff" in these homes.  This was all they had.




I was absolutely amazed at the maturity of Allie and Emily.  Emily was the first to talk to me about how she felt walking through the Rio.  She told me that it was breaking her heart and that it was just making her so sad.  She said that it hurt her eyes to look at their houses.  Allie told me how sad she was, but she also told me how to fix the problem.  She asked if we could come next year on a mission trip and build them houses.  Then she changed her mind to building a large apartment building so they could all live in it.  I was so proud of both girls and the way that God spoke to them in the Rio.

But in the middle of the poverty were some of the most beautiful faces!




Once all the kids/parents were up at the soup kitchen and we were playing, I almost forgot what they had come from.  I almost forgot that these kids live in cardboard boxes and sleep on dirt floors.  They were so happy, so content, and always had a smile on their sweet faces.  At one point, I remember sitting on a bench just watching them play, and watching Allie and Emily play with them, and it hit me that they live where we had just walked.  They were normal, happy children, but they live in a very abnormal place.  When we got ready to leave, I saw one boy jump into the arms of Matt and, although I don't know spanish, I heard him say "Take me to your house".  I wanted to cry.  And I wanted to bring all those sweet kids home with me.

On Monday we drove 45 minutes to an orphanage called El Retiro Juvinelle, or simply ERJ as we called it!  When we arrived we were served an authentic Mexican meal...delicious tacos!




The Mexicans use a lot of potatoes in their cooking, it's filling and cheap...and it tastes good!  Even Allie and Emily ate these, but they really loved the rice!

After lunch, we were allowed to go on the ropes course.  ERJ has 11 acres of land, yet only 17 kids.  On this land, they have built a ropes course and have hopes of building cabins and a pool to rent out to different groups and companies to raise money for the home.  It was a great ropes course!  We learned so much about ourselves, about others and about God through doing this.  We also learned so much about perseverance, patience, walking through trials and even success through doing this ropes course.  Who knew you could learn so much on logs and ropes in 108 degree weather?  But, that's all for another post!  :)

When we got done with the course, we headed back up to the palapa where we would meet some of the kids to play.  There were threatning rain clouds and as the rain started to fall, we realized that we weren't going to be able to do some of the painting that they wanted us to do, but instead we were just able to play with some of the kids.  What a blessing!  There was one little girl, named Michelle (hard "ch" shound, not soft), she was 9 years old and there was just something about her eyes that spoke to my soul, and broke my heart.  She seemed so bitter and angry.  Most of the other girls/kids seemed so happy.  They all wore a great big smile and were very touchy, loving hugs and holding hands.  Not Michelle.  She would not even look at me in the eyes.  She would barely talk to me.  I thought about how much I wished I knew spanish so I could talk to her, and was beginning to think that there was no way I would be able to break through.  Then my Emily walked up.  She said "Como te llamas?"  Michelle answered, but in a way that neither one of us could understand (it wasn't until we asked a worker later that we finally figured out her name!).  At one point, Emily said that she wanted her to come play with her, and I told her to just ask her.  Emily, in all of her wonder took Michelle by the hand and simply said, "come".  She looked at her, very skeptical, and went.  As they walked away, Emily tried to hold her hand and Michelle kept pulling it away.  Emily finally gave up on the hand holding, but they continued up the hill.  A bit later, I found them playing under the palapa and Michelle was smiling and laughing!  They were coloring with sidewalk chalk.  They spent the rest of the afternoon playing together...jump roping, bubbles, coloring and tossing a ball.  Neither one of them spoke the other girls language, but the language of play is international.  I was so proud of her for being so outgoing and persistent with her!  It was a joy to watch and to be her Mama!

There were a few other girls who made an impression on my heart.  Odalise is the younger 7 year old sister of Michelle.  She became my buddy!  She loved touching, holding my hand, touching my arm.  She was full of smiles and was just so sweet!  Two other girls, who were sisters too, made an impression, Estrella age 8 and Bolina age 5.  I had met Estrella and Bolina at the pool party on Saturday evening and was so glad to see them again.  Such sweet girls!

Michelle

Odalise

Estrella

Bolina

Oh I wish I could have put all 4 of these girls in my suitcase and brought them home with me!  They brought so much joy into my life in such a short amount of time.

The next day, Tuesday, we went back to ERJ.  It was so nice to be able to go to the same home twice.  I loved seeing the same kids all over again!  Odalise ran right up and gave me a big hug and a big hola!  We did lots of work and lots of painting on Tuesday.  It was nice to be able to have these kids faces in my mind while we were painting their buildings.  And of course, Allie and Emily made me proud again! They worked so hard and didn't once complain about the intense heat.



Scripture, Emily's name, the sweat from Allie and Emily and their hard work will forever be on the walls of ERJ.  And prayfully, we all will be forever in the hearts of Michelle, Odalise, Estrella and Bolina and the other kids at ERJ, and they will sense that we were there to show them the love of Jesus Christ.  I simply can not remember all the names of all the sweet kids we met while we were in Mexico, but their faces will be forever etched in my mind and my heart.  As I am typing this, a commercial for the new movie Eat, Pray, Love is on and Julia Roberts character says "I want to go to a place where I can marvel".  I have been to that place.  It was in Mexico.

Tuesday night was another great night of worship.  I called Brian that evening and was able to cry tears of joy as I told him how proud I was of our girls and how I wished he was there to see it.  That day, Robin, one of the ladies in our group, told me that the highlight of her day was sitting with Allie on the bus for 45 minutes on the way to ERJ.  They talked the entire way.  She told me how mature Allie is and what a blessing she was to her.  I can't say how much my heart swells when someone tells me that my daughter is a blessing to her!  My heart was so filled with joy and humility.  I felt like I had experienced so much already and I couldn't possibly understand how the rest of the week could measure up to the first half of the week.  Tuesday evening was a turning point in the week because at the end of worship, Todd Guckenberger announced that we were just about to be hit by hurricane Alex.  He said worst case scenario is that we would be hit with 5-10 inches of rain, that this would cause flooding and a mess, but we would be ok.  We had no idea what God was about to do!  Tuesday evening was a turning point in the way that we experienced Mexico, but it was simply a different way that God was going to teach me a ton about Himself, about me and about others.  He's just cool like that.

To be continued....

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