Category: The J-O-B
Last week I wrote about our material delivery in Puerto Peñasco. At the end of the post, I briefly alluded to the interaction with families during that part of the trip as the first time the families are assured their hopes of receiving a home would be realized. Then I chickened out by saying I would write more on that later. Well, I guess this is later.
In the lunchroom/wharehouse area of the Amor Ministries office is a large poster of a former trip participant in the embrace of a young Mexican child. If any of you have been around this ministry, been on mission trips with us, or received mailings from us, you have seen the photo. We use it a ton. In the upper right corner of this particular poster is added one of the Amor slogans, which reads, "Hope is a cement floor. Hope is four strong walls. Hope is a roof that doesn't leak." Altogether, it is a nice and evocative piece of advertising.
Unfortunately, I tend to be a scoffer. Not a scoffer in the extremely cynical, pessimistic, why try cuz your efforts are futile sense; but more the sarcastic, side comment to make someone laugh and shake their head at me kind of scoffer. Thus, as such scoffing goes, I would find myself standing near the poster making statements like, "If hope is four strong walls, then why do we build seven?" or, "If hope is a cement floor, why did we go with the parquet?" or better yet, "Hope must be a cement floor, 'cause linoleum is hopeless." Yes, I do realize none of these are as funny as they sound in my head. Nothing ever is.
Fortunately, my scoffings with regard to the poster have recently been laid aside. The two weeks we were in Peñasco did it for me. It started during material delivery and continued through the completion of the projects. For the first time in four years I allowed myself to see the physical change is people who are being blessed. When the trucks rolled up in front of the families and the first boards were taken down and placed in neat stacks on the ground in front of them, I could actually see people lifted from the inside-out. Behind tears I saw a spark. In sighs of relief I heard prayers of thanksgiving. We hadn't even started yet.
As the week rolled by and groups arrived and began construction, the changes were magnified and multiplied. One mother walked slowly around with a sad downcast face that all too well displayed the hardships of her life. When the group arrived to begin construction, one woman participant immediately noticed the pain in her face, approached her and gave her a big hug. By the last day, she could do nothing but smile and laugh. There was a quickness in her step that had not been there a few days before. She would readily jump in to help in the building of her new house. A softness began to show on her face. And there was something in her eyes....dare I say it was hope?
I don't think the actual definition of hope is anything as tangible as cement floors, strong walls, and a roof that doesn't leak. And I'm not going to look it up. I do think however (and by think I mean KNOW), that a mother who can sweep her floor and find something under the sand (besides more sand), who doesn't have to worry if her house will collapse in a strong wind, who knows her children will be dry in the next rainstorm, she can think about something else for a change.... maybe even the future.
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While in Mexico last Friday taking pictures for our CDA program, I took an opportunity to pay a visit to a family for whom we built a home in the summer of 2004. I stop in and say hi to this particular family whenever I am in the area. Usually, our visits follow a pattern. I walk into their home and am greeted by hugs and handshakes by whatever members of the family are around that day. Then we make sure everyone is well and catch up on life since the last visit. They ask about my family and I ask about theirs. There is much laughing and carrying on. Then, without skipping a beat, the matriarch of the family, Ines, makes me sit down and begins preparing a meal. Now I know what you are thinking. "Oh so that is his real motivation for stopping by there so frequently - free food." My only answer is; GUILTY (or at least partially so). After all, when I say she prepares a meal, I mean she serves up a spread of amazing food. In seventeen months of visits, Ines has yet to cook something that tastes less than incredible.
However, my most recent visit had a different feel to it. The pleasantries were mostly the same. But our conversation was different. As we began to share our lives with one another, Ines told me about the struggles she and her family had been through in the past few months. She spoke with sadness and cried openly in front of me. I didn't know how to react. There was much I wanted to say, but I found my Spanish failing in the moment. So I listened. I listened when she told me how her husband had left the family out of frustration with his own health and lack of ability to provide for everyone. I listened as she told me about her son's problems with the police and the burden that situation had become to his young family. I listened as she told me how she feels imprisoned in her own home because leaving, even for a few hours in the day, would mean her house getting broken into and robbed. I just listened.
Apparently, that was enough. She cried for a moment more. I took her hand and expressed my sympathy. After wiping her eyes and forehead with a small hand towel, she rose and asked if I was hungry. Of course, I said no. Of course, I also know to her that means yes. Let's be realistic; it would be ridiculous to her for me to show up without an appetite. And yes, Ines served up another remarkable plate of food for me. As she did so, she started telling me about the good things in her life. Her youngest daughter is doing very well and has a good job to help fill the void left by her husband. Her oldest daughter just had her second child, a baby boy which she is so proud of. This led to the biggest surprise of the day. I asked what the baby's name was:
"You don't know?" She asked with a surprised look in her eye. "His name is Jonathan."
"Just a second, that's my name!"
"Yes. Erica and her husband named the baby after you." (I swear I am not making this up.)
At this point I started jumping up and down with my arms in the air like the next contestant on the Price is Right - looking pretty much like an idiot - screaming "Mi Tocayo!" (loosely translated to 'my namesake'). Yes, there is a Mexican baby named after me!
I share this with you because it is a reminder to me of the importance of investing in peoples' lives. By this I mean caring about them. What started out as Amor Ministries responding to the need this family had for a home has turned into me feeling like a part of that family. Maybe this is how God would want it. Taking a chance to love others in a close, real, tangible way has a tendency to bring us into communion with those we serve. In each instance we are given a chance to affirm their place beside us in the family of God. And that is the greatest of honors (next to having a baby named after me).
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I've been back from Puerto Peñasco for about a week now. I know I said I would write about some of my experiences while there, but that didn't work out. In truth, I did try at one point, but the computer I was using froze when I was trying to post. I'd like to say I haven't written since returning because I was still trying to process the experience, but I'm afraid laziness and a short attention span would be more accurate.
So, for the next few days I am going to commit (by commit I mean try real hard) to spend a portion of my day writing about some of those experiences and what they mean to me.
Let's begin with Material Delivery. One may wonder what amount of building materials is required for the construction of 64 Amor houses. The answer is seven semi trucks full of said materials. Be more specific you say? Well...that breaks down into roughly 1,860 sack of cement (at 100lbs/sack), 6,100 8ft 2x4s, 2,426 12ft 2x4s, 576 sheets of plywood, 1,145 pounds of bailing wire, 3,900 pounds of nails, 116 rolls of chicken wire, 250 rolls of tar paper, 256 rolls of roofing paper, plus doors and windows, doorknobs and hinge sets, tar and brushes, fiber and mud sill anchors (which I don't want to count). One might then wonder how all of those materials are delivered. Answer - by hand to each house individually. And how many people do the work? Between fifteen and twenty. This includes the Amor staff and local workers we hire to help us out. So how long does this process take, you ask? Weeks? Oh no. Somehow it gets done in two and a half days.
In all honesty, material delivery is one of my favorite parts of the trip. Almost anyone on the field team would say the same. Its fast, hard, dirty, a little chaotic, and somehow a lot of fun. At the end of the day, every muscle in our bodies is reminding us of what was accomplished that day. Strangely, there is something rewarding in that (or maybe we're just a bit masochistic). But the real joy in those early days of the trip isn't in the good day's work. It's the first time we get a chance to really meet the families for whom the groups will be building. They see us delivering across the community and run to us to remind us they're on the list...to point out the project number painted on the side of their existing house (I use the term "house" very loosely here)...to make sure we don't forget them. It's the first time the families can be sure we really are going to arrive and know a new home is not just an empty promise. It's when we first see hope begin to spark in their eyes. I'll write more on this later...
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Thursday morning (Nov. 3) seven coworkers and I will begin the eight hour drive to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico. We work in this small, coastal desert city twice a year building homes, churches, school rooms, community centers, and whatever else our board of pastors for that area requests to aid in their ministries. It is always an amazing, awakening, difficult, draining, and powerful experience.
The families we meet there live in some of the worst conditions we see in the ministry. Often, large families have fastened their homes together out of whatever scrap cardboard and wood they can find laying around. It is not uncommon to see other homes pieced together from scraps of drywall leftover from the waste of the multi-million dollar hotels going up on the beach a few miles away. There, the families for whom we build are lucky if the floors of their houses are anything other than the fine desert sand dominating the landscape of the region.
It is by no coincidence then, that Puerto Peñasco has become a place of great personal growth for me. It is there I witness faith in its most pure form. Not a faith based on what has been "provided" them, but rather a faith because it is all they have to hang on to.
I write this now because I want all of you who read this to please keep my team and I in prayer while we are there (we return Nov. 15). We have a great deal of work to do even before our groups arrive, but I would hate for us to get so focused on the work we fail to see God working through the process as a whole (Amor guys sometimes get so focused on the work they forget their own names).
So I hope this post finds you all well. I will try to write from Puerto Peñasco if I have a chance...I'm sure there will be many good stories to tell. Peace.
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If you’ve spent much time at church, you know the story. The rich guys put large wads of cash in the offering plate while the poor widow gave the only two pennies two her name. Jesus then tells his disciples that while the rich guys easily gave large sums out of their wealth, the widow gave more because it was all she had to live on. The theme is, of course, about giving sacrificially and proportionally. Or, as King David put it, “Why would I give my God something which has cost me nothing?” (Jon Wilson paraphrase) I, throughout my life, have heard this principal mostly in reference to church offerings and charitable donations. However, a recent experience gave me a new insight into this story. Allow me to share.
This summer, had the privilege of working with a group of twelve high school students from inner city San Diego. The group comprised mostly of kids from very rough backgrounds who had only recently invited Christ into their lives. Each of these kids had amazing stories of hardship and survival that were difficult even to hear. For example, one boy showed me the scar from a bullet wound to his knee. He is fifteen years old. Another student told how he had seen more people get killed than he had fingers to count. He also is fifteen years old.
Thus, when they arrived as participants on an Amor Ministries house-building trip to Tijuana, I understood why most of them were choosing to go out of their way to serve others for the first time in their young lives. Until the point they met Christ for the first time, their primary concern had been survival, not service. In that light, it was a joy to see them wade into uncharted waters and truly find the joy in helping those in need in the name of Jesus Christ. Indeed, within a few short hours of arriving to the worksite, the students were laughing, singing, and loving the family they were helping. As the work days passed, the group made every effort to be involved in the life of that family to the point of playing with the children, sharing meals, and attending multiple evening church services. s is usually the case, most of this was accomplished with little verbal communication between the group and the family.
For me, I delighted in seeing young people take a step in faith and then in seeing them so rewarded. I was blessed to watch kids who for most of their lives had been told what they would never be or do understand for the first time what they really can accomplish in Christ. It was like watching twelve candles being lit in a dark room.
But now I get to tie this in with my first paragraph: What spoke loudest in the actions of those students was not their joy to serve, but in the manner in which they did so. Truly they gave sacrificially even to come on the trip. As stated earlier, they are younger high school students, most without jobs, from poor families and rough neighborhoods. They had to find a way to raise the participation fee to come on the mission trip when no doubt there were other areas of their lives where the money could have been used. As cool as that is, it is not the remarkable part of the story. As hard as giving of their resources must have been, this group of students had to give up who they were to God to allow themselves to serve. They had to put their overriding sense of self preservation, at times the only thing they felt they could depend on , aside in complete trust in God. They all did, and they all flourished.
The lesson for me was that giving of my time and my resourcs, though important, should not be my goal in service. It should be the byproduct. If I claim Christ in my life, haven't I already recognized that all I "own" is actually his? My goal should be to truly give of who I am. The things I have always used to define my are what I should be offering to God to do with as he chooses. If I tell someone I am a friend, brother, son, redhead, Seahawks fan, surfer, or Christian, shouldn't that already be filtered through who I am recreated to be in Christ? And because this is a blog and blogs are often subject to digression...Based on that question, isn't the will of God in my life not so much a specific bullet point on God's agenda as it is the decision I have every morning to wake up and choose Him?
So maybe the lessons are questions, but I found them worthy to share. Have a great day and God Bless.