Our hearts are full. Melody and I spent the six days between Christmas and New Year building a house for a single mom in Reynosa, Mexico. Brenda has four children ages 7 down to 11 months, and her husband has been missing since April. He went to the store, she said, and never came back. It’s suspected that the Cartel took him but whatever the case, her family and teen sister have been living with his mother, Juani. And as it was, the mother-in-law had recently broken her ankle on a steep bank near her house, requiring six screws, a cast, and a wheelchair.
Seventeen of us from Resurrection Fellowship flew to McAllen, Texas on the day after Christmas and met another group member from Providence Church there, as well as two from Resurrection who had driven down a van full of tools. Our 20 crossed the border in a string of numbered white vans all partnering with Homes for the Homeless, a ministry of Strategic Alliance. The organization has built over 1000 homes in the Colonia of Reynosa, Mexico since 1993. The week we were there, seven churches had sent teams for a total of 140 people building 10 new homes.
Indeed that is a lot of luggage. We brought one carry-on per person for our own things. Then each of us checked one suitcase containing gifts and household items for the two houses and families. We packed those suitcases together one Sunday and added rice and beans until they were at the 50 lb limit. We also brought a wheelchair to leave with a disabled child. I wheeled our team member Lori in it through every airport. She is challenged with cerebral palsy but felt in her heart that she was supposed to be a part of this service trip. She made a fun roommate too!
We felt quite safe at all times. We were at the work site around 9-5 daily and the hotel was always full of police in the evenings. Nothing of concern happened while we were in the Colonia.
I completely underestimated the role of painting in this house-building project. We tried to paint a lot of the wood before it was used but weren’t fast enough, even with all the “help.” The first day we had carried all the materials up to the work site and then we found most of the wood back down under the covered driveway the next day. The family had moved it all back overnight. We were fortunate to have this area to work. The family’s dog, Negra (“Black”), kept walking under the boards and painting herself. I joked about renaming her Blanca.
One of my greatest hopes was that Melody would have a good first experience with missions. It was awesome to see her painting and communicating with other girls her age. The first night she told me she had fun and shared a whole list of Spanish words she learned.
I made a special connection with Juani. Before the trip we had only received information about the mother, her 4 children, and her teen sister. We didn’t know they all lived with the mother-in-law. She offered us the use of a toilet (a tank with no lid or lever and a bowl with no seat) inside her dim house, and to get there we passed through a hallway with a broken tile floor right past her bedroom door. On the first morning, the door was open and she called Melody and me inside. Lying on her bed, she made small talk and then told us that her ankle was hurting a lot. Immediately we were able to pray for her. She kept telling us that God loves us. Later that day, after another bathroom break, I noticed that her door was cracked open so we knocked to say hello to her again. This time she started talking about her son, Brenda’s husband, who was missing for 8 months. She had one of the grandchildren fetch a photo of him, and she began to cry and kiss the photo as she spoke of how much she loved and missed him. And so we had a poignant opportunity to pray with her again regarding her son.
Back in June I heard about the Reynosa family missions trip and felt a spark in my heart. I went to an information meeting and knew 100% that I would go whether Melody joined me or not. Two days later, before I even turned in my application, I went shopping for a wall cross to give to our Mexican family. I found this small cross and bought three in various designs. I wasn’t sure why I got three, but I knew I would find someone to give them to. Our team began meeting weekly in September with about a dozen people. Eventually the group grew and we were told that we would be building two houses. I realized one of the crosses was for the 2nd family. And then we went to Reynosa with gifts for Brenda and her sister and four children, every member of the 2nd family, and absolutely nothing for Juani because she was a complete surprise. I bonded with Juani in those four short days and she did not go without a gift at the end. The last cross was meant for her all along.
Honestly I didn’t want to go to the dump. Originally souvenir shopping was planned as an alternate activity. But the shopping was pushed back, leaving the dump as the only group option after lunch other than the hotel. It was a lot different than I had imagined and something I think I needed to see. An old woman missing all her front teeth came up to me toward the end. I knew she had gotten rice and beans but I offered her more. She said she didn’t need them but wanted a shirt, which we were also giving away. So I took her to the truck to get a shirt. They asked her what color and she said it doesn’t matter. So they gave her one of each. Her toothless smile was huge as she walked away with three new t-shirts. It’s fulfilling to see the joy a simple gift can bring.
“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10
Photos by Trina McDaniel, Cathy Brendemihl, Dave Tiffany, Lexi Bauer, John Park, and Kristina Lim.