Reynosa

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.

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De-icing the jet before leaving Denver

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Leaving McAlllen to cross the border

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Arrival at El Camino Hotel

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!

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Comfortable accommodations, although noisy

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A government official owns the hotel and allows the Federal Police to stay for free

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Officer Melody reporting for duty

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.

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Every day we squished 16 people into a 15-passenger van and the other four rode in another van containing mostly tools

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“Team Gonzalez” arriving on site, with Brenda and two of her kids plus cousins. The house with pink window frames was built by Strategic Alliance in the past.

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“Team Galvan” at their site. The green house next door was also built by Strategic Alliance.

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A single mom brought her two boys on our team

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Our site was surrounded by an unfinished fence or wall

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Our building materials needed to be hauled up from the mother-in-law Juani’s driveway

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The cousins built these steps on the last day but we carried paint and lumber up and down this steep bank many times before that. This is where Juani broke her ankle.

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Foundation stones set and floor framed. Cornelio came by each day and helped us work. In return he was welcome at the lunch station. He received a house from Strategic Alliance some years ago.

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Two of Brenda’s children

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Nailing the floor. I’m actually pretty good with a hammer!

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Melody pounding nails

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Lots of help from the neighborhood kids

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Negra

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.

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Painting in the rain in front of Juani’s home. The steep (and muddy) hill is to the left.

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I may look silly but my ears are warm! That’s Lori in the center.

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First wall going up on day two

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Second wall is up

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Raising the last wall

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All the church teams gathered morning and evening for worship, encouragement, and testimonies.

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Driving after the rain

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Our site was along the main levy road

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Typical street in the Colonia

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Daily lunch at the Dispensary. Some of the team also put on a kids’ carnival here with coloring, face painting, crafts, and games while I kept my hammer busy at the work site.

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Melody with some new friends

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Neighbor girl named Lady who loved being with Melody

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.

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View from the loft while I helped with the roof. The blue building is a House of Prayer.

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Armed and dangerous!

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The unfinished roof in the center is the house being built by the other half of our group.

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Las Noticias (local news) stopped by. Since I spoke the most Spanish on our team, I was interviewed on camera.

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The family brought chicken and tortillas to share with us on the third day.

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Juani watching her daughter-in-law’s house take shape. That’s her yellow house.

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She wanted to help paint window frames.

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.

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Jonathan (one of the cousins) painting the loft

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Looking good!

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Behind the house

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Painting inside

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Dedication before lunch on the last day. We built a house in 3-1/2 days!

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We decorated inside and brought gifts for each family member. I had sewn curtains and room dividers for both houses.

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Brenda’s Cross

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.

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Food and household items

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The kids were excited about the loft

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A happy mom!

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The house built by the rest of our group, “Team Galvan”

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Inside the Galvan house

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Restroom at the Galvan house

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Celebration lunch at the church on the last day

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Tamales (yum!) and hot dog soup (yeah don’t ask…)

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After the celebration we followed a truck loaded with rice and beans to the city dump

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Distributing bags of rice and beans at the garbage dump

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Garbage dump

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The air is smoky from toxic garbage burning

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Power cords and Christmas lights

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.

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Random dog house in Reynosa

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Roland Ashby from Stragegic Alliance. The man in charge!

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Coming home through Houston

“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.

8 Comments

Amanda
Posted January 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

Oh, Kristina! I enjoyed this SO much! I laughed and cried, and then cried a lot more. Melody looks like she had an incredible time, your three crosses story was perfect, and I appreciated your honesty about not really wanting to go to the dump. (My heart hurts as I acknowledge that I would have tried like the dickens to get out of it.) Oh, the curtains are beautiful, as is your perfect pink hat! Thank you for sharing your journey…

Cecilia Parent
Posted January 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

Thank you for sharing your amazing journey! You can see how much happiness you brought to Brenda’s family. How fulfilling for everyone!

Sherrie Schell
Posted January 19, 2015 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

Thank you so much for sharing! What an amazing & positive experience for your daughter AND you. The smiles on their faces said it all!

Chris & Roger
Posted January 20, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

What a meaniful experience to serve this single mom with your daughter by your side. We have so much to be thankful for in the US.
Thank you for sharing your story and pictures.
Chris & Roger

Sue Cooper
Posted January 25, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink

Wow! What a great job. Thank you for sharing the memories. Since I wasn’t working on your house it was great to see your pictures. Nice work. I’m so glad God blessed your trip.

Dave & Bonnie Tiffany
Posted January 25, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

Thanks Kristina. Great to re-live the experience through your pictures & commentary. It was a blessing to all for sure!

Cathy Brendemihl
Posted January 26, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

This is great, Kristina! Warmed my heart. Love who you are!!!!

Heidi Gil
Posted February 1, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

What a great narration. You always were quite the journalist, sis. What I liked the best was to see the muddy streets–looks so much like home 🙂 How wonderful that Melody went along. She’ll be impacted forever. You can be sure that you have planted many, many seeds that will produce benefits far beyond those of the beautiful houses built. LOVE YOU!! (from Monte Dourado, Brazil)

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