Along with the pastor's wife and one of their daughters, Matt and I had the opportunity to go to Reynosa, a border town right across the U.S.-Mexico line, near the bottom tip of Texas. We were really blessed to be able to go.
Camp: home sweet home for the weekend.
We met up with groups from four other Texas churches, and our collective group had two goals for this trip: build a home for a family in the Reynosa Colonias, and build relationships with the people we encountered.
Pilar de Esperanza ("Pillar of Hope") orphanage
We got to bring shoes and clothing to the children at Pilar de Esperanza orphanage, play with the children and talk to the women who run it, one of whom moved here from the Netherlands 17 years ago and never left.
Pilar de Esperanza orphanage
We got to take a tour of the grounds, which included "Miss Piggy's Palace," a pigpen containing four rather thin pigs, and a chicken coop, and a few vegetable gardens.
Shoes, shirts and toys for the children.
The orphanage also has two classrooms on-site, and they are hoping to add a library soon, because transportation is too unreliable to get the kids to school on time or at any regular intervals.
"Jesus is the bread of life." The pastor's church, where we ate lunch and "where the nice bathrooms are."
In preparation for the home build, we met with the pastor who had selected the family most in need of a new house.
The street outside the church, about how all the streets looked. Half-built cinderblock houses.
He was worried, because the family he had originally selected was in the process of separating — the mother leaving her husband and three children — and the pastor was concerned that we wouldn't want to build a house for them because the group we worked with had previously built homes specifically for nuclear families.
The family's house upon our arrival.
The twin mattress that the father and his three children had been sleeping on.
The neighborhood, seen from the back of the family's property.
El baño. The bathroom.
I'm not really comfortable talking about my faith with people I don't know well. I've always struggled with Jesus' command to "go and make disciples." (Matthew 28:19)
The concrete slab that became the foundation of their new house.
We didn't even speak the same language! We had one translator for five churches, and three different ministry opportunities in different locations; the translator wasn't even around most of the time!
Building the floors. The kids were really into playing with the power tools.
But this trip was really a powerful message to me.
Matt helping construct a wall.
All we did was swing some hammers and play with some kids and bring in some beds and provide some peanut butter sandwiches … and that was enough.
Wall #2 being constructed on top of Wall #1. This was their whole front yard.
Jesus didn't need us to preach the Gospel or share grand testimonies in order to reach that family. He knew what he was doing.
I had gone back to the orphanage for the afternoon. This is how the house looked the next morning.
It occurred to me at one point that I wish I could share the experience more than I can in words and pictures. There is so much that I wasn't able to capture.
Painting the trim.
Things like the wait to cross back over the border as drug-sniffing dogs circled every car. My surprise that, the second we crossed from Texas to Mexico, it was like entering a third-world country across the river from a nice, mid-size U.S. city. My disappointment when I discovered that the Rio Grande is not actually a "Grand River," but just a normal, average-sized one.
Adding the roof and tarring it.
The poverty everywhere that makes even our poorest look blessed.
New beds for the family.
One of the kids started handing out stickers to the ladies. I got a mustache sticker. He laughed every time he saw me.
In talking to a church friend after we came back, I expressed that I wished I had been in a better place spiritually before I went. I've spent a lot of time being frustrated with God over the last few months, and generally not wanting to go to church, not wanting to pray. And she said that maybe I was exactly where I needed to be in order to go. Maybe I needed to go in order to come back.
I like that. Maybe she's right. Maybe I needed that message of "you are enough, this is enough" more than I thought.
That's enough for me.