Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mission to Mexico

“If you decide to take this leap and join us on one of our trips to the interior, believe me, you will never be the same.”

Those words jumped out from the missionary’s newsletter and touched my heart. That was it: the trip I’m to take with my family this spring, a trip into the interior of Mexico. Since I’m homeschooling, we can go anytime.

When I presented this idea to my husband, he was receptive and gave me the go-ahead to contact Paul. But, God willing, it wouldn’t be just a family mission trip; we’d take some of the church youth group with us.

I had met Paul Gonzalez during a Global Expeditions youth mission trip to Matamoros, Mexico to build house for the destitute. I had gone on the trip with Jacob when he was 14. To go, I underwent training and selection, and was chosen as one of two Country Assistants (which really means go-for and assistant to the Project Directors) on the Matamoros trip, a trip that included 115 youth. Paul was the in-country missionary that we worked with. It was his vision to build the homes; we provided the materials and labor. Of course there was far more to the trip, and that spiritual aspect made the trip special. And so did Paul.

I ended up sitting with Paul and his wife Tere at dinner one evening after a day of ministry. It was the table for “extras,” in a sense, those who were not Team Leaders or youth teams or translators. That table included a Mexican pastor, and missionaries Paul and Tere. I don’t know why I was bold enough to join them. But we hit it off, and I’ve stayed in touch with Paul ever since.

When I heard Paul’s story of how he came to be a missionary living in a tiny shed-like building on a landfill among the stench of burning trash, I was awed. He’d grown up in the States, child of immigrants (like me), and bilingual (he spoke Spanish at home; I spoke Ukrainian). He lived in Texas just across the border from Matamoros and held a good job. His home was much like mine.

Then God touched his heart. He was moved to help those who could never repay him. While still working in Texas, he accompanied a pastor who visited the dump across the border. There Paul saw an elderly couple living under a tree. They had no home; theirs had burned, and they had no money with which to rebuild. Moved by their plight, Paul took money from his own savings and built them a house. Their house, like the others, was more like our shed - a 12- by 20-foot plywood structure with no plumbing or electricity - but it kept out the elements.

Paul has been building houses ever since.

He quit his job, sold his home in America, and now lives with the poor in a tiny shack of a house just like theirs, a house with no running water, no electricity, no flushing toilet.

“I do miss showers,” he admitted to me during the course of my stay in Matamoros. “Sometimes when I visit friends in Texas, they offer me a shower.”

“I can relate to that!” I told Paul about the times our family visits Ukraine and since my in-laws’ house doesn’t have hot running water, upon invitation, the entire family trudges to my husband’s cousin’s house, towels in hand, to take baths. And it’s not considered weird to do that. The rest of the time, we bathe in a basin.

After many days of talking with Paul and photographing his ministry, the youth, the building of the homes, and the destitute that he ministers to on the dump where the garbage trucks roll in, I knew I wanted my husband to meet this man. So a few months later, I bought George a round-trip ticket for his birthday: a round-trip ticket to spend two weeks on the dump with Paul. Perhaps it’s a strange present to send your spouse to a dump, but it shows our family’s character.

Since we both know Paul, we’re willing to take the leap and be changed by another trip with Paul. I emailed Paul’s sister (Paul doesn’t have electricity much less a computer) and awaited Paul’s reply…


Anonymous said...

You seem to have a very interesting life. To travel to other places is always good for rethinking one's approach to life.

Ever Yours,
Clayrn Darrow

The Reluctant Homeschooler said...

Yes, Clayrn, I am very blessed! I've had a very full and interesting life, times of work and child-rearing and travel interspersed with times of illness, but no complaints here. Even being ill gives you a new view of life. Praise God, I've been feeling much, much better lately and am finally able to look ahead to another mission trip.

- Faith

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)