Our two main projects were house construction and Vacation Bible School. We worked under the direction of Yucatan Helping Hands, a ministry of Byron (aka "Bruno") and Inez Ahina. Bruno and Inez are amazing, fantastic people. Bruno left his career as an architect in Seattle some years ago to go to Mexico and build houses for poor people. His and Inez's lives and testimonies were a big inspiration to all of us.
It was one of the most fulfilling weeks of my life as well as one of the most back-breaking! We woke up early each day, had a quick breakfast, went to our work sites, and did house construction until 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Those four or five hours seemed like an eternity to me. I haven't been that hot, tired, and sweaty since my high school football days when we had two-a-day practices in August!
We finished three houses. Each one was made entirely of concrete. Our team's job was to put a roof and pour a floor for each house. The roof was the hardest part. First we had to get long concrete beams in place, then put concrete blocks between the beams. Then we had to mix cement, gravel, sand, and water with shovels (no mixer or wheelbarrows), carry the mixture in buckets up on the roof, and pour two layers on top of the blocks. The final layer of concrete had to be mixed with calcium, which burned our skin. All of this in the blazing sun! The floor wasn't nearly as hard, but it still took a lot of concrete which again had to be mixed and hauled in buckets - a very long, wearying process.
We estimated that 80 kids came to the afternoon VBS program. It was easier physically than house construction but we still faced many challenges, especially thunderstorms that forced us to change plans at the last minute several times. The VBS leaders from UPC did an outstanding job preparing for each day's activities and then coming up with "plan B" when necessary.
In spite of these difficulties, it was satisfying to welcome several families of Quintana into their brand new homes! And the looks on the faces of kids and parents alike made the VBS program worth all the trouble.
Some other highlights of the trip for me:
- Staying in the same house as the "young guys" - Caleb, Danny, Victor, Jack, Timothy, and Josue (one of our three Mexican interpreters). It was a great experience for this ol' pastor to share space with them. We slept in handmade hammocks and sweated it out together. The guys often had fun at my expense, but I loved every minute of it.
- Swimming in an underground cenote (sinkhole). One afternoon we took a bus ride to this place, walked down rocky steps to an immense cavern with stalactites, bats, and a 70-degree spring. After days of unrelenting heat and sweat, this water was delicious.
- Visiting the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. This was our Saturday afternoon activity before returning to Merida at the end of the week. The Mayan temples were fascinating and we had a good guide who spoke openly of his Christian faith.
- Getting to preach on Friday night. We had a closing fiesta at La Nueva Jerusalen Presbyterian Church. We had financed the addition of walls and a water system to this church and had partnered with them during the week. It was a rare privilege to preach from Revelation 21 about Jesus making "all things new." I had a Spanish interpreter, of course, because I know maybe 10 words in Spanish.
This is how I expressed it to the elders of UPC:
The whole of the Christian life ought to be a mission trip. God calls us as his followers to “spend and be spent” in service to Christ and people… to be tired, uncomfortable, loving, and sacrificial all the time – not just one or two weeks out of the year. If UPC is to be a missional church (and we must be), we have to lead our people to be outwardly focused and engaged in blessing others as a way of life. By God’s grace, we must not let UPC go the way of most other American churches: self-absorbed, caught up in material values of comfort and self-centeredness, and immune to the aching needs of the unreached, suffering people around us and throughout the world.