One Woman's Head-On Collision With Life

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dreams of Mexico

Today I have been thinking of the awesome work trip I took to Tijuana, Mexico, with Global Tribe. So, I thought I'd post a story I wrote for the organization not long after returning to the United States in July 2007. The post is lengthy, but the story is worth it. A part of my heart is still with the people I met there.

And the experience changed my life. 

Global Tribe Team Brings Hammers and Hope to Tijuana

A Land of Despair
A rutted unpaved road climbs the steep terrain at the Terrazzas II colony where Victor Elizalde and Flora Montoya make their home.

Terrazzas II colony in Tijuana, Mexico.
Mangy, empty-eyed dogs wander the streets. Children play ball in the dust. Teenagers mingle. Neighbors gather in front yards to gossip. An occasional horse, ribs showing, lazily chomps on weeds alongside the road.

Shacks of wood scraps and corrugated metal sit nearly one on top of the other. Everything is the color of dust. The only sign of hope dots the gloomy hillside in the form of brightly painted homes, built through Baja Christian Ministries, Global Tribe and other compassionate ministries.

A gaping ravine at the base of the hill catches garbage bags and other refuse discarded by colony residents. In time, bulldozers will come to move dirt over the rubble and the process will begin again.

During the day, the heat is stifling. At night, the cold settles in.

Such is life in the slums of Tijuana.

It is here that Victor, 30, and Flora, 26, with their two children, Daphne, 6, and Victor, 4, have lived most recently in a borrowed one-room shack, maybe 12 feet by six feet, with no electricity or running water.

The family never has had a home of its own.

The past eight years, Victor and Flora have lived with family or friends. They love Jesus and have prayed for a place of their own—the start to a new life. But Victor’s $300-a-month income as a bricklayer leaves very little hope. The plot alone for a home in the colonies runs as much as $10,000—a lifelong commitment in a place where the average income is $75 a week.

Still, Victor and Flora pray. And hope.   


Hope Arrives
The heat is oppressive July 26 when Global Tribe volunteers arrive at a newly poured slab halfway up the colony’s hill. Undaunted, the team—a couple of New Zealanders and a cross section of American society: school teachers, accountants, students and others, ranging in age from 10 to 60-plus—come bearing hammers and paint rollers. Most are inexperienced for the task but all are eager to show Christ’s love.

They are the answer to Victor and Flora’s prayers.   

A salvo of thumps and bumps echoes across the hillside, signaling the start of what will be a two-day project: to build a latrine and a 16-foot by 20-foot home—with two bedrooms, a common area and a sleeping loft—and to change the life of one family forever.  

Within minutes, a handful of team members have framed the walls. Others are rolling white paint onto trim pieces. Victor and Flora become part of the team, although they have slept very little the past two nights in order to guard the materials. Their children and others from the community play games with some of the volunteers.

Smiles and laughter are all around.   
Love in Action
A couple from the colony and me.

Less than a mile from the home site, more Global Tribe volunteers set to work on a 16-foot by 40-foot classroom for the colony’s middle school. The school, housed in a cramped two story building, already runs two sessions a day to accommodate its 1,000 students.

Hector Rubio, a pastor and the Mexico field director for Baja Christian Ministries, leads the team. Fifteen years ago, volunteers with BCM built a home for Hector, his wife and their five children and changed his destiny. Now, he is employed by the nonprofit to lead volunteer teams in building homes and other structures within the colonies.  

Two women—the equivalent of PTA presidents—arrive to invest some sweat equity in the new classroom. They work side by side with the volunteers, painting and hammering and building friendships, despite the language barrier. One or two hammer pops escalate into a clamoring cadence and within 20 minutes the walls are framed and bolted onto the foundation.

The team at the school is mostly women: a nurse, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a model, an office manager, school teachers, fulltime homemakers and others. Only a handful of the group ever has swung a hammer for anything more than to hang pictures. But Hector is unfazed by his rookie crew of “chicas.” His motto is “Love the Lord, love the people and work hard!”

The team members are pros at that.      

During the afternoon, the Newsboys visit the sites to meet and pray with the building teams. The band members are no strangers to the colonies. The Newsboys have made numerous trips to Tijuana to build homes and to help rebuild lives. In fact, the band is heavily vested in Global Tribe and promotes the organization at their concerts. Frontman Peter Furler, who helped found Global Tribe, thanks the volunteers and reiterates the GT mission to wipe out all forms of poverty—mental, physical, social and spiritual. Then he prays for God’s help and guidance for the project and for the people.

The work continues and a few hours later, team members at both sites marvel at two nearly completed buildings.  

Sharing a Vision
The second workday begins at the 8 a.m. breakfast call. Refreshed, team members sit down to a number of dishes—eggs ranchero, fresh fruit, oatmeal, tortillas—all catered by a restaurant near the group’s hotel. Diana Judge, Global Tribe CEO, runs down the day’s events. Less than a year ago, Diana was climbing the corporate ladder with Royal Dutch Shell subsidiaries in New Zealand and worldwide. Since joining Global Tribe last December, Diana has traveled the United States with the Newsboys to recruit GT volunteers, has planned and led building trips into the Tijuana slums, and has built an impressive cadre of donors—all willing to give $1 a day to help lift people out of poverty. Today, dressed in cap and capris, she is light years from the corporate world. “Who would like to go with Flora and me to Sam’s Club to buy things for the home?” she queries the group.

A scaled down model of the home plan.

Meanwhile, Global Tribe President Anthony Walton and “Baja Bob” Sanders have arrived for the meal. Anthony shares a devotional. Bob recruits volunteers for some door-to-door evangelizing. Both men are visionaries. Both have a passion for the destitute and spiritually impoverished. Both have given themselves away for the sake of the Kingdom. Bob, founder of Baja Christian Ministries, has ministered to the poor in Tijuana the past 20 years. His goal for the next 20 years is to evangelize and disciple one million people on the Baja Peninsula and to build 10,000 homes. Anthony, founder of The Rock—a contemporary church in New Zealand—is the genius and heart behind a number of charitable organizations worldwide. The vision and friendship shared by Anthony, Bob and Peter Furler are the driving force behind Global Tribe. Diana is the engine that makes it all happen.        

In the colonies, two structures—full-sized replicas of a model Hector had built as a demonstration for the work teams—stand ready for shingles and sheetrock.

After breakfast, team members pack into vans and head for their mission field.

Stories on Sheetrock
At the home site, Michele Moore, Jonathan Wickham and Victor hang drywall. Jon, the project’s team leader, and Michele, a dental hygienist from Richmond, Texas, write Bible verses on the plywood before covering it with sheetrock. Michele jots down Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Brad & Jamie Myers
Overhead, Brad and Jamie Myers and Rami Kainer (pronounced Ramah) work on the loft. Jose, a local boy, has joined them. The air is stuffy and the space is cramped for three adults and a boy—all trying to put up drywall. But the communication is flowing: a mix of Spanish and English, hand signals and pictures drawn on scraps of sheetrock. They tell the story of Jose and his fear while killing the snake that had bitten his mother. During the exchange, Jose points out the window to the shack he calls home. Then, he is curious about the volunteers. He learns that Brad and Rami are both elementary school teachers—Brad in Damascus, Penn., and Rami in Houston. Jamie, Brad’s wife, is a biologist for the National Park Service.

Eventually, Jose asks Brad if he knows Jesus. When the answer is yes, Jose slips a necklace with a cross made of nails from around his neck. He hands it to Brad. Broken English and pictures on discarded drywall show that the cross had been a gift to Jose from another “Americano.” Jose loves Jesus, too, and he wants Brad to have the little treasure. Brad accepts, speechless. “Gracias,” he manages.  

The new schoolroom is abuzz with activity. Team members hang sheetrock, tape and mud walls, and install lighting and doors. The drywall mud will be too wet to accept paint before the team leaves, but the PTA moms give their assurances the room will be painted before school begins.   

The children swarmed to the building sites each day.
After lunch, Tom Roach, a machinist, and his wife, Lisa, a school bus driver from Renton, Wash., begin filling 750 water balloons for the evening fiesta. The couple have brought along their three children Scott, 17, David, 11, and Rachel 10. Today they are working on the school. The first day, they were at the home site. There, Lisa spent time with Flora and heard her testimony. Flora had come to know Jesus as Savior four years ago. She and the children watch Christian cartoons and DVDs at a friend's home, which have helped both her English and her spiritual growth. Victor accepted Christ eight months ago. He says that being given the home and working with loving, Christian brothers and sisters have cemented his faith.   

As the work winds down at the school, excited children from the community play games and eat candy with the volunteers. The air is electric with anticipation for the 5 p.m. fiesta. “Piñata?” one child asks. “Si, piñata,” a volunteer replies. “No, make that ‘dos’ piñatas!” She raises two fingers and grins. The children squeal with delight.

In the streets, team members spread word of the fiesta. “Tacos gratis y fiesta a l’escuela,” April Davis announces to everyone she encounters in the village. The 34-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep from Houston speaks little Spanish but is confident the people understand: free tacos and a party at the school.

Piñata Riots and Christmas in July
Like clockwork, handfuls of children begin to gather in the schoolyard for the festivities. The caterers arrive with tables and a makeshift griddle. One woman—the tortilla maker—sets to work mixing cornmeal and water, scooping the dough into a press and then transferring the thin discs to the oiled griddle. Two other workers line the tables with bowls of pico de gallo, chile, guacamole, peppers, cilantro, cactus relish, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carne asada and pollo. Lines form at the food tables, a local church group plugs in its guitars, neighbors chat and eat, and the party is in full swing.

The civil beginnings of "The Piñata riots."
Below in the schoolyard, a throng of children are heavily engaged in beating a burro piñata. As the candy falls, the group becomes a mass of flailing hands, fingers and legs—each child grabbing for the falling treats. The scene is repeated with a race car piñata. The event becomes affectionately known as “the piñata riots.”  Water balloon fights ensue and the play yard erupts in explosive splashes and laughter.
After the food and games, the party moves up an embankment to the newly completed school addition. Families from the community crowd in shoulder to shoulder with team members for a short dedication ceremony. The Lord has provided and the community is thankful and blessed. Victor and Flora and their children are part of the crowd. They have received a double blessing.

Next, team members head to the home site. A prayer is offered, the keys are presented, the ribbon is cut away from the front door and tears flow freely. Marissa, a 17-year-old student from Texas and three-peat homebuilder, has become hard and fast friends with Daphne. She is with the 6-year-old during the ceremony.

In the moment, Daphne turns to Marissa. “Merry Christmas!” she exclaims.

Flowers in the Window
Victor, Flora, Daphne & little Victor in front of their new home.
Before leaving Tijuana, team members visit the bright pink house where the little family who has stolen their hearts now lives. They find Daphne and little Victor giving the neighbor children tours. A half dozen sets of bright brown eyes take in the splendor.

With an air of concern, Daphne cautions the children not to disturb anything. “It’s my house,” she says proudly.

As the vans leave, team members can see through the front window a little vase of flowers Flora has arranged on the kitchen table.  

In two short days, a pile of lumber has become a house—and now that house has become a home.

The July 2007 Global Tribe building team.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1a)

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