I think I am beginning to reach the point in my summer where I’m wearing down. Most of you have probably (or maybe not?) heard of Hurricane Alex hitting Monterrey, Mexico. I don’t know the statistics, but I saw the news and saw the faces of the people who lost their homes and loved ones. I’m not sure, but I think it might be the Hurricane Katrina of Mexico.
Anyways, Casas builds in another city (Acuña, Coahuila) about 7 hours east of Juarez, therefore closer to the ocean and much more humid. The hurricane blew in a ton of rain and so my first week there (last week) it poured most of the time. A couple of the sites were underwater, with materials floating around. The river that runs through the city was overflowing and moving really quickly, like if you fell in you were done for.
So our first build in Acuña went pretty well despite the rain, but this past week was a little crazy. Our team flew into Del Rio (the Texas side of Acuña) around lunch time, and we ate with them and then crossed over the border and took them to the church we would be staying at for the week. They came to our site (Caleb and I built together this week) and helped us with our form. We realized that our site wasn’t going to be big enough to build the standard Casas single, which is about 22 x 11 ft, because there was a high concrete wall and then about 12 feet and a cinderblock bathroom. So we could either a) set the high wall right up against the concrete wall and bolt it in, or b) remove one stud from the house, making it 16 inches shorter. We went with plan b, because although it made the house smaller, we thought the house would last longer. Even with cutting the 16 inches out, we still had only about a foot to work with on either side once we got the walls stood. So that night, Caleb and I re-worked the measurements for the house and prayed that it would turn out right!
After the first group helped us build the form, we had to go back over the border really quick to pick up the other half of the group that flew in later, the people that would be building with us all week. As we were coming back over the border, the international bridge was about 6 inches underwater in the middle, and we were afraid we might be stuck in Mexico. We brought our second group to the church and then realized that all of the bridges in Acuña were closed due to flooding, so we wouldn’t be able to get to the warehouse to pick up our tools. No tools, no building. Caleb and I quickly decided that we needed to try to find a way to get to the warehouse, and luckily we did find a way there. We loaded our tools, and as we were doing so, one of the Casas staff members pulled up with large water barrels in his truck and told us that the entire city was out of water (ironic) and some places were out of power. He needed water to pour his slab, so he had come to the warehouse to gather the rainwater that had collected in the truck-loading areas.
We finished our house Friday morning and then dedicated it, then headed for the border. On our way to the border, we got into a car accident and it took about 3 hours to get everything worked out. We left Del Rio at about 7, got pulled over about 2 hours later because the police wanted to search our truck (I’m sure our giant blue tarp tied down with Romex and our drivers’ licenses from four different states were a little suspicious), and we rolled into El Paso at about 2:30 this morning.
But even though so many things didn’t go right this week, it was still a good week. Long, but good. The people on our team had great attitudes and even made awesome awards for each other and for us every day. I got the Extreme Exterminator Award for killing a cricket with my hammer, and the “Did you open it?” Award for reminding Caleb twice to open the liquid nails before he tried to squeeze it out, along with a couple other ones that the kids came up with.
Over 500 homes were destroyed in Acuña this week, which adds even more to the suffering there. While I was at church camp, one of the other leaders gave me a book by Max Lucado called Outlive Your Life. It’s basically a collection of different stories of different people who have gone above and beyond. In one of the chapters I read recently, he talks about suffering and how we are so afraid to look it in the face. When we see the homeless person with the cardboard sign, we look straight ahead. When we see the person in front of us who can’t afford their groceries, we act like we’re reading through the magazine rack.
Here’s an excerpt from what I read:
“Some years back a reporter covering the conflict in Sarajevo saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The back of her head had been torn away by the bullet. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes. He rushed to the man who was holding the child and helped them both into his car. As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, ‘Hurry, my friend. My child is still alive.’ A moment or two later he pleaded, ‘Hurry, my friend. My child is still breathing.’
A moment later, ‘Hurry, my friend. My child is still warm.’ Finally, ‘Hurry. Oh my God, my child is getting cold.’ When they arrived at the hospital, the little girl had died. As the two men were in the lavatory, washing the blood off their hands and their clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, ‘This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.’
The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, ‘I thought she was your child.’ The man looked back and said, ‘No, but aren’t they all our children?’ Indeed. Those who suffer belong to all of us. And if all of us respond, there is hope.”
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that what we do for the least of these, we do for him. We can’t forget the people who suffer around us. Look around you! I promise you don’t have to go very far to find someone who is suffering. It may be your next door neighbor who is struggling with losing a parent; it may be your college classmate who doesn’t really think they should continue living; it may be your sister who doesn’t think she’s worth it. One thing I’ve learned this summer is this: There is so much more to life than what we make of it. It’s so much more than graduating college and getting a job and retreating into your shell. Go above and beyond, push your limits. Because you only get one life here on earth. Why waste it trying to gain everything you can? Serve. Experience. Laugh. Live. Love.
I’ve never really been sure why God wanted me here in Mexico. I’m not a builder by any means. I had never built anything before this summer (except for when I came with my church, and we all know I usually sat in the dirt and played with the kids, or played the part of “chicken-wire-stretcher”). Wednesday the church that I was building with had a community night where they grilled hot dogs and handed out free clothing to people in the neighborhood. I noticed an elderly lady carrying a trash bag filled with clothes she had picked out, and she was struggling a lot. I ran up to her and offered to walk her back to her house, to which she gladly agreed, saying, “Pesa mucho” (It weighs a lot). I took the bag, which was in fact pretty heavy…I was struggling a little, and we walked the two blocks to her house. She let me come in to her small two room home and she turned the fan on, turning it all towards me saying I needed to cool down. She started talking about her neighbor who had taken her in when her husband abandoned her. “I got these clothes to give to her because she has given me a place to live,” she told me. Then she said she had to go back to the church because she wanted to go to the service, so we left her house and headed back. I started walking pretty quickly, and she told me that I walked really fast. She told me how she had diabetes that makes her legs and feet swell so much that they bleed sometimes and she doesn’t sleep well. I slowed down and she looked down at my feet, saying, “You have good feet for serving God.” That night it really hit me. I am here to serve. I’m not here because I’m excellent at building homes or because I’m the perfect team leader. God has brought me here to serve Him and to serve His people. And it’s been amazing so far. Tough, but amazing.