Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Mission to Mexico

Over Easter break I went to Mexico with two of my daughters on a mission trip with our church. Before I begin my story, let me just cut to the chase and tell you it was amazing. Absolutely amazing! Each and every moment! The parts you might consider to be not so good could best be described as growing pains.

I had personally thought of going on such a trip for many years but always found a reason to back out. The thought was there, but my desire was non-existent. But this time around, as Easter break neared, I was told that not many people had signed up to go. Not sure why I was even told this, somebody even went as far as to ask me to go. What nerve, I thought. Doesn't she know I have 9 kids to take care of? Of course she did, but since she herself was going, she was asking people if they wanted to come too.

I talked to John about it after church a week before the trip and he was very supportive of me going. Thanks a lot Hon. We both agreed that I would go if his boss would let him work from home. Hoping he couldn’t get the time off, I was secretly disappointed when his boss encouraged him to stay home. I guess I was really going to Mexico. We decided together that Julia and Annalyn would go with me. For whatever reason, we both thought they would get the most out of the experience.

During the week leading up to the day we were leaving, I battled internally with going. How was I going to leave my comfort zone, and say goodbye to my family for a week to go sleep on some dirty floor while I served God giving up all CONTROL? That’s right CONTROL with all caps. That's what it really came down too. I wasn’t ready to give up my control over my family, children, household duties, driving, what I ate, my computer, daily schedule..........my life. I wasn't ready to hand over the reigns to my husband and trust him to care for, feed, bathe, and look after our children and home while I was gone. I mean how could he possibly do as good a job as me? Did he know that the girls ate vitamin gumballs while the boys preferred the gummy bears? Did he know that William needed help washing his hair? Would he remember to brush Jonny's teeth? Would he remember to get more milk before they ran out? Did he know where Jonny's extra shoes were if he misplaced his shoes? Did he know that our oven cooked 25 degrees too hot?

Don't get me wrong, my John is an awesome dad and husband --- and does just fine when I go out for the day or even over night. But a whole week? I knew the act of me leaving was going to be one of the hardest things I have had to do in a long time. But I also knew that I had to do it and just trust that God could pilot just fine without me. Once I got past the leaving my husband to care for our family part, I also knew I would have to accept that I wasn’t the one driving down, I wasn’t the one who would be doing the cooking, and I really had no clue what I would be doing for the next week. Talk about submitting to God. Boy, was this going to be heck of a week.




Saturday morning, March 31 came all to quickly as John drove us to the church . It was not even 6 am when I kissed my family good-bye and smelled little Jonny’s sweet breath as he slept peacefully. He was snuggled up in our bed fast asleep and I was going to miss his warm little body cozied up next to me over the coming week. He still joined John and I every night around 3 am to sleep with us until morning and it was something I have grown to love. I wondered if things would be the same when I came back.

I tearfully hugged John after sharing my feelings with him and soon after Annalyn, Julia and I piled into the backseat of a Suburban as we started the long trek down to Mexico. It was going to be a long day.

Julia was probably the most enthusiastic person in the car and not even two minutes later she was already organizing a game for her and Annalyn to play. Oh God, if only I could be as excited as them. And as I watched my daughters playing and began talking with the others in the car, I found myself becoming just that. Excited.




On the first stretch of the trip I rode in the car with Grams, Megan, Lonnie, and a couple of high school boys. I have known Grams for years but didn’t really know her if you know what I mean. Right off the bat she impressed me because she climbed into the back seat with my two girls. Grams might be close to eighty years old but her spirit and zest for life was nothing short of a teenager. I realized that even I was going to have trouble keeping up with her. I wondered what her secret to living such a long and fruitful life and in such good health was. I was hoping to find out sometime this week.


On the drive down we made many pit stops. Besides being extremely frugal (that’s what society sums up my feelings to be) but mostly feeling like it is wrong to spend money on things like Starbucks and over priced junk food at a convenience store, I splurged and bought myself and my girls a drink . My fave is a green tea frappuccino. Almost ten dollars later, I struggled with having spent that money when it would have been so much better to have waited to put it in the offering plate at church this Sunday. I should have saved it but now it was gone. I wondered if some of the people in Mexico even knew what Starbucks was?

After having a delicious (free) lunch at Lonnie's mom's house we continued our way down to the Tecate border. As we got closer, the scenery changed to mountains and the girls incessantly took turns asking, “Are we there yet?” After we passed a border stop about 5 miles away from the actual border all of our excitement grew. Annalyn had only been to Mexico with her previous family for vacation and was looking forward to making new memories in Mexico with me. It took a lot of talking to convince her there would be no fancy hotels or hot, sandy beaches to play on. Julia has never been outside of California and was sure she would feel different once she could say she has been to a different country.


Driving through the mountains before we got to Tecate, we saw Border Control looking in the bushes for what I imagined to be someone trying to sneak into California. I had only previously heard about or watched such things on tv but never really saw it happening live. I’m not sure it affected anyone else in the car but my heart went out to that person. Why did I live such a privileged life while other people in the neighboring country felt the need to risk their lives just to get the same things we have? It just reminded me how blessed we are to call America our home.


Overall, Tecate appeared to be a poor town full of small shacks constructed out of plywood, aluminum siding, crumbled brick and what sometimes looked like cardboard. Cardboard? Was that really possible? The nicks in my wall from the kids throwing toys into the toy box, or the fact that my side yard was not cemented seemed pretty trivial right about now. At least I have walls.

As we were about to cross the border, I was told that it was a fifty- fifty chance of us getting pulled over by the Mexican police to pay taxes on the stuff that we were bringing over ---mainly a Costco play place that we were donating to El Viviente church. Since I was in the big truck (actually it was 6 of us girls) hauling the trailer with all the stuff, we were most likely to be the ones to get stopped. As we crossed the border, and drove past various police vehicles, we felt God leading they way. I remember passing a local park that was quite the hot spot. I have never seen such an array of people just hanging out at the park for just the sake of hanging out. Old men played cards, young families visited together while children ran around. Street vendors pushing their helado carts could be seen by the dozen and even a mariachi band minus the sombreros could be heard in the distance. It reminded me of the parks in Russia and since I love to people watch, I could have happily sat on a park bench for hours.

We never did get stopped as we drove on down Highway 3. About 2 hours later, we turned onto a dirt road ----with El Viviente only a couple of miles away. I got goosebumps.




It is amazing how quickly we or at least I forget. Just weeks ago I was in Mexico on an exciting adventure and yet so much has happened since that I am already forgetting some of the detail that made this trip so important in so many ways.

We were warmly greeted by Terry and Zacorro, the couple who oversees the church and organizes everything. They were so nice and friendly and quickly introduced us to everyone. They were busy preparing dinner for at least thirty people and I took the opportunity to learn a thing or two about fish frying. First of all - I am not a fish eater. I also do not prepare fish for my husband unless all it takes is opening the package and sticking it on a cookie sheet to be put in the oven. I watched as the cook took cut up angel fish dipped in batter and deep fried it in a wok full of hot oil over an open fire set up right outside of the home. Oil splattered and batter dripped as the fish was carried to and from the bowl, but it didn't matter because it was outside. How ingenious I thought. Why didn't I think of cooking like this to avoid major messes in my kitchen? I thought, "You learn something everyday."

I kind of worried about dinner because I didn't want to be rude, but I just didn't eat much fish ---especially angel fish. But I knew that they had taken a lot of time and resources to prepare this wonderful meal of fish tacos and I decided to dive in and make one up just the way they were meant to be eaten. First you get a homemade corn tortilla, they you get a piece of the fried fish. Next you top it with chopped up cabbage, homemade salsa consisting of tomatoes, cilantro and onions and then you douse it with lime.

"Here I go," I thought as I took my first bite. "Mmmmmm!!" Boy was it good. So this is what authentic Mexican food tastes like. Surprisingly, it was delicious. My girls thought so too. Especially Annalyn who by the end of dinner had finished off at least five pieces of fish.
I was so proud of myself for having eaten the fish, that I could not wait to tell John, who I was already beginning to miss deeply. So much was happening, and I would have loved to have him by my side. Isn't there some saying about absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Later that evening we went to a nearby camp to spend the night. In the room there was three story bunk beds, along the walls. They were really neat. Annalyn and Julia wanted to sleep on the very top but I wouldn't let them. The beds were very narrow and after all, the floor was bare concrete. My excuses seemed valid as they disappointingly set up their sleeping bags on lower bunks, but inside I wish I would have just let them sleep up on top. It would have probably been safe enough even for them. After all, they wouldn't have them if they weren't safe, would they? God, please help me to be a more fun and adventurous Mom...........kind of like trying the fish tonight.



I slept so well last night. I didn't even have to use the bathroom ---which is unusual for me. Probably because I am afraid of coyotes or snakes or something. Everybody was loading up as this would be our last day at this particular camp. We would spend the rest of our time over at the actual church site.
As I walked around taking pictures, a dog came up and laid down on my foot. She rolled over and so I petted her. She was a sweet dog who apparently lived at the camp and she loved it when I rubbed her belly. I wish I could have brought her home with me.
We headed back over to Terry and Zacorros's house for breakfast. I again was amazed to find them and a couple of other ladies already busy cutting up papaya and peeling oranges. I intentionally greeted Terry with a warm hug so I could look over her shoulder and get a glimpse of her cooking little, individual omelets. Here again was a crowd of 20 whom I would have happily fed a bunch of scrambled eggs if left up to me to do the cooking whereas Terry was taking the time to cook individual cactus omelets for each of us. Bless her heart. I was touched by her willingness to not only serve us, but serve us something extra special.
After I watched her make her 7th omelet with only 13 more to go, I told her that the kid's and I would probably only eat a third of one so she didn't have to cook a full 20 like she was planning to do. She looked relieved and soon we were all enjoying yet another authentic Mexican meal. Cactus omelets, refried beans, corn tortillas, and fresh papaya and oranges. And of course, I ate more than than my fair share. Julia and Annalyn on the other hand didn't really care for the cactus but I praised them for their willingness to at least try it.
After breakfast we headed up to the church for Sunday church. I was sharing my testimony today along with some others and began to get nervous. I had to be careful with how much I said because I didn't think my girls were old enough for me to share all of my testimony with them yet. I prayed, "God please help me to discern what is appropriate to share for all who will hear. Please fill me with your spirit so that I may speak Your words."
I expected church to start at any moment because my watch said 10 am. sharp. Why was the church still half empty? I was told that it would be overflowing with people. After talking to Lonnie, I learned that church didn't start around here until everybody got there and would end when the message was over and not when my watch showed a certain time. He went on to tell me that sometimes church lasted 1 hour and sometimes church lasted 2 1/2 hours. You just never new. A little confused I have to admit, I just went with flow ----what else was there for me to do.

I took the girls outside to play with the other kids when I heard, "Here they come!" as we watched an old 15 passenger van come over the hill and make it's way over to the church. It stopped and I watched person after person pile out of the van. Lots of little children rushed off to climb along a partially finished brick wall. Soon another van full of people showed up too, and before I knew it, people were coming up to me left and right introducing themselves to me and the girls. Everyone was so warm and friendly and I felt right at home as I walked into the church and sat down next to people I had just met but felt like I had known for years.
It was time for Church to start. It was 10:26 am.

Their service was quite similar to what I was used to, but I was particularly moved by one gentleman whose love for the Lord shined bright as a star. He was someone who appeared very humble, someone who at one time I knew had to be a broken man and yet now was living for the Lord, who had his hat in hand over his heart as he sang ever so gentle and sweet, all from his heart, eyes closed, as he had his special time with the Lord. It was a beautiful song that he sang.

My time to share came and God was good. Just minutes before it came to be my time to speak, my girls had been invited to attend Sunday school with the rest of the children. I was able to share freely, and I ended with the secret to my strong and long lasting marriage and with so many kids too. I described it as a triangle with God at the top and John and I at opposite ends on the bottom. As we draw nearer to God moving up the triangle, we would in turn get closer to each other.


After Sunday's service, we were served another wonderful meal. Turns out, that every Sunday after church, the congregation gathers to eat lunch together. It was really nice. We sat next to the family I mentioned earlier including Chilito. Now remember that Chilito is a very mentally retarded woman in her forties. Chilito has a cousin who was always with her to help her and she really made me stop and think about my life. Some people say my life must be hard, challenging, exhausting, ..............I must have the patience of a saint all because I have a lot of kids. Well not really, I think and say, but honestly they don't believe me. They can't imagine what my life must be like. I don't think my life is too different from anyone elses if I am comparing myself to another parent. I mean after all what are we really comparing --------- 2 kids to feed vs. 10? Not a big deal. But when I look at Chilito's cousin and all that she is doing, I am humbled by her commitment and dedication to Chilito's care. As I sat across from Chilito, I couldn't help but cringe at first as I watched her eat. Food was all over her face and she was drooling and it was easier to look away, yet her cousin who was beautiful (and I would say in her prime), smart and kind, seemed to think nothing of it as she wiped Chilito's mouth and helped her to eat. Later, I saw her peeling an orange for Chilito and then assisting her to the bathroom, and so on. What about her own life? Didn't she want to get married and have a family of her own? Wouldn't she prefer to be doing something else? I can't explain it, but I still remember this woman and if anyone were to be called a saint. it should be her. I'm not sure why I notice things like this, but it helped me to realize that every person on this earth deserves to be loved and cared for no matter who they are. We are all God's children, and we do what God calls us to do -----whether it is taking care of a loved one or being a mom to lots of children. One job is not better than the other, and I am in no way better than anyone else.

All throughout the week, God was good. We had VBS (vacation bible school) for everyone which started after our group devotional time. Melissa (our leader) shared some of the most inspirational words I have heard in a long time that continue to inspire me to this day. One book she shared from, which I am almost done reading is "If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat" by John Ortberg. I would highly recommend it.

As I finish, I wanted to add that this week really gave me the chance to spend one on one time with both Julia and Annalyn. One night I slept with each of the girls and on the last night all three of us slept in a bunk together. We were like sardines ---- very cozy!

If you ever get the chance to go on a mission trip, go! It is an amazing experience.

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