Tijuana Trip 2019
Day 7 and 8: Gospel Without Borders
Our final day in Tijuana was full of activity. On Tuesday, we went back to Granjas, the same community we were at the day before. While some of our team members spent time with the kids making piñatas and doing other activities, the rest of the team went to work mixing and pouring concrete for the community patio area. This concrete patio isn’t just a luxury for this community, but a necessity to fulfill the vision the community has to run health clinics, different classes, and other gatherings; Since the community is on a hill, their gathering space, which happens to be on a woman’s property, is not suitable to do these things unless there is a flat surface. This was not our vision/agenda to make this happen. This was not World Vision coming in and saying, “you need this”. This idea came from the community themselves, out of a desire to see people empowered and basic medical needs met. World Vision came alongside the community to help them achieve this, and we had the privilege of joining this.
As we worked, it seems like all the differences between the people in this work team: age, nationality, language, physical ability, etc., became insignificant. I (Jeremy) would not be able to hold a conversation with the older man from the community I was mixing concrete next to because of our language barriers. But that didn’t matter, because we were both working towards the same goal of completing this work project that would help this community for many years to come.
As it reached mid-afternoon, it was time for us to wrap up and leave. We passed out soccer jerseys to kids that had been donated to us by someone at Huron Hills, gifts that caused their faces to light up, shared some laughs/final moments of playing with the kids, and countless hugs as we said goodbye to the kids and members of this humble community with big hearts. Some tears were shed, because as wonderful and meaningful as the connections we made, so were the difficulties of saying, ‘goodbye’. The following morning (Wednesday), we had a final debrief with World Vision before driving across the border. The World Vision staff couldn’t thank us enough, and even one of the staff members who didn’t seem to show much emotion during the week had tears of gratitude. I don’t say this out of arrogance/an opportunity to brag by any means. Rather, I say this because it goes to show the impact that not just our team has had, but Huron Hills Church as a whole has had in the 15 years it has partnered with World Vision down in Tijuana.
It’s Thursday now, and our team has arrived back in Ann Arbor and gone to their separate homes, (hopefully) getting some much needed sleep after a whole day/night of traveling. As I reflect back on this amazing week, here are some closing thoughts:
1) The gospel does not have borders, and our team was able to witness this. In a time when U.S.-Mexico relations seem to be dominated by border conflicts, the gospel transcends those borders. In Christ, we are One.
2) Transformation happened for those we served alongside. One community has a face-lifted, freshly painted community center that will create a more welcoming environment for up to 100 kids every week. Another community now has a flat, sturdy concrete surface that will be used for countless meetings, classes, clinics, etc. for many years to come. Countless kids and community members have seen 15 Americans come in to come alongside them for a week and love them, with no strings attached. Who knows how many kids this week had been seen and loved to a degree they haven’t experienced before
3) Transformation happened for our team. We were able to experience joy and hospitality from people who have far less than we do. This is contagious, and through the power of the Holy Spirit will change our lives as we get back to our lives in Ann Arbor. We were able to see the gospel transcend borders, and experience a small part of the global reality of Christ’s Church
4) You played a crucial part in the work that God did this week. Several of you gave financial and prayerful support, and offered words of wisdom/encouragement to our team. You are just as much partners in the gospel with our brothers and sisters in Christ down in Tijuana as the team who went down is.
By God’s grace, Huron Hills Church and World Vision Tijuana will be a partnership that will continue for many years. Thank you for all so very much for your prayers and support
Day 6: A Humble Community With Big Hearts
Today we started working in the community of Granjas. Driving in, it was very clear that this was a much less developed community. The community of Granjas is perched high on a hillside, and has roads that are barely maintained. There is no sewer system in place, and support from the government is near nonexistent.
In Granjas, we are working on the house of a woman who has stepped up to be a leader of this community. She uses her house and her store as a safe hang out space/community center for the kids and youth of this community. She is working to involve other volunteers to support her as she works to make this community a better place for everyone that lives there.
Our construction project at her house is putting in a concrete patio area. They are hoping to use this space for activities with the kids, dance classes, and as a meeting space for their community. Having a flat concrete area will also make it much easier for the doctors and nurses who come into their community to be able to do checkups with the kids. Since the ground is not level in any parts of the community, this flat concrete surface will be a place for the health care workers to get accurate measures of the children’s weights so they can track their growth properly.
While some of our team was focusing on the construction project, other members of the team were spending the day with the kids of Granjas. In the morning, we started creating piñatas with the niños (children) that they sell to support the outings they do as a group. Afterwards, they came all together to dream about what their community could be. The kids brainstormed a list of the different improvements that they would like to see in their community, and voted on which would be the most important to focus on. They came up with everything from a soccer field to a park. In the end, they all rallied behind putting stairs into their community.
There are members of their community that are unable to leave their house without being carried down the hill. The kids started discussing this, and their vote turned into a chant of “escaleras” (stairs). At this point, I had to walk away to pull myself back together. These kids banded together and were so full of excitement to help improve life for the less fortunate in their community. At as young of an age as six, these kids were dreaming of possibilities, and were so full of hope. They were ready to work to change their world for the better, and it was incredible.
We ended the day visiting the community of Moclovia. This is a community that some of our group worked in last year. Our project at that time was putting in a concrete floor outside the community center so that the kids did not have to play directly on the dirt road. They now use that space as a communal front porch of sorts with a couch, space for children to play, and a cabinet filled with craft supplies. They greeted us with a welcome banner and personalized welcome flags. It was rewarding to spend time with a community of people who felt like old friends.
Please pray for us as we enter into our last day in the communities of Tijuana tomorrow. Please pray for renewed energy, able bodies, and for all of us to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we are able to see individual needs and be the best support to each other and the community members we can be.
Kurtis (with some edits by Emma Rae & Ashley)
Day 5: “Every Nation, Tribe, People, and Language”
In Revelation 7:9-10, John writes, “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….and they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
This morning, a group of us got up at 5:30am for a beautiful sunrise hike nearby. Afterwards, we had an opportunity to attend church in Tijuana. It is the church that a couple of the World Vision staff attend, is a little smaller than Huron Hills, and is fairly contemporary with drums, guitars, and praise songs. The first hour of the service was worship, and it was powerful. People were passionately singing their hearts with hands raised in the air. Most of us didn’t understand the exact words that were singing, but I (Jeremy) was struck in that moment with a sense of how amazing the Church is. We didn’t understand the words, but God did, and took great delight in His people from Tijuana, Mexico singing praises to him. 3 hours before, many of you were at Huron Hills singing praises to this same God. Most of the people gathered at this church would not have understood the words sung at Huron Hills, but God did, and took great delight in His people from Ann Arbor, Michigan worshipping Him. All around the world, there are people of countless nations, tribes, people groups, and languages all worshipping the God of the universe, bearing witness to this future reality that John describes in his vision, where God is going to draw people from all over the world into His family.
How Great is our God, how wonderful is His Church. We don’t know a whole lot about what the new Heaven and new earth will be like that God will establish when He restores all things. I picture our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ joining us, as well as believers from every corner of the globe, all with a different language, all declaring the glory and majesty of our God; I imagine that we will be able to hear and understand all the different languages represented, and it is going to blow our minds.
We are grateful to be here down in Tijuana, being a part of the redemptive work that God is doing that transcends borders and knocks down barriers. Please pray for us tomorrow (Monday) as we go to a new community. We will be building relationships with kids and students, and mixing and laying concrete at the community center. Please pray for perseverance, a servants heart that reflects the love and character of Jesus, for unity, and safety.
We are grateful to have you as a part of our team. Thank you for all the prayers and support.
Day 4: Every Good and Perfect Gift
In writing to Christians scattered around the ancient near east in the first century, Jesus’ brother James writes that “ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” By every, James means…every. Everything good in life points back to one source, and that is the God who created the universe and breathed goodness into existence.
Today didn’t feel like a typical mission trip day. We didn’t have any physical labor projects. We didn’t go into any communities. Instead, we helped with a field day at a local park put on by World Vision that served close to 100 kids from a few different communities. World Vision has been running a summer program, and today marked the ending celebration of their summer program. Soccer Balls, jump ropes, paint, and all sorts of fun things were brought out. For a few hours, kids, adults, Americans, and Mexicans all came together to simply have fun together. This evening, we were able to explore downtown Tecate, get ice cream, and have a fun night on the town. This was a great experience of not only being able to have fun ourselves, but see people from another culture enjoying life as well.
Tomorrow, we will go to church, which will be a powerful experience being a part of a local church from another nation and language for a morning. Monday, we will start the physically taxing work of mixing and pouring concrete in another community. For today, though, there was no agenda, no task to accomplish, other than to connect with kids and adults at the park, connect with each other, and simply enjoy life.
This reality is a gift from God. In the midst of pouring ourselves out to others, selflessly sacrificing our time, our talent, and our treasure for a higher calling and purpose, God still wants us to enjoy the life He has given us, and to enjoy the world He has placed us in. When we do this, and acknowledge Him in it, we are engaging in acts of worship.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support.
Day 3: When God Moves
Today’s post is going to be more personal…not because I (Jeremy) want to use a public space to simply share what I’m feeling, but because I think what I experienced today is something we can all relate to, and is a reality of mission trips, ministry, and life in general.
Yesterday, Kurtis and Katherine talked about our first incredible day in the community of Zapata, and I was looking forward to building off of that today. I was looking forward to deepening our relationships with the same kids, and that did happen. I was looking forward to the impact that would happen, and I believe God brought that about. It was an amazing day, and yet I felt something I didn’t expect. I felt frustrated. Not by the circumstances of the trip, the operations of the workday, or by World Vision (which I am seeing firsthand how great of an organization they are). Instead, I felt frustrated by my own limitations of knowing very, very little Spanish. Functionally, what this means is that past a few basic questions such as ‘what is your name?’, ‘how are you?’, ‘do you like_______’, conversations don’t carry. I felt stuck today, incapable of making an Impact.
Mission Trips can often be glorified. We often see the highlights of the ‘wow’ moments that God works, moments that should indeed be celebrated. And we picture every moment to be like this. What can follow can be subtle (or not-so-subtle) pride, a confidence in oneself that says, ‘I got this’, ‘I’m going to make an impact on this child’s life’, etc. Today was a day that God reminded me that this is His trip, His redemptive work, and His Kingdom breaking through, not mine. As a finite human being, there is only so much I can do. This is humbling, but it is also freeing. When we realize our own limits (in my case today, my lack of Spanish), we are invited to let God be God, and let us be us. We are brought into a deeper understanding that God is the one who is driving this thing, and we get to be participants that bear witness to His love and character.
In this, we rejoice. We rejoice in the work that God has done in Zapata:
The whole community center has been repainted (with the eager help of some of the kids), and outwardly transformed into a much more inviting, child-friendly place that will serve up to 100 kids every week.
We have formed relationships with kids and students; Even if we do not speak the same language as these kids, through playing with them, sitting with them, or simply asking kids to write their name down so she would remember them (one student did this with a group of kids she was talking to), we are giving off the message to these kids of, “I see you…and you are loved”. To be so close to the U.S.-Mexican border and see Americans coming in just to love them makes a difference in the lives of these kids and community members, perhaps an even greater impact than we know.
The transformation of the community that begun many years ago, when the first Huron Hills youth team at that time helped to build the community center that we were able to paint today. We are grateful to be a part of a relationship that has spanned many years
As the community said farewell to us, one 13-year-old boy thanked all of us, sharing that because of the center, he has a safe place where he can play outside (which most, if not all, of the kids’ homes don’t provide this). When we don’t feel like we are making much of an impact, frustrated by our limitations, or were hoping for/expecting a more immediate, apparent impact, God is on the move. When it seems like you aren’t doing much, God is doing something through you that you may not understand in the moment. It is an absolute joy and privilege to be here, and I can’t wait to see the ways that God moves the rest of the week.
Thank you all so much for your prayers and support.
Day 2: Experiencing Joy
Hola familias y amigos!
This is Kurtis and Katherine from the Ranch in Tecate.
Today was our first full day in Mexico, and it was a great start to our trip! We spent the day in the community of Zapata, which is in the city of Tijuana. The initial plan for the day was to fix the roof of the community center, but instead, we started working on the project of painting the community center of Zapata, helping them create a more welcoming and bright space. They can see as many as 70 kids in this community center at a time. We also spent much of the day playing games, connecting, and building relationships with the people of the community.
As many of you know, the majority of our group does not speak fluent Spanish. In spite of this, we already started building some good relationships and having good conversations with the women and kids of Zapata. Ellie experienced this connecting with a mother from the community. With only a few words between them, they talked all about the women’s family. Today, I (Kurtis) spent most of the day with some of the boys from the community. We had great conversations about everything from sports to the Avengers (which they all love), and played all sorts of games. They even made Jeremy imitate Neymar (famous soccer player) flopping.
One of my first adventures of the day with the boys was saving Aron’s shoe from the roof. Lacking a ball at the beginning of the day, a shoe was the logical replacement. Of course, his shoe had to end up on the roof, which was definitely not stable enough to walk on. So John Collman made us a lasso, and I stood on a wobbly desk and a narrow wall of stone, and lassoed the shoe off the roof. From then on, Aron and I were friends.
One of the best parts about spending time with these kids is the joy that is so visible on their faces as you spend time with them. One of the little four year olds, Osmar, at first was very shy and unsure around all of us. One of the things we noticed though, was that he loved airplanes. As one flew overhead, Osmar looked up at the sky in awe. After that, he and I, (now Katherine), flew around the community’s courtyard pretending to be airplanes. The smile that lit up his face was one of the best parts of the day for me, and I know that we all have these moments with the people here. The joy in the people of Zapata was so evident, and we are so thankful to God for that.
In our devotionals, joy is our main focus for the week. While in our small groups, we talked about what joy really is. In John 10:10, Jesus says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This full life, and the joy that God brings, can be seen the most when we are really following Him. Jesus clearly tells us to serve and love others. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is love your neighbor as yourself.” I think that when we are doing this, we fully experience God’s joy. The love the people of Zapata have for God and for others is wonderful, and the joy they are experiencing from God is a wonderful gift.
As we continue throughout our week and continue spending time in the communities, please continue to pray for our safety, that we will experience God’s joy, and that we will be able to support and help the communities we are working in.
Kurtis and Katherine.
Day 1 : God is Greater
This was the day we were anticipating for months. This morning, a group of 15 high school students and leaders hopped on a plane headed to San Diego and crossed the border into Tecate, Mexico to serve alongside WorldVision for a week. We are beyond grateful for the support for our church family and all of you reading this who have given financially and offered up prayers and words of encouragement for this process.
Today didn’t go quite as expected. We met at Huron Hills at 6am, loaded up our luggage, and arrived at the airport. So far, so good. After finally clearing security, we found out that our flight was delayed 90 minutes. After finally landing in San Diego, we had to wait another 30+ minutes before we could taxi into the gate. This was problematic, because there was a planned cookout at 2pm with some of the sponsored children through WorldVision, and we were planning on getting there at 1:30pm. We didn’t leave San Diego until 2pm. I felt bad for our students, who were going to get robbed out of an amazing opportunity to build relationships with kids we would be seeing in the communities.
But God is greater. We finally arrived at 3:30, and had to hit the ground running. Kids were already swimming, so after a brief welcome, we jumped right in (pun intended). Instead of leaving at the expected 5pm time, WorldVision arranged the buses to take the kids back at 7pm, which means we got 3+ hours to spend time with them. Pulling in to our destination, we were tired. We were aware of the language barrier that existed. And as we pulled up we simply prayed, ‘God, give us strength’. He came through, and we had an amazing time building relationships with kids who don’t speak English (and many of us don’t speak Spanish). As I was watching our students intentionally loving these kids, I couldn’t be more proud of them for the way they just willingly stepped into this, and did not complain about the delay or our circumstances. And yet, I know that this wasn’t on us, but it points to the greatness of our God.
God is greater than delays that could have really thrown a wrench in our plans. God is greater than our exhaustion that could have lead to disengagement. God is greater than the frustrations of things not going according to plan that could have lead to a less than ideal attitude.
As we begin our first full day tomorrow, please pray that we will be locked in to this truth- that God is greater. He is greater than our plans, our anxieties, our abilities, what we think is best. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for this week; It is an incredible privilege to be a part of His redemptive work.