The past week I spent in Mexico was very eye opening for me. It was the first time I’d been out of the country in about 13 years, and it was a missions trip to Ensenada. So today I’ll talk about my experience in Mexico from the morning the trip started until the morning it ended.
Last Saturday, the team met at the church to organize luggage and pack all 17 of us into four cars, with the drivers. We made our way to Denver International Airport pretty quickly, but when we got there things started taking more time. With nineteen of us in line, dragging along our luggage plus team gear, it was a recipe for disorganization. Naturally, when we went to check our luggage, we weren’t all in a line. None of us knew the reservation arrangement, which meant that most of us were checking our bags one at a time, instead of in groups. After checking the bags, it became a little easier now that everyone wasn’t carrying 3-4 bags. 17 people also means a lot of restroom breaks. Keep that in mind. It would be safe to assume that whenever we had down time, at least one of us was en route to or from the bathroom. We then headed to security, where once again we couldn’t get 100% together. The entirety of us split up between around three different security lines, and the best part about security was the fact that one of our team members had to get a pat down, and it was the person that all of us expected it to be. The pastor even called it earlier. We had to regroup at the train to the terminals, and then we headed to our terminal. Once there, we set our stuff down and went to go get some food. I personally stopped at TCBY and got some frozen yogurt, but I accompanied two others in their search for peanuts. When we got back, we sat down and I watched the two other people play twenty questions. It was not successful, and the answer was peppermint, which one person tried to argue was a mint, not a candy. No, it is in fact a candy and a mint, since mints are inherently candies if they come in the hard form.
Our boarding positions spanned from the high Bs to the low Cs, which meant we were some of the last people to get on the plane, and most of us wouldn’t sit next to each other. I ended up sitting next to a mother with one of her children, and it was his first flight. I was in an isle seat and across the isle, caddy corner across the isle, and right behind me were three of my group. Most of the flight I spent talking to the mother and her kid, talking to my group members, or reading the first chapter of a book that a group member lent me for the flight called Left Behind, which is about the rapture. I also managed to snap an amusing picture of the guy right behind me sleeping.
When we landed in San Diego, we grabbed all of our stuff, identified by bacon duct tape, and went and sat down out of the way for probably an hour while we waited for the other two members of our group to land from Salt Lake, and then for two people to go get the vans we were renting for the week. We also initiated a game called Goldmine, where every time somebody says “mine” in response to a question, they have to do ten push-ups. Lets just say that I didn’t do that badly, but I was far from winning. We got a couple of good quotes while waiting too. Quotes are funny things that people say that one person in our group writes down and puts into a quote book. We got the vans back and headed down to In N’ Out for lunch, and then to Wal-Mart to buy all the materials we would need for the week of vacation Bible school we would be putting on for the kids. After that we went down to the border and five minutes later we were in Mexico. The first thing to hit me in Mexico was the stark change in smell and appearance. We’d gone from beautiful San Diego to graffiti covered stone walls, chain link fences, and people sleeping in sewage drains. It smelled bad, but what was worse was how bad I felt for those people who lived in such terrible conditions. It didn’t take long to turn gorgeous though. We went through some hills and there was a massive Pacific Ocean laid out before us. The drive to Ensenada was amazingly pretty. We even saw a big statue of Jesus. After taking a wrong road and having to loop around, we finally made it to Ensenada. We drove through the actual city and it reminded me just a little of San Francisco, only the roads were crazier and everything was in Spanish. The highlight of shops we saw was Pizza Planet, as seen in Toy Story. We finally arrived at the camp outside of Ensenada behind a vineyard, and I think we were the last ones to arrive, coming in around 7:00. We had to set up our tents and tarp before we could go to dinner, and it didn’t take too long. Some of the stakes were a pain in the butt to pound into the ground though.
I don’t quite remember every detail of every day, but I’ll try my best. I’m going to lump all the dinners and breakfast together now. I remember having a lot of canned peaches and pears, sloppy joes, rice with chicken, rice with beef, eggs, pancakes, cereal, doughnuts, bananas, hot dogs, and some macaroni stuff. Other than that, I don’t remember a lot of what we ate, aside from heavenly street tacos and some churros outside of the camp. So when I say we went to dinner or breakfast, think of that stuff. I guess I’ll include lunches too. Most lunches were PBJs and Ham/Cheese sandwiches, with some other stuff, mostly apples. Also some chips, cookies, doughnuts, wafer cookies, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting.
Anyway, the first night we’re there, we go to evening chapel, which is just worship songs and a Sunday school lesson. The cool thing though is that it’s held outside in an amphitheater on the Mexican hillside. Whenever we went, we got to watch the sun set behind the mountains. That’s the thing I think I’ll miss most about the camp. It was soooo beautiful. Anyway, it isn’t because I wasn’t because i wasn’t paying attention, but I struggle to remember the exact topic of every chapel meeting we had. The first speaker spoke that night and the next morning before handing it off to a guy named Steve Pinto. The first guy was deaf and had a lisp of sorts, kind of like Kripke from the Big Bang Theory. I was still surprised by his level of articulation despite his ailments. At times it was hard to understand, but even still, he did well. After chapel, we went back to our group of tents and had a meeting, but again, that was a week ago, so I can’t remember what it was we talked about that night. I think it was an introductory thing where we said our greatest hopes and fears of the trip. Personally, I had said that I was most excited about being in a new country and the experiences that would come with that. My fear was that we wouldn’t be successful. Now that it’s over, my fear wasn’t met. I think we were more successful than anyone thought we would be, in more areas than anyone thought would be reached, but more on that momentarily.
As a running theme, I was the first in my tent to fall asleep almost every night, and there weren’t enough hours to sleep. 11-6 after such tiring days wore me out, but in a good way. Sunday we went to breakfast and then went to chapel. Then we went back to camp to change into our church clothes. After that we loaded into the vans and headed to the church that our group would be partnering with called “Fuego de Dios” or “Fire of God”. We also got our two translators to accompany us, but our leader had to book it back to California for a wedding. The church service was started off with testimonies on the goodness of God from three women. Hearing those was kind of remarkable. One woman even came back from the dead. Her heart had stopped but she was revived and certifiably dead for a period of time. There was also some worship, but entirely in Spanish, so all of us Americans just stood around and listened. One thing I noticed was how passionate the people were. Everyone was singing and everyone clapped; even the kids. When that was over, the pastor of the church stood up and gave his teaching, translated by one of our translators. I felt bad though because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was tired, it was a slow process having someone say something and then having it repeated, and it went on for a long time. I wasn’t the only one, but none the less, I felt a little bad for nodding off. I don’t think we did anything else that day. We went back to the camp and prepared things for the lessons over the next four days. I got to draw a garden, a rainbow, and then also “help” someone with her drawing of the seven days story. What was memorable about that was the flurry of quotes we got, oddly pertaining to Russia. We did that until it was time for dinner, and then after dinner we had our first chapel with Steve Pinto. For those who don’t know him, he’s a thirty something guy who looks like he could be a “swaggin’ gangster”, but isn’t. He greets everyone with a “WAZZZZUUUUUUP?!” and has these laughing fits that remind me a little of ‘Lil Wayne. Anyway, he talked to us and then sent us off to our tents, where I can’t remember what we talked about that night. Come to think of it, I wonder if I should just tell you all now that I don’t remember any of our talks except for the last one on Thursday night, and what I think was either Wednesday morning or Thursday morning. Come to think of it again, I also remember Wednesday night. I’ll talk about those when I get there though.
So Monday now. I woke up, hung around the camp until 7, ate breakfast, went to chapel, went back to camp, then we prepared for our day of servitude at the church. We gathered our stuff together and I think at around 9:30, we went to the church. On the way I learned to say “Te namos una Jirafe paquena”, which means we have a small giraffe. We got there and none of the kids were there because they were all in school until 12:00-12:30, so most people prepared the lessons and chairs in the church or helped shovel dirt. I myself found nothing to do so I went with the pastor and a few other people to the store to get supplies for the week. When we got back it was almost time to start and the vans went to go pick up the kids. I think I just asked if I could help inside, but wasn’t really needed so I just sat inside and watched other people, drinking water because it was hot there. When the kids did arrive, I was trapped in the front row with the worship leaders, and I awkwardly tried to sing along in Spanish and do the hand motions. I also got my face painted to look like a wolf, despite some people saying I looked like a cat or mouse. It even inspired some of the kids to get wolf paintings too. I also drew a self portrait, that was, obviously, not very good. You could tell it was human, but that’s about it. I attempted to play soccer with the kids, but before I knew it, it was time to go. That day was fun, but I didn’t interact with the kids as much as I should have because I was scared of the language barrier. I felt every kid was asked the same question by every one of us, so I never bothered. “Como te llamas?” “(insert name here)” *awkward silence* *smile and walk away*. That’s how it went a lot that day. When we got back we had a little time to just hang out, after stopping at a street taco place of course. In the car I learned how to say “Lobos en liquadora” which meant “wolf in a blender”. It was a bumpy ride, and my face was painted like a wolf, so that’s where it came from. Then we went to dinner and then to chapel, where two others from my group and myself were called onto the stage as volunteers for doing hand motions to a song, I wasn’t volunteering, but someone waved me up because of my face paint. Then we went back to camp and talked, where I then showed everyone what wolf in a blender looked like, being my funny self, by wiping all the pain off in circles with a wet wipe. Hilarious no? Ok, well then I went to bed.
Tuesday morning followed the same morning ritual. When we got to the church though, I actually helped with the shoveling dirt because nothing else was available and that needed to be done. At one point I also got volunteered to cut holes in plates for the craft we would be doing later that day. I did that until the kids got there, where we once again went inside and did worship music and a craft. This time, to go along with Daniel and the lion’s den story, we made lions out of the paper plates. We had glue to put string on the sides to make a mane, and the kids got to draw on the face. They all became little lions. I actually got to interact with a kid a little because he wanted to help with my mask, so I let him. The mane didn’t turn out too well though, so we had more of a lioness than a lion. I had almost the same problem though. I still couldn’t interact with the kids as much as I would have liked to. I think I went back to dig some more dirt, or maybe I played some more soccer with them. Before I knew it though, it was time to go back again. Then we had a “pleasant” surprise in store. Our pastor was taking us to a shower facility. He made sure to tell us though not to open our mouths or else we would run the risk of getting Montezuma’s Revenge.
Well to start this off, I was considering making this story its own post, but decided against it. So here is my shower story, which I think I could rightfully call “Shower from Hell”. Our pastor told us six minutes to shower and get out or else we wouldn’t shower again. So we pay our three dollars to get a shower, and I hadn’t anticipated a shower, so all I had was a change of shirt and a towel. I asked a leader if she had any shampoo/conditioner, and she had a packet of it. Not a bottle, but a little perforated pouch with shampoo and conditioner, which you’ll see in a moment why that was a count against me. So now I have everything I really need, and I enter the shower which is a two room situation: one entrance area with a mirror for your belongings and the actual shower, separated by a wall and door. I take everything off, leaving my shoes and backpack and towel on the small little bench/chair thing, with the shampoo bag on top. So I go into the shower and don’t see a shower head, but I see a hole in the wall with light coming through it. I wonder where the water comes out, and dismiss the hole as a light source. I see the handles for the water though. I push and pull on the red one which I assume means hot water, but nothing happens so I think the hot water is broken. Then I try the same thing on the white (or powder blue, it was dark in there so it was hard to tell) handle. Again nothing happens. So then I “get smart” and turn the white handle. I am instantly blasted by freezing water. It was so cold, I think I just stood there for thirty seconds in sheer shock. I wet my hair in it, then go back to the first room to get the shampoo and conditioner. Little did I realize that the door was open and the water shot straight through the doorway into the first room, soaking the pants, shirt, and underwear of mine that were on the floor. I wasted another thirty seconds wondering how to deal with my soaked clothes, settling on leaving them there since they were already soaked and my six minutes was ticking. So I go for the shampoo and conditioner. Being a plastic pouch, my wet hands can’t grip it. So I dry my hands on my towel and it helps a little, but I can only open it a little. I use my teeth, naturally. Now I have wet clothes, difficulty breathing from the cold water, and a mouth full of shampoo. I push through though and shampoo my hair, arching my body as much as possible to only get my hair and not my body. I imagine I probably looked like the letter “r”. I had to breathe through my mouth to counteract the coldness of the water, and I was constantly spitting out shampoo and whatever water may have found its way into my mouth. When I was done with that, and I was booking it now, I went back out and did the same thing with the conditioner. Conditioner in my mouth, I dive back in. But as if all this wasn’t enough, two new problems arise. The water level had somehow risen, meaning to wash my hair I had to stand on my tiptoes. In addition to that, the door decided it wouldn’t close any more, so I had to hold the door closed with one foot. Because I looked like a flamingo holding a door closed, I couldn’t arch my body, so the water coated my entire body, not just my head. When I was finally done with the conditioner, I turned the water off and examined the damage. I dried myself off, and there was no way to leave without putting on my wet clothes. So I put on my change of shirt. Then I gather my courage and put on my wet clothes. I gather everything else of mine and walk out to tell other people about how awful my shower had been. All of them were saying how nice a shower it was with hot water and refreshing and I was just thinking “You mock me with your good showers”. The woman I’d borrowed the shampoo from was in a shower, so I had to hold that as well. Finally everyone was done, and I rode back to the camp soaking. I quickly changed into fresh pants and underwear, which let me tell you, is probably one of the greatest feelings in the world. They had been in my tent all day, heated by the Mexican sun. It was like being soaked and then putting on clothes fresh out of the drier. It was simply amazing.
Then we went to dinner and chapel, and after chapel we met back at the camp where the pastor asked about our showers. I then had the absolute pleasure of telling everyone what a nightmare that shower was, and how I would never step foot in another shower in Mexico again. Later that week I would have the opportunity to shower again, but I didn’t need it or want it. After my story we went to bed. The next morning, and this is Wednesday now, we got up ate breakfast and went to chapel, but what I remember about that morning is what Steve told us to do. He had talked about how to connect with the Bible more, which involved actually reading it on your own, and he gave us instructions. He told us to go sit by ourselves and “meditate” over a passage of scripture and do a S.O.A.P. exercise, which stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. I went to my favorite passage of the Bible I had read, which was Ephesians 2:1-10. My Observation was that we were worthy of death, but God loved us enough to forgive us of our sins and offer Jesus to take the penalty, showing forgiveness. My Application was that that day I would forgive someone who would wrong me, and that opportunity did arise, but more on that momentarily. My prayer was just asking for the ability to forgive because he did the same for me. Then that solo time ended and we were headed off to the church again. That day most of the dirt was in place, but we were trying to level it. I got the hoe and working with another person who had a rake, we leveled all the piles of dirt as best we could. When the kids got there, we did the worship and instead of a craft, we had a game. The game was basically Red Light, Green Light only we weren’t going from side to side, we were making animal sounds based on what was called out. When the moderator called freeze, we’d all freeze and they would try to make us laugh or smile. That quickly dissolved into regular freeze tag which I could actively play since it only involved knowing the words for “freeze” and “sun”. I got attacked by a dog too and it made a hole in the back of my shirt. I also fell and ripped a pair of my khakis. During my downtime, a kid was put on my back and from that moment on, everybody seemed to want a piggy back ride, or “papuchi” as they say. We played that for a long time, and I got to know some of the kids at least a little which was awesome. After the kids went home, the pastor took us to La Bufadora, or The Blowhole. On the way to the blowhole was a big street market with a lot of cool stuff. I hate telling people no, so I got sucked into a lot of stores. We got to the end of the path and watched the ocean make geysers a couple times, and one of them was so big it soaked everyone there. I got lucky because I’d climbed higher on the rocks for a picture. We started heading back so we could buy stuff, and halfway to the market three of us, myself included got pooped on by a seagull. That created a five minute calamity. We took a picture too, which was after the seagull pooped on us I think. Then we went back through the street market, where I bought some churros and a pair of sunglasses that ended up being women’s sunglasses. I hadn’t seen the glittery “DL” on the side of the glasses and I thought they were sportswear. I like them though because they block the sun well and have a red tint that gets darker the higher up on the lenses you look. At sunset, that makes the sunsets turn from light orange and yellow to dark red and pink, which was awesome. We drove back home to the camp, ate dinner, went to chapel, and this is one of the chapels I sort of remember. Steve asked anyone who wanted to “renew their vows” if you will, to come up to the stage. It was a candlelight ceremony, and I went up there and got my candle lit. This may have been the second time that week, but they turned off all the lights and we sang under the stars. I forgot to mention it earlier, but one member of our group was also invited to sing with the band, and she sang with them Monday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night. That was pretty awesome. At the meeting that night, we talked about our S.O.A.P. exercises, and I had my prayer answered. I was ripped off at the street market, and a lot of my friends in the group made fun of me for buying girls glasses. But that was the perfect opportunity to practice forgiveness. I just had to tell myself the seller needed the fifteen dollars more than I did. Plus I actually like the glasses. Then that night I think was the night I went star tipping, which is spinning around while looking at a star and then having someone shine a bright light in your eyes. It knocks you to the ground. Then I went to bed.
Thursday morning was the same old routine, I am trying to remember what it was we did in chapel that morning. I don’t think we did anything super special, just a “Last day, do your best and leave them with Jesus’s love.” So we went to the church and it turns out that what we are trying to level had too much dirt, so we had to re-level it by taking dirt out. I remember going to get water and found that the week long project of painting verses on the wall and a mural on the back wall was nearly complete, and it looked awesome. I think I also had sandwich duty that day. The kids got there and after the worship and skit we were going to have water activities to go along with Jonah’s story. I helped fill water balloons, gave piggy back rides, and then the water balloon games started, including a toss and an all out fight. That was a blast. We took one last picture of everyone while we were there, students and our team, and then it was time to say goodbye and clean everything up. The pastor of the Mexican church then invited us over for a lunch/dinner thing and we ate hand made pizza. Their house was located about a block away from the church in a really poor community. The inside of their house though, while aside from not having any flooring besides the concrete, was pretty nice actually, compared to the outside appearances. We went home and I think we may have stopped at the street taco place one last time. Then we had one last dinner and one last chapel, where I remember it distinctly. First time for everything I guess. Our group had spread over three rows, and everybody in my row left to go join another row in the amphitheater, leaving me all alone in my green blanket. During the singing, some people from another church came up to me and tried to get me to join in with the hand motions and stuff. I only sort of went along with it. After the song was over, they left and Steve Pinto went up on stage again and I remember the topic, and that was “God is the father” He talked about his friends he had met in Bible college and how both of them had fathers who weren’t there for some reason. I think one of them may have died, but the point is, circumstances prevented the father from being there. The topic was that when your father isn’t there, your Heavenly Father is there. He talked about his friends bawling their eyes out to a song they heard on the radio that I think was called “My Father” or something. He asked the audience if they’d felt abandoned or without a father, parents, or any form of loss, and he said that God could fill that hole. From that point on, all I could think about was all the holes I needed plugged. I raised my hand to say I needed hole plugged, and at least three people, though none from my own group, came and laid their hands on my head or shoulders. I was struggling to hold tears back, but a few fought through. Then the worship played for a long time, again with the lights out, and I lost it. I felt two people from my group come up and hug me and they stood next to me and put a hand on me until the worship was over. I didn’t even open my eyes. I just stood there and let God fill my holes. When it was over, I still was weeping, but every leader that came on the trip came and hugged me, and even a few non-leaders. I probably ended up crying for a half an hour straight. That night I didn’t talk to anyone, but I know that I have to talk to a few people now, and the next day I would.
The next morning we woke up early and said goodbye to our translators. There was no chapel that morning, just a breakfast. We left Ensenada and an hour and a half later we were at the border, which took probably two hours to cross. We did get some churros on the way though through a community pool of money and pesos. When we managed to get across the border,we went to the same In ‘N Out that we visited on our first day, and headed for La Jolla. It was so crowded there that we had to park a couple blocks uphill from the beach and then more blocks north to get where we needed to go. The beach we went to had a lot of rocks, and there was even a little tunnel of rock that I went through. I managed to get to the farthest rock I could that was pretty large, and out there I saw a seal in the water. There were a lot of seals around hanging out on the beach, on the rocks, and apparently in the water. On the way back in, I tried to get to sturdy rock before the next wave came, and a slipped and cut my hand open from the bottom of my palm to the half way point of my forearm. I didn’t even notice it at first, but when I looked down at my hand, all I saw was red over my hand and arm. It must have been shock, because I didn’t feel hardly anything. But one of the leaders led me up to the lifeguard station and I got it all bandaged up after receiving some rubbing alcohol in it. The lifeguard said it was to clean out the bacteria that covers those rocks. It kind of put a damper on my beach day since I wasn’t supposed to go back into the water. I also got a scrape on my right knee and a cut on my left shin. For the next few days I couldn’t bend my wrist. Anyway, we went back down to the beach and I explained the situation to everyone one at a time, eventually using the story of getting in a fist fight with a seal. I obviously won since I am still here and the seal isn’t. Then I got to watch three baptisms in the cove, and pretty soon after we left for a different beach. But I chose to stay with the stuff since I couldn’t go in the water. I then noticed someone in my group laying down on the stone up above me. I was with the stuff on a big plateau below a wall, and she was on top of the wall. So I grabbed a piece of bread and put it on her waist, hoping a seagull would come eat it off of her. That didn’t happen, so I went up and tore it in pieces and made a trail of bread up to her. A minute later probably six seagulls swooped down at her and I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard. When everyone got back, we had to go back to the vans and head to the airport. The two who had joined us from Salt Lake were flying back to Salt Lake. Our flight also got delayed, so we had about three and a half hours to kill. We checked our luggage while our pastor and a leader returned the vans. We went through security to get food, but there wasn’t any food past that security checkpoint, so we exited and went to Terminal B where there was a lot of food. We walked there and the pastor bought everyone gourmet pizzas to share. When we finished that, we walked back to Terminal A and headed through security a third time, where we waited for the plane to arrive at our gate for an hour-ish. I passed that time by watching the seagull-girl being bullied by a five year old girl, and eating the remnants of my jar of peanut butter which for whatever reason was not confiscated by security any of the three times. This time we were loaded in the back of C, so we were almost the very last ones on the plane. I found a seat across the isle from one of my leaders and we talked the entire flight about the week and just a ton of stuff, and I got some helpful guidance, plus some necessary “venting”. At this point it was about midnight to one o clock when we landed, depending which time zone is considered, and we had to gather our suitcases. We only had one, maybe two lost pieces of luggage. It was close to 2:30 when we got everything together and headed back to the church. We regrouped, grabbed our luggage, and went home. Finally at four in the morning, I was asleep.
The entire trip was amazing. I learned a lot about other people, life, God, and myself. I had a rough week between my shower and my cut up wrist, but I still wouldn’t have changed anything. I loved it and that’s what counted. As the theme of the week said, “Love never fails”, and it certainly did me good the last week.