Mexico: Chapter 2

So last night I attended my weekly Friday night youth group, where we ended up talking about the mission trip to Mexico. I knew I wanted to tackle another post about the Mexico mission trip, my last one being about last year’s trip, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about. I had to give myself a little bit of time to ponder my experience in Mexico this year, because it was drastically different from last year. I don’t want to tackle this post the same as last year’s post because it was very long and redundant, and I don’t think there’s as much to say this year, but we’ll see how it goes. It might be kinda the same format, but I’ll try to expedite it as much as I can. So let’s just jump right in.

Because of car troubles, I ended up spending the night with a friend of mine to make the waking up and getting to the church much easier. I was super excited to go and see the translator who was returning to be our translator again, and I was just plain ecstatic to go and experience another amazing week serving God in Mexico. That’s to say sleeping was difficult, but I made it. I won’t say much about the airport and airplane, except that it was fun.

Airplane Fun

If I haven’t said it yet, I’ll say it now: I love airports and I love planes. I don’t know why, but DIA is a fantastic airport and I just find everything about airports and airplanes to be exciting and fun (except baggage claim). We landed in San Diego, waited for vans for at least an hour, but I’d bet two, and we played some games there. Something happened so that we couldn’t get our normal big white vans and we got two minivans instead. With all our luggage, it was like playing 3D Tetris in the vans. We were JAM PACKED into those tiny vans. It was super uncomfortable. I could hardly see people on the opposite side of the minivan. We went to Wal-Mart to gather supplies, and then headed to the border. I slept off and on through the trip, but I tried to get pictures when I could. When we finally got to the camp, the first thing on my mind was finding the translator who I’d missed so much.

Miriam!

When I did, it was awesome. She’s so cool. (Hi Miriam if you’re reading this!) But then we had to actually set up our tents and stuff, so I helped with that. The main “event” of this night was meeting the other church we were partnering with. We’d never met them before, but apparently they would be working with the same church as us, and we were to make friends with them. It took me about a day to remember most of their names, but now I know them all by name so it’s cool. We ate dinner, sat at chapel, and I don’t know what else we did.

One thing worth mentioning is that we had an awesome speaker named Luke Everett. For those who went last year, he’s the man who is mostly deaf and has a little bit of a speech impediment. Last year I wasn’t a big fan, but this year he really impressed me. He spoke at every chapel and I really loved his messages. I’ll get this out of the way, because I remember very little about the actual messages, so I don’t want to have to mention every chapel message separately. He talked a lot about his own personal story about growing up as a “suicidal child,” or more accurately a really accident prone kid. He fell down the stairs, drank some extremely toxic stuff, and a bunch of other horror stories ranging from ages birth-5, which is when he went deaf. He talked about his family’s move to Ensenada and their ministry to the deaf children in Mexico. The theme for the week was “Jesus Use Me” or “Jesus Usame” in Spanish. Lots of the messages tied into that and asking God to use you. Luke’s father asked to be used, and he felt lead to Mexico to help the deaf children. Other guest speakers did the same and had personal testimonies to share, all of which were really powerful, though I’m not remembering all of what was said by each of them. The other thing Luke talked about was the “Real Jesus,” not the weird, creepy, religious versions of Jesus that are in stained glass windows and statues and all of that. He emphasized that Jesus, while also being fully God, was also fully man. He had a personality, he had to be nursed and taught to walk, potty trained, learn to speak, all of that. He experienced human life. He had personality; he wasn’t only a one sided walking wisdom dispenser. Luke described him as playful, and cunning and other things that I just don’t remember. Luke was really well spoken, which is so inspiring knowing about the added difficulty of being mostly deaf and having a speech impediment. It didn’t matter though, which just added to his message of Jesus’ ability to use the least of us. Not that Luke is the least, but he can use ANYBODY. These chapels were really powerful.

Now, lets move on to what the weekly workload was. Our team purchased a nice play set for the church that the kids ended up LOVING.

Popular play set

It’s a pretty nice set too. The catch was that it all had to be assembled very precisely. So I ended up constructing the bench with a girl from the other church (which just consisted of screwing a few things in since it was mostly pre-assembled), and building a large portion of the slide.

Da bench

Almost completed slide

Quick side note, whenever I mention someone from the other team, I’m going to call them just Montrose because that’s the city they’re from. A couple of Montrole girls, and occasionally a dude, helped me build the slide until I was summoned elsewhere to do the sports camp, which is what Montrose brought to the team. They brought a sports camp curriculum for the kids.

I guess it’s worth mentioning now that we also had to build a stage for the church, but I had no part in that, even though I really wanted to help with that because I had all the skills necessary for it.

I built wooden sets for the school productions ALL THE TIME, and I never once got to touch a piece of that wood, or a drill, or a saw. That bummed me out, because sometimes I had nothing to do and I wanted to build the stage, but everyone else was doing it and there was no room for me, which made me feel wasted and a little unappreciated. But the important thing is that the stage was built, and we helped a local church out. Also in the activities was picking up trash around the church, playing with the kids on the newly constructed play set, and leading 9 square in the air, which we brought down there and added to the sports camp.

I think that about encompasses everything we did at the church for the week, though on the last day we were there, some of us did some face painting.

I painted very little, but I did do some. My main accomplishment on that front was painting a Montrose girl’s arm in a tribal-esque manner. It was pretty cool.

Let’s talk about the non-ministry portions of the trip now: La Bufadora, street tacos, showers, and San Diego again.

La Bufadora- La Bufadora means “the blowhole” in Spanish. I didn’t get a picture of it going off, but you can kinda see the area around it (It’s just a little alcove that occasionally geysers). For those who went on the trip last year, you’re familiar with my horror stories surrounding the trip. One of them happened at La Bufadora, involving a certain pair of women’s sunglasses with glittering “DL”s on the sides that I may or may not have purchased for $15-$20. This year? I bought churros, we got pictures, I sipped some other people’s pina coladas, I looked around, and ultimately I only purchased one thing. A $3 key chain in the shape of a whale with Ensenada inside a little glass thing. I didn’t get super ripped off this trip, which is awesome. Neither did we get pooped on by seagulls, which is also a plus.

Street tacos- I can’t emphasize this enough. We have this one street taco place on the way back to camp that we always stop at for our tacos. They are the greatest tacos I’ve ever had. Each taco is about $1, so you can get three tacos for $5 dollars or less. They’re fresh and made right in front of you, and it takes maybe 30 seconds to make one, so you never have to wait long for them. And then the taste is just divine. I get the steak tacos, or the taco de asada, but they also have taco de adobada, which is some kind of pineapple glazed and roasted pork stuff that isn’t half bad either. There are a few more options, but these tacos are a must have every trip. They’re magnificent.

Showers- Another horror story from last year. Luckily this year I have no horror stories to report in relation to the showers. I was prepared this year. I had a full change of clothes in my backpack the entire week, even when we weren’t showering. I found a working shower with a shower head, I tested the water, I didn’t squirt shampoo into my mouth, and I had an actually pleasant experience in the shower. I got to use the hot water and I got to clean myself and it was actually awesome. Just for kicks, I found stall #5 and looked into it as if it were a respected enemy. My old nemesis, shower stall #5, we meet again.

San Diego- So we left on Friday morning, and the car ride back was just as uncomfortable, but the line at the border was incredibly short in comparison to how it usually is. One hour wait instead of a 3 hour wait. We chilled at La Jolla for a while. I went rock climbing without slicing my hand open, I swam out to some other rocks with some other team members (even though it was through super thick and disgusting and slightly terrifying seaweed). I sun bathed for an hour or so, though I didn’t get to unleash seagulls on anybody this year unfortunately. Man, that still cracks me up. I made a trail of bread up to a team member while she was sleeping and at least six seagulls like swarmed her eventually and I just about died laughing as she was flocked by seagulls. It was mean, I admit, but dang it was funny. Anyway, the hotel we stayed in was super nice (the Wyndham) and it was right on the ocean by the docks. Or marina or whatever it’s called that has all the aircraft carriers and other boats and stuff. We walked around seaport village forever and eventually had a nice dinner and I got a $10 ice cream cone at Ben and Jerry’s that was the bomb diggity. Then I went home with some others, watched a weird game show thing about deciding whether to keep money or give it to the other family, who also has money to keep or give away. I took a nice shower in the hotel room and went to bed. The next morning we flew home, and I completed two crossword puzzles with the youth leader who I sat next to.

Alright, well, I don’t have many other events to talk about, so I guess I’ll just include a quick “Misc.” section. Last year I don’t think I used the restroom once, this year I had many EBMs (Explosive Bowel Movements). Yes, you did have to know that. The three you-know-whos from last year doubled to six this year, and they found a new catchphrase: “cebolla” which means “onion” in Spanish. Don’t ask me why that happened, but the wrote it in the dust on the cars, they yelled it all the time, they even got the Mexican kids yelling it all the time while playing 9 square in the air. A Montrose girl had this giant blob of melted gummy bears that consolidated into one giant conglomeration of gummy blobness. It was disgusting, but oddly satisfying to play with, and freaking delicious. It was SO sticky and warm and looked like a giant blob of rainbow snot. But I loved it.

I won a shirt for answering a trivia question. I won a game of “Prince of the Palace” even though I really hate that game. We went to the pastor’s house for lunch one day and had fish tacos. I hate fish, but I ate one to be polite.

We had a totally kick butt dance party on the way home from the church one day, most people in the car danced for a solid 30-45 minutes. Others selectively danced. I video taped a car ride sing along to “Shut Up and Dance.” I ended up making a tier list for the six youngins detailing who was most tolerable, which they strangely enjoyed knowing. It was something I wanted to keep to myself and probably shouldn’t have had, but alas, it existed in my head and now it is widely known who my “favorites” are.

So now I think I’ve covered everything that really needs to be covered as far as events go, but now I’m going to run over some important feelings about the trip and other observations and motivations and things of that nature.

The first thing I want to point out that I am not intending to be critical, rather I am relaying my experience and how the trip could have been improved. Firstly, this year’s planning felt very disorganized in a couple ways. I didn’t know all of who was going on the trip until the day we left. We paired with another church who had their own plans while we had our plans and we had some natural kinks there. The sports camp was horribly arranged the first day while we found our footing and it gradually got more on track. I know this sentiment has already been acknowledged, but the lesson part of the sports camp, where it connects the sports to Jesus, was very confusing and it felt to me ineffective. I felt as though we made a lot of mistakes that could’ve been avoided easily. But that’s okay. We found our footing and our tasks were completed, and some kids found Jesus along the way. It was a success in the end.

I think this is most important for me, and it’s what I shared on the first night after chapel. We were asked to share our biggest excitement and our biggest apprehension or fear. My excitement and fear were the same, and that was my expectations of how the trip would turn out. Last years trip was life changing and such a spiritual high and overall a fantastic time, and I went in there expecting the same, which was exciting, but my fear was that having those high standards would cause me to expect the same. I was worried going into it that I would be comparing it to the previous year and therefore limiting it and not letting the experience shape itself; that I would somehow make the trip worse by expecting it to be something it wouldn’t be. And I think my fear was met. This trip was a whole new ball game, and in some ways it feels like a disappointment. I didn’t have really a spiritual high this year. I wouldn’t call my experience life changing. Last year was a time of immense personal and spiritual growth for me, and I came expecting the same. I didn’t really get that same sort of growth. The chapel messages were awesome and fed me, but not quite to the life changing level that a particular one last year did. This year was simply different. I can’t think of a better way to say that. They’re apples and oranges, and I hesitate to say one trip was better than the other, because I think God used me in different ways each year. Last year was growth for me, this year was more about growing others. I don’t know. But now having gone through both trips, I just don’t feel that this trip was the same success that last year’s trip was. There were a lot of great moments that I’ll get to in a moment, but if I was forced to choose which trip I like better, I would say I’m far less enthusiastic about this year’s trip. I felt kind of let down by this trip.

All that isn’t to say that it wasn’t a good trip or that I didn’t do my best or any of that. I really believe I did what I was meant to do, and God used me to further his will. I think all of us were used, and I wouldn’t call this trip unsuccessful at all. I had a lot of positive moments on this trip. I got to see the translator again, and the new one who was awesome as well. I got to meet a bunch of new people from Montrose who are really amazing people that I’m glad I got to meet and befriend.

The chapels were wonderful. Playing 9 square in the air with the kids was a blast. I got to know some of the Montrose people and the new translator a little better while picking up trash in the neighborhood. In addition to making those friends, my highlight was the kids. I didn’t interact with the kids a ton last year, but this year was just amazing and inspiring. The play set we built was ALWAYS in use by somebody. The amount of joy that those kids had while playing on/with it was just inspiring. They were so happy. I remember I was always in demand to push the kids on the swings. One time I sat down on the swing and the two or three year old girl I was pushing, Yami, ran around the set smiling and giggling and then she just ran up to me and hugged my legs for at least thirty seconds. It was adorable and encouraging.

A boy named Jesus invited me into the play set on the second floor where the slide was, and I just played with him.

And to top it all off, I hardly speak any Spanish, and they just yammer away and will find another way to communicate with you. Poor Yami’s two front teeth are rotted out as well.

Jesus had two black dots in his front teeth where they were starting to decay and it kind of broke my heart that they didn’t have even a toothbrush and toothpaste. They’re no older than three and their teeth are falling out. But you know what? They were always smiling. Yami had two (freaking adorable) puppies she just carried around.

These kids were living in a virtual slum. It was poverty, but really I envied what they had. The dogs wandered around starving and miserable.

Even with nothing, these kids were joyful. That’s incredible. People equate money with happiness. Fortune equals fortunate. I so disagree. You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make you happy. Not truly. These kids were content playing with dirt and blocks of wood. A juice box was a luxury to them. I have difficulty being satisfied with my computer, a television, tons of other games, and a fully stocked fridge and pantry. That should speak volumes. When you have nothing, everything is valuable. When you have everything, nothing is valuable. Truly, it makes me appreciate what I have. And while they may be impoverished financially, we’re impoverished spiritually. Back to the positive stuff though, I also got to be with many of my friends, old and new, for a whole week. I got to see them at breakfast, at dinner, riding in the car, serving God together, and growing closer. I got to be pretty good friends with some of the Montrose team in only a week. We had an awesome dance party that you can’t help but feel happy while doing. The street tacos were amazing, the shower was refreshing. I took ~300 pictures and videos on the trip. The trip was not absent of good things.

I think I should mention that this trip really drained me though. Last year I came home and was sad it was over, I was on that spiritual high, and I was not really that tired. This year every day felt like a chore to wake up. I was sore and tired every day, and by the end of the week I was glad it was over. I slept when I got home in the middle of the day, when the year before I got home at like four in the morning and was still awake to do stuff. I’ve gotten pretty good at masking how tired I am, since I’ve had so much practice sucking it up and doing active things and being a little Energizer bunny, so it may not have appeared like I was super tired all day while in Mexico. I may have appeared downright giddy, and I probably was at some points, but underneath it all was shear exhaustion. It got to the point where I was counting down days until I would see my bed again, where I was excited to leave Mexico. I was just immensely tired on and after this trip.

Some people had the opportunity to go to a prison for ministry while we were out there. It was open to anyone over 18, and I think a few 17 year olds. Of the 7 eligible people from our group, I was the only person who didn’t want to go. We had to have one leader stay, so 2/7 didn’t go, but I’m sure the other leader wanted to go. From Montrose, I don’t know how many people could go, but essentially everyone who was eligible to go to the prison wanted to go to the prison and did go. Many of the younger kids wanted to go but couldn’t, and I didn’t want to. I just want to explain why I didn’t want to go to the prison. I know it would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to go inside a Mexican prison to play soccer (though I was told basketball) with inmates. Part of me did want to go for that experience, and the other part of me said I don’t want to play basketball. I thought about whether I wanted to go and whether I should go, but ultimately I decided against it. My reasoning behind it was that if I went in there not wanting to be there, I was going to be there for the wrong reason and I’d be wasting my time doing something I didn’t have my heart in. I’d rather be doing something else that I could enjoy. It was a tough call for me, but ultimately I came to the conclusion that my time would be most effective doing whatever needed to be done at the church, and that’s what I did. I do feel like I missed an opportunity, but the time was spent playing and bonding with kids, and that’s never a waste making a kid feel loved.

The last thing I want to talk about is a feeling of being wasted. No, not wasted like drunk or high, but not being used as much as I could have been. I really feel that I could’ve done more, and while I hesitate to cast “blame” elsewhere, I don’t believe it was entirely my fault. I wanted to do more, but frequently every job was taken except for picking up garbage. I’ve used saws a dozen times, I’ve used drills hundreds of times, I’ve measured wood and cut wood and all of the things necessary for building the stage, but I played no part in that. I only got to build about half the slide before I was taken away from it for some silly reason, and I had to watch other people finish what was, in my head, my job. It felt kind of like running half a marathon and then having someone come up to you half way and telling you to sit out while they finished the race and got the medal. I know it’s kind of petty, but it still bothers me. I started a job and I wanted to finish it and see it through to the end. I wasn’t seeking recognition from others as much as I wanted to feel useful. Building the slide felt like a special job cause it wasn’t a “last resort” job like picking up trash. It as hands on and team oriented and generally I just wanted to finish what I started. But everywhere else in regards to actual construction, I just felt unappreciated. People who don’t know the difference between a screw and a nail were getting to use the drills and saws while I was out picking up dirty diapers or fast food bags. I know in my head that it probably wasn’t intentional, but I had a rough time not taking it personally. Nobody looks at me and thinks I have any knowledge of construction work. Nobody would guess I’ve operated the table saws and circular saws. Nobody would guess that I know how to use a drill, change bits, switch to reverse, what each bit does or any of that. People who do construction look tough and look real strong, and this scrawny little kid couldn’t possibly have ever touched a power tool, and if he did, it would probably be too hard for him to use. That’s what was going through my head. Again, I’m probably taking it way too personally, but I can’t help what my brain does or how I react to things, I can only control whether I outwardly express those reactions. And I’m actually really upset about that because I feel wasted. I bring useful skills to the table in regards to that area, and never once did I get to use them, and part of me just feels likes it may have to do with my outward appearance, which is a touchy subject for me. I know I need to be glad that everything was accomplished and God was glorified through it and will continue to be glorified through it, and I am. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed and frustrated. I’m only human after all.

Overall, the trip wasn’t as good for me as last year’s trip, but I think it was just as good for God, and that’s what should really be important. We did good work down there that I’m proud of. I won’t remember this as a life changing experience, but it won’t fade away from my memory any time soon. I enjoyed this trip a lot, and I’m grateful I got to experience it with people I care about. I have a ton of great photos from the trip, and I really did have a blast, it just wasn’t the same. That’s all I have to say I think. I can’t think of anything else I forgot to include, so I’m calling it good.

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