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Project Mexico Mission Trip
By Father Howard Sloan

In June of 2000, a small delegation of four individuals from St.Luke's Orthodox Church arrived in San Diego, California to spend one week of their lives on a mission trip in Mexico. Our group included Angela Doss, Jason Homiak, Luke Sloan and myself. Upon arriving, our delegation joined with others from California, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and Canada who came to work as a team to build a home for a needy family in Mexico.

The mission is called Project Mexico, which is an outreach of Orthodox Christians who volunteer their time and efforts to build home for Mexico's poor. Since its founding in the early 1990's, over 3,500 Orthodox young people and adults have come together to serve on a Project Mexico team. The outreach includes St. Innocent Orphanage and Mission Church in Tijuana, Mexico. The orphanage served as our home base for the week as each of us moved our belongings into a canvas tent on their grounds.

Margaret and Gregory Yova founded St. Innocent Orphanage and Mission Church. Their vision has resulted in a home for young boys who would otherwise be left to fend for themselves on the streets of Tijuana. The orphanage provides a loving, Christian environment for up to twenty-five boys. The boys are not required to become Orthodox, but they do receive Orthodox guidance and instruction in the Faith. In addition to housing, food, clothing and medical care, each boy completes high school, is provided with vocational skills, and receives social and cultural training.

Upon our arrival at the orphanage, the mission team assembled and began introducing themselves. We also received a briefing on Project Mexico and the Mission Center. We were asked to share our expectations for the week and what led each of us to come to Mexico. We were then assigned to individual teams, which would govern work assignments a tthe orphanage and at the construction site. We were all workers who were expected to help load trucks, sweep floors, clean the bathhouse, and assorted other duties while a guest at the orphanage.

Each day began at 7:30 am in the chapel for morning prayers. Following prayers, each left to have quiet time where we could spend approximately 30 minutes in private prayer and contemplation. Everyone was provided a "prayer journal" where you could record your thoughts or keep a personal diary of your daily life while on mission. Breakfast was called with the ringing of the church bell. The menu routinely consisted of rice, beans, fruit and tortillas. Following breakfast, each team went about completing their assigned morning chores. We then loaded into vehicles to travel to the home site.

The menu routinely consisted of rice, beans, fruit and tortillas.

The Project Mexico staff is responsible for selecting the family whose house we are to build. We were informed that prospective families must apply to Project Mexico and own the property on which the house is to be built. The successful family is then selected entirely on need. At our orientation, the team was informed that we were building a house for a husband and wife with four children. The family had been living in an old taxicab. Two of the children were forced to move 1500 kilometers away with other relatives due to lack of living arrangements.

The Mexican government sells individual tracts of land in "colonnades" which are rural areas surrounding Tijuana on steep hillsides with no utilities or paved roads. It is hard for most of us to imagine living in an area without electricity, water, sanitary sewers, telephones or fuel to heat our homes. Yet, this is how Mexico's poor live. In addition, the colonnades have no storm sewers, garbage pick-up or mail delivery. The dirt paths traveled in and out of these areas literally become the public roads for accessing their homesites.

Mexican law requires the individuals who purchase the lot, live on the property within 15 months or the property reverts back to the government and may be resold. The people, therefore, are forced to live in whatever is available to protect their lot. The lots are no more than postage stamps compared to the neighborhoods we live in. The infant mortality rate is quite high due to the living conditions of the population. The fact that the children must sleep on dirt floors and contend with poor sanitation dramatically impacts health.

The house we are to build will have a concrete slab floor, stucco walls, two windows, a framed asphalt shingled roof and a door with a lock. As I looked about the colonnade, I realized that our work was about to greatly improve the lives of Arnoldo, Candalaria, and their children! Our faith may have drawn us together in Mexico, but now it was about to be translated into wood and concrete, which forevermore changed the quality of life for one family.

Prior to beginning work at the site, a prayer is offered. The first workday consists of hand grading the lot with pick and shovel. Once the house site was level, we then formed the floor area for the placing of the concrete slab. Lunch was served at the site and consisted of peanut butter sandwiches and fruit. Water was brought each day from the orphanage for our consumption. Following lunch, we mixed the concrete on site with the aid of a small gas powered machine. The Project Mexico staff made arrangements to have four (4) 55-gallon drums of wate rbrought to the site as well as sand and stone for mixing the concrete. All work was done by hand including the wheel barrowing of the concrete mix. We completed the placing of the floor by 4:00 pm. Everyone was physically spent and appreciated returning to the orphanage hot showers.

Dinner was served around 6:30 pm. Once again, the chapel bell called us to table. A prayer was always offered prior to eating. Dinner routinely included beans, rice, a vegetable, tortillas and fruit. Following dinner, we would interact with the boys from the orphanage, playing soccer, volleyball or just enjoying one another's company. We would gather for evening prayers at chapel at around 9:00 pm.

I was privileged to address the family at the end of the service and present them with a Bible.

The second day we completed the framing of the house including the installation of the roof. The third work day we shingled the roof and installed the windows, doors and wired backed paper on the outside walls, which would be stuccoed. On the final weekday, we stuccoed the entire house. The stucco was mixed by hand. The sand for the mix had to be hand sifted through screens prior to mixing with a lye compound and water. All mixing was done by hand since electricity is not available. In addition, the Project Mexico staff said they found it important to use the construction methods common to the area. The people in the colonnades could more easily identify with their North American friends when we followed their practices.

Upon completing the house, there was a uniform sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with our team. The house was 12' wide by 24' long and consisted of two rooms. But compared to others in the colonnade, it was a significant improvement.

The most meaningful and spiritually moving time of the week was about to take place. The house was to be blessed and the keys turned over to Arnoldo and Candalaria. Father Patrick Kinder from Wisconsin and myself were asked to perform the house blessing. All gathered in the small house including the family and their relatives from Tijuana. I was privileged to address the family at the end of the service and present them with a Bible. I also was able to explain the meaning of the house blessing and the protection afforded by God to all his people. Margaret Yova who was on hand to witness the blessing and presentation of the keys translated my words.

Following the service, Arnoldo invited the Project Mexico team to remain at his new home so he and his family could serve us lemonade and fresh fruit. We learned from staff that this was a very generous gift from the family since the cost of the fruit was the equivalent of one week's wages for Arnoldo who worked as a cab driver in the neighboring town of Rosarita. Arnoldo, who is 39 years old, informed a staff member that his family had never lived in a house. This would be their first!

Everyone who participated in the Project Mexico mission trip was truly blessed. I would like to thank St. Luke's Church for their support in this most rewarding outreach. I further recommend every teen and interested adult consider going on a mission trip. The experience may be one of the most rewarding in your life in Christ. You will have the rare opportunity to see your work directly impact the quality of life of others as a result of your faith.

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