Gracias a Dios!

I’ve been meaning to publish this post for awhile, but the truth is that coming back from a short-term mission trip is hard. It’s difficult to transition to “normal life” after a week packed with purposeful work and so many new, profound experiences. Especially during the first few days back in Sioux Falls, I had a constant urge to pack up my belongings and return to Mexico. I pray that God gives me the opportunity to build for Casas again, but in the meantime, I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who made the Juarez trip possible.


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Team 5 at a scenic overlook in Juarez after finishing Maria Luisa’s new home.

Three weeks ago, myself and 121 other members of The Ransom Church traveled to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to build houses for families in need through Casas por Cristo. In less than four days, God used us to build 10 houses for 10 Juarez families to celebrate The Ransom’s 10th anniversary as a church.

I had never been on a mission trip prior to this year, nor had I any construction or Spanish-speaking skills. So, one can imagine my confusion back in January when I watched a Casas por Cristo video before a Sunday service and felt God calling me to Juarez.

Really, God? Me? I thought. Are you sure you picked the right person?

Nevertheless, I signed up.

During the five-month period that followed, I lived for the little checkpoints: the first team meeting in February, every cookie dough sale I made, receiving my passport in the mail, watching a video about the family we’d be serving and finally worshipping the night before we left.

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The South Campus caravan (one third of the whole Ransom group). We were ready to get out of the wind and into those vans!

Soon enough, June 1st arrived. We loaded 10 14-passenger vans and four trailers, prayed as a group and began the 28-hour journey to Juarez.

During the drive, it didn’t actually feel like we were going to Mexico. Squeezing in white vans reminded me more of a cross country trip than anything else. Yet, rather than traveling for cross country, we were traveling across the country!

I slept on the floor of the van that night and ate far too many Kit Kats in the morning. Many of us were impatient, hangry and sweaty when we arrived at Casas por Cristo headquarters in El Paso.

And then we crossed the border.

A new energy overtook the van. We attentively looked out the window, hungry for a first glimpse of Mexico. We didn’t speak much; we mostly observed, passing the same American desert scrub but a different skyline. As we drove to the SHOC — the outreach center on the outskirts of Juarez — motivation and humility replaced my self-centeredness.

Fortunately, we arrived at the SHOC on Sunday afternoon but didn’t start building until Monday morning. Between dinner, devotional and worship, we rested, happy to finally land on solid ground.

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A banner hanging on the inside of the SHOC. Since the church’s launch 10 years ago, the Ransom has partnered with Casas por Cristo — even when Juarez was named the most dangerous city in the world in 2008-09.

The SHOC had everything we needed for the week: eight shower stalls and eight toilet stalls per gender, a large common space, four large bedrooms and a “hole in the wall” — manned by Casas staff — with snacks and other basic needs. We showered with cold water, which actually felt nice after long workdays in the Mexican heat. Living with no AC wasn’t bad either; being in a dry desert climate, Juarez gets cool at night.

Best of all, members of local Juarez churches served breakfast and dinner at the SHOC every day.

Of course, we didn’t travel all the way from Sioux Falls to Juarez just to eat authentic Mexican food. On Monday at 7:30 am, our 12-person team — plus our designated Casas staff member, Brendan — drove to the Juarez neighborhood in which we’d be building for the next four days.

When we arrived, Maria Luisa — the woman we were building for — greeted us at the fence in front of her property. Maria Luisa didn’t speak any English, so Jorge, one of our team members who grew up in Mexico City, translated throughout the week. Maria Luisa was a woman who knew heartbreak all too well, but demonstrated incredible love and gratitude despite her circumstances. Whenever we would thank her for her hospitality, she would respond “No, Gracias a Dios” and point to the sky.

 

After we met Maria Luisa, she left to help her sister prepare lunch for us. Though families usually only cook for the builders once during the week, Maria Luisa’s extended family served us lunch every day. Their love was abundant, delightfully overwhelming. I only hoped that by building the house, we could show a fraction of the love that they showed us.

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The leveled-out ground on Monday morning.

Still, the build wasn’t glamorous. Frequently, Satan preyed on my insecurities, trying to interfere with the construction. With my inaccuracy and lack of upper body strength, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to hammer a nail into a two-by-four on the first day. Every time I lifted my head to take a breather, I compared myself to the others, who hammered their nails in just five swings.

Suddenly, poisonous thoughts arose: You’re not strong. You’re slowing the team down. This team would be better without you. You’re not good enough.

Ironically, these were the same thoughts that, in the past, plagued my attitude towards running. A few minutes and several tears later, I realized that these weren’t simply thoughts; they were lies from Satan. God called me — not only to this trip, but to life itself — to use my spiritual gifts to glorify Him. Though my biceps were weak, hammering was only a small part of our mission. Dwelling on my lacking muscle mass only hindered the rest of my work. When I threw myself a pity party, I was no longer grateful, no longer loving, no longer encouraging.

Satan tells us we’re never enough. Jesus loves us in our imperfection and, through His sacrifice on a cross 2,000 years ago, eternally connects us to the one true God. And that is MORE than enough!

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Hammering a wall on day one.

I picked my hammer back up after lunch, not to prove my Wonder Woman strength but to continue working for God DESPITE my weaknesses.

And once I let go of my pride, I saw God actively working in Juarez.

God used the hands and feet of 122 people — of varying ages, fitness, construction skills and Spanish fluency — to build ten houses in four days. God transcended our language barrier and filled the whole worksite with His grace. God provided a place for neighbors, friends and former strangers to fall more deeply in love with Him.

Without a focus on Christ, the build could become monotonous. But, when we continually recognize God’s role in the mundane, we see how great He truly is.

For example, stuccoing the outside of the house was a tedious, messy process that required a lot of trial and error. However, applying stucco might have been my favorite task that week. One of the pastors and at least six neighbors helped, significantly speeding up the process. They worked humbly, enthusiastically and without complaining — an attitude that proved contagious. Justine, another one of our team members, brought her speaker to the work site and blasted Spanish worship music. When the Spanish version of the song “The Great I Am” played, the local pastor and I were stuccoing the same wall. Simultaneously, the two of us sang the lyrics under our breath in our respective languages. Truly, God is the same God in all languages; we may speak differently, but we praise the same Heavenly Father.

In four days, God turned barren land into a sturdy home. After we tested the electricity and installed the last piece of drywall, we formally dedicated the house to Maria Luisa.

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At the dedication, expressing our gratitude for Christ and for each other.

With Jorge as our translator, the dedication began. During the event, we stood in a circle as two local pastors — who are still working alongside the family today — read a passage from Romans and spoke about their growing relationship with Maria Luisa. Our team, Maria Luisa, family members and pastors all expressed gratitude for the work and the love that was shown during the week. Together, we gifted a Bible, hammered a plaque above the door and handed Maria Luisa the keys to the house.

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Jorge opening the door for Maria Luisa.

After Maria Luisa stood in the common space for a moment, taking it all in, we all gathered inside, lay hands on each other and prayed — all speaking at once, as is the custom in Mexico and many other Latin American countries.

Then we ate lunch, exchanged final goodbyes and left the site. Admittedly, it was weird, knowing we wouldn’t be waking up at the crack of dawn the next day and doing it all over again. And it’s still a little weird now, writing about this experience at 12:40 am in my dorm room from thousands of miles away.

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Builders, pastors, family and friends in front of Maria Luisa’s new home.

Key to the post-missions process, I have discovered, is releasing control — and being okay with it. I cannot be in Juarez right at this moment, and that is okay. Others — not I — are continuing to minister to the neighborhood, and that is okay. I’m now in a spiritual season of rest and waiting, and that’s okay.

The most powerful thing I can do now is persistently pray.

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The Casas staff and all 122 people from the Ransom Church at a scenic overlook in Juarez.

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