San Carlos: A Few Quick Words

January 19, 2010

Today was our last workday in San Carlos Arizona on the Apache Reservation. We work with a public high school from Santa Barbara. This was Amor’s first building project in San Carlos and we already have over 200 people registered for later this year!

Just a few quick highlights:
A father shared, while holding back tears, a prayer of blessing and thanks at the end of the workday today. We all stood in silence as he prayed in Apache and then translated for us what he had prayed for. I could help but tear up with him as he shared his heart before we all enjoyed the meal his family and another family we built for had prepared for us.

I had the privilege of sitting around the table during some vision-sharing conversations throughout the week. I see so much potential for Amor to be used as one piece of a great network of opportunities for volunteer work, employment, and countless lives being changed here in San Carlos, AZ!

I was blessed to have the opportunity to come on this first Amor San Carlos trip and work along side so many faithful servants of the Lord. From my Amor Teammates, to the Arizona Reservation Ministries family, to Dan from the Santa Barbara multi-media academy.

More to come soon!

Passing Thoughts in Peñasco

November 18, 2009

Today I got a day off after working with 11 groups the past week. 11 more families have a place to stay out of the weather with a floor beneath their feet! I shed some tears this week as I saw the grace of God poured so richly out upon receiving families and group members alike. God loves us so much. It is incredible how he blesses us when admit that we need Him.

My next two days will be spent reflecting on the past week and looking to the future for what God has in store for me. I am praying for direction and continued strength. God is Good!

Here is a link to a story from one of the groups I worked with!
http://seeinghimknowinghimamothersjourney.blogspot.com/2009/11/mexico-missions-tripbeauty.html

Finding Family in Far Away Places: The Story of the Barrasa Alvarez Tigard Family

October 1, 2009

As I looked down the thirty-foot slope of dirt and rock, I saw six-year-old Casandra looking up at me from the doorway of her families two month old home. I waved with a grin on my face. “Hola!” I said. She smiled and her eyes widened as she scrambled inside to get her mother. I was greeted at the front door with a big hug from Maria. She has a way of smiling with her whole face, full of love. Excited, Maria invited us in to see what she had done with her home.

Jose and Maria’s beautiful double house custom built with a step down slab to accommodate for a large, immovable stone.

Jose and Maria’s beautiful double house custom built with a step down slab to accommodate for a large, immovable stone.

The week of July 20th, I had the blessing of leading an eager crew from Tigard Christian Church in Tigard, Oregon up the rough and windy, dirt road to Jose and Maria Barrasa Alvarez’s property in the community of Colinas del Florido. They live on the east side of Tijuana out in the hills near the Amor Ministries main camp. We would be building a double house (22’x22’) for their family of five who were currently living in a one-room plywood shack. Their little stove was about one foot away from Jose and Maria’s bed, and every time it rained, water would wash down the steep hill that their property is on, under their walls, and across the dirt and rock floor of their home. Not an ideal place to raise three children of 14, six, and five years of age.

From the road where we parked our vehicles, their existing structure was about 100 feet up a precarious slope of dirt and small stones. Further up the hill was a flat area that Jose built to accommodate there new home. Because of the grade of their property, Jose had to build a wall that was approximately ten feet tall out of stones that he broke out of the mountain with a sledge and steel rod. He told me it took him six months to build the wall by himself and that his family had been waiting about eight months or so to receive an Amor house.The next four days were characterized by hard work, patience, and lots of quality-time shared by the family and the Tigard crew. Helping me that week was Linz Snyder, a Nexus intern, who led the way in befriending and engaging the Barrasa Alvarez family.

This is the system we created to move all of our sand and gravel down the 30 foot slope on slab day! Just one of the obstacles we overcame that week. I called it the via rapida after a road in TJ.

This is the system we created to move all of our sand and gravel down the 30 foot slope on slab day! Just one of the obstacles we overcame that week. I called it the via rapida after a road in TJ.

On the first day, we spent hours trying to break stones that were elevating the back edge of the form. We ended the day with half of the slab poured and the second half of the form not quite finished. We ended up deciding to pour the second half of the slab one and one-half inch higher because we couldn’t remove one large stone no matter how hard we tried. That was one of those frustrating, “I wish we would have thought of that earlier” moments.

After having a big set back on day one, nobody panicked. Tigard’s trip leader, Matt Rader, is the reason why. He led with a calm consistent drive. He didn’t push too hard and let everyone get the rest they needed, but he also didn’t let people get disengaged. If kids from the group were spending time with the family or other neighborhood kids, he let them, knowing the importance of building relationships.

By day four, the house was finished with time to spare. We were able to celebrate Cristian’s birthday with a piñata, balloon animals, and face painting before finishing the second coat of stucco later that afternoon. It was clear to me that the Holy Spirit was at work in every individual on that worksite. The joy and bonding that occurred in those four days are a testament to that.

When it was time to leave, the group had a key ceremony where they gave their blessings and presented the keys as well as other gifts that they brought from Oregon to make the house more of a home. Maria wept tears of joy as did I, Jose, Matt, Linz, and most of the group. Before we left, Maria made sure that each of us wrote our names on the wall studs in her home so she could remember us all.

Six weeks later, after receiving a photo-book that documented the build week made by Kathy Veerhuizen, one of the mothers from the Tigard group, I returned to deliver the gift with my dad, and Katie Haar. The three of us were on a mission to take professional-quality photos that Amor could use for marketing, advertising and other design needs. My dad was serving as the photographer, Katie (former Amor Team Member) was serving as our interpreter, and I was the driver. We ended up spending almost two hours chatting and laughing together with Maria and her children.

Casandra and Cristian showing off their books for the camera while they sit on their mother’s new bed that was given to them by a neighbor after their new home was completed.

Casandra and Cristian showing off their books for the camera while they sit on their mother’s new bed that was given to them by a neighbor after their new home was completed.

Maria shared with us that everything in her new home was given to her family as gifts since I had last seen her! They had been given beds, tables, a stove, chairs, a stereo that Erik has in his room, and even a big bag full of meat and other food that lasted them for several days! She also said that she has had many people, strangers who were passing by on the road, come to tell her how beautiful her house is. Maria’s face glowed as she shared these praises with us, giving all the glory to God. Before we left, Jose was able to come home and join our little reunion. We took some photos of the whole family and hugs were given all around as we left.

Matt Rader, me, and Linz: Los jefes de la semàna.

Matt Rader, me, and Linz: Los jefes de la semàna.

I am amazed at how God works in our lives. Jose and Maria are a shining example of the Lord providing for those He loves. Matthew 6:25-34 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Maria and Jose stand proudly with their three children, Erik age 14, Cristian age 5, and Casandra age 6, at their back door that overlooks the beautiful landscape below their colonia.

Maria and Jose stand proudly with their three children, Erik age 14, Cristian age 5, and Casandra age 6, at their back door that overlooks the beautiful landscape below their colonia.

I see now, after nine months with Amor, that this is what our ministry is really about: building relationships through acts of love. This family was already involved at their local church and they knew very deeply that it was because God loves them that He sent a group of strangers down from Oregon to their hillside in Tijuana to help them build their new home and become part of their family. Though not every group and family become so close, the underlying truth remains whether or not anyone acknowledges it; God loves us all more than we can understand. I love the way Amor Ministries understands this and creates opportunities for us to work out God’s love for us in our lives in a tangible way… by building homes, providing water filters, backpacks, school supplies, and food to those in need. Amen.

Sweet Times With Sugarloaf

June 8, 2009

I recently returned from a trip with a great group from a youth group from Duluth, Georgia called Sugarloaf United Methodist. They had a group of 22 and built two single houses for families who’s bios were from 2008. The groups consisted of 5 adults and a majority of incomming high school freshman and sophomores. Because they were my only group for the week, I spent all of my time with them durring ther work day and ate breakfast lunch and dinner with them as well. It was so easy to become a part of their group. Aaron, the organizer and youth pastor was great. He has been on several trips and was a pleasure to serve. He did a great great job of leading his group through devotions in the morning and evenings, as well as on the worksites.

Usually when scheduling groups we recommend 15 or more on a worksite, but the kids from Sugarloaf had no problem doing a beautifu job on their homes with 11 per site. They worked hard and with focus, which can be especially difficult for high school boys. I made several great relationships with the kids and leaders as I served alongside them. I was very proud of them all by the end of the week for not only doing a great job on the houses they built, but for the way they got to know and enjoyed time with the families they were building for. It was great to see the children working, dancing and playing sports together throughout the week.

On our last evening together, several members form the group prayed for me and for Amor Ministries. I didn’t qiute shed a tear but my eyes got a little misty. After that we played some games and I got a big group hug before everyone got in their vehicles the next morning. I’m gonna’ miss them.

Standing Ovation

May 18, 2009

When I arrived with Chapel Hill Presbyterian from Gig Harbor, Washington this morning in Lomas de Pedregal, there were about thirty to forty people from the community waiting in the street. Chapel Hill brought 65 men with them to build 7 houses. We were in a caravan of 8 vans and there wasn’t much space for us to park up on the hill.

As we pulled up I recognized several people from the families who would be receiving homes from Chapel Hill among the crowd. I began to wave while I was still a few houses away from the little coldesack where 6 of the 7 sites were. When the crowd realized that we were there to build homes people began to cheer and applaud! I think there were people from the community gathered to speak with someone from the gov’t in a meeting. Either way, there were about 40 men women and children cheering couple minutes as we parked got out of our cars!

I can’t explain how encouraging it was to me. It was awesome to see Gig Harbor get the kind of welcome that I know all of us at Amor would like to give to our groups this year. The weekend was a great success and Chapel Hill even picked up some work on their third build day on some unfinished homes in the neighborhood. God is good.

The Spring Swing: Baja Builds

May 11, 2009
Luis was quite the chef. He and his wife made our group chicken mole on Easter for lunch with beans, rice, and tortillas. The next day, he left work early to make fish and shrimp tacos for us for lunch! He and his family we so warm and generous. It was very humbling and encouraging to get the opportunity to serve them.

Luis was quite the chef. He and his wife made our group chicken mole on Easter for lunch with beans, rice, and tortillas. The next day, he left work early to make fish and shrimp tacos for us for lunch! He and his family we so warm and generous. It was very humbling and encouraging to get the opportunity to serve them.

This spring I spent all of my time in Amor’s main camp in Valle Redondo, which is a neighborhood on the eastern edge of Tijuana. Spring is the busiest time at Amor, as we have many groups who spend their spring breaks and Easter vacations building a home for a family. As the spring approached this year, we faced many challenges.

The news in the U.S. had been hyping the drug cartel violence in Mexico since the fall and, though there were increasingly fewer incidents, they continued to run old stories and instill fear of traveling south of the border. This put many of our groups in difficult situations, which resulted in several cancellations in the weeks leading up to the spring. Though we ended up with about half the attendance of a normal spring, we remained thankful for all the families that were served and encouraged by each group that came to build regardless.

In response to the climate of fear, we increased our efforts to limit risk factors Amor provided people to lead groups to and from the worksites, grocery stores, and to the border. This required an extra effort by everyone at Amor, including those in the office. The result was great! We pulled together as a team, and we are still receiving great feedback from our groups! On top of that, crime in Mexico for the spring quarter was reported to have dropped 80 percent from the previous quarter, which I see as a direct answer to prayer!

Though I had a light load, I can say that each group that came down was clearly called by God to come and was a huge blessing to me and the families for whom they built homes. Many groups shared that they faced considerable opposition form insurance companies, fearfulness and lack of funds, but God still delivered them to Mexico!

Now that the spring rush is over, Amor still faces similar challenges for the summer. Our pastors and the Amor staff are doing all we can to best serve the families we plan to build for and the groups who we will be hosting. Please pray for God to continue to reveal Himself to us as His plans for Amor and us as individuals continue to unfold.

On the Gulf: Puerto Peñasco

May 11, 2009
I had two groups build separate single houses for Anastacio’s family, one in February and one in March, because we had no groups to build him a double. He makes hammocks (like the gift I have in my hand) and ceramic turtles that he sells at the beach in Puerto Peñasco.

I had two groups build separate single houses for Anastacio’s family, one in February and one in March, because we had no groups to build him a double. He makes hammocks (like the gift I have in my hand) and ceramic turtles that he sells at the beach in Puerto Peñasco.

Where: Puerto Peñasco is on the coast of the northeast tip of the Sea of Cortez (or the Gulf of California).

The Vibe: Puerto Peñasco is a popular tourist destination for U.S. citizens, which is very obvious when you visit. The pace of the city is noticeably slower than in Tijuana and there is lots of open, flat, sandy space.

Amor’s Presence: Since 1994, Amor has completed just under 1000 structures in Puerto Peñasco.

My Angle: Amor traditionally has gone on two trips to Peñasco each year, one in February and one in November. This year, Amor opened Peñasco up for a few weeks in the spring as well, as we are planning on being full-time in Puerto Peñasco in the near future. My first trip was in February where I had seven single houses and one double. These were the first houses that I led by myself. Before that, I had done some builds while shadowing other team members in Baja, so I was very excited to have my own groups!

This was my first chance to test-drive what Spanish I had picked up since January as I went to preview my worksites before my groups arrived. It was such a blessing to visit the families in my blue work shirt and tell them that in two days a group would begin to work on their house. I can’t describe the joy I saw in their eyes and the relief they must have felt after waiting for their new homes.

I learned a lot with my groups as well. The hardest thing for me was trying to remember all the little details about the house-building process. How many tambos of water does the family need to have for a double house? What is the best way to hang a door? What is the ratio of sand to cement for the first and second coats of stucco? Fortunately I had several awesome team members out in the field with me who were happy to pass on such necessary information! Another thing I learned was how to take a deep breath before I called someone on the radios for just such an occasion! In the end, all my groups finished their projects and many families were blessed!

Beautiful chapel built on an existing block wall for a rehab center in Puerto Peñasco.

Beautiful chapel built on an existing block wall for a rehab center in Puerto Peñasco.

On my second trip to Peñasco in March I felt very at home. This time it was just Jonathan (Puerto Peñasco Field Manager/ Field Specialist) and I working with groups. I was definitely still trying to remember all of the many details about the process, but I felt that I was able to focus more on trying to be more helpful and involved with my groups. On this trip, I had six singles, two double houses and a double with a beam, which was a chapel for a rehab center. I felt comfortable with the little Spanish that I knew, as I had more practice since my first trip, and I spent much less time looking at my GPS too! I can’t wait until the next trip to the gulf!

God Stuff: Looking back it is so apparent that God had His hands all over what went on in Puerto Peñasco. I started several new relationships with our camp caretakers (locals from Peñasco), families, pastors, and groups that I look forward to pursuing. In addition, in spite of the economy and the negative press about the violence in Mexico, groups still came. Houses were built. Families from the U.S. and Mexico wept together. Lives were changed and God was glorified! Prasie God!

New City. New Job. New Perspective.

May 11, 2009

God is good. This is why: In October, I was let go from a great job as a graphic designer. In November I was invited by my friend Hank to go with him to volunteer in Mexico with Amor Ministries. After I returned home, I felt God calling me to work for Amor and applied for the position the next day. Once I got the job, I found a great apartment a few blocks from my cousin Jeff in one day. My apartment manager is a strong Christian who used to live in Mexico and has a friend who used to work for Amor. My apartment is within walking distance from the church where I have decided to become a member of. Though I left my job in graphic design, I am now doing much needed design work for Amor. I’ve been praying the past few years about becoming a missionary abroad and now here I am! That is only the short list of confirmations that God is at work in my life! After four months with Amor, I feel that I am adjusting well.

Moving to a new city has been great. San Diego is a beautiful place to live. I live in a studio apartment with no TV or internet, and I really enjoy having the space to pray, think and read in solitude. I have never lived alone before, so it was a little lonely at first, though I’ve reconnected with a couple of friends from high school and college. I definitely miss my church in Anaheim and being near to many friends and family, but I know that God asks us to sacrifice things in order that He might establish something greater.

This is definitely what He did with my job situation. I love working with Amor! I am able to act on my desire to be involved in ministry and serve in Mexico with groups while still keeping sharp as a designer. I have had the pleasure of leading many incredible groups from around the country who have been a great blessing to me and to the families for whom they built homes. It has been incredibly uplifting to work with so many awesome individuals who truly love God. At times, it almost seems too good to be true!

An interesting part of my job is going around to families homes before my groups arrive, verifying that we have all the materials there as I take a look at where the house is to be built. When I started with Amor I had no Spanish, having studied Japanese for two years in high school. It is rare for the families I visit to speak English and it is very humbling for me. Growing up I often heard people say things like, “How can someone work/live in this country and not speak the language?” and I have even asked the same question. Yet now I find myself working in a country where I barely speak the language.
As I look ahead, I pray that the Lord will continue to change add to my perspective and challenge my mind, heart, and body.