Five Hours South of the Border – Homeward Bound

20161225_095614At the end of the epic trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Frodo, the main character, says the following as he reflects upon the challenge of going home after a life changing event:

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”

I now understand why those involved in humanitarian projects seem to return over and over again. For Ramon and Jenni, this was their third trip to San Quintin. For us, it was our first.

Going forward,  it is hard for us to imagine a Christmas where we are not serving at the level we did on this great experience. When compared to many of the other fantastic organizations that do so much good in the world, the scope and impact of our meager contribution can be easily diminished.

No one’s bodies were healed.

No one’s car was repaired.

No one got a new home.

But we waste too much time comparing ourselves and our contributions to others.

The miracle of this San Quintin experience was that, for one brief shining moment, a group of 27 people from different backgrounds and experiences was able to give of themselves. Yes, it required each one to stretch a bit and to leave behind their comfort zones. But we did it!

Maybe the lives of those we touched will be changed, maybe not. But I am convinced the lives of those who participated were greatly enriched by the opportunity to serve. 

bethesdaAs Christ said:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Thank you, Ramon and Jenni for providing us this wonderful opportunity to serve. Thank you to the kind and great people with which we had with pleasure to serve.  

All this, just five hours south of the border.

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Five Hours South of the Border – The Orphanage

ramon-44The final event in this wonderful humanitarian project was a visit to the orphanage. To be clear, this is not a decrepit, aging Romanian orphanage where the starving children are chained to their beds. In fact, quite the opposite.

The Mexican government assists the orphans by finding foster families that will make sure each child is properly clothed, sheltered, and fed. So, none of the children actually live onsite. Rather, the facility is a place for education, gathering, and to spell the families fostering the children.

When their sponsoring humanitarian organization comes to serve, they focus almost exclusively on the upkeep and maintenance of the facility and have little or no interaction with the children.

20161227_141700Ramon and Jenni geared their contribution solely towards the children. They provide the children a party filled with balloons, interactive games, some gifts, and, most important, an abundance of ice cream. Ice cream is a treat they rarely, if ever, experience.

This party is a huge hit for all 80+ children serviced by the orphanage.

Because of a prior commitment, Karen, Meagan, and I had to leave early Tuesday morning and were unable to participate at the orphanage.

ramon-45But as we were driving north, Ramon texted us pictures of the children with balloons, group members blowing bubbles, the unlimited ice cream, and, most important to Karen, the extreme excitement of each child when they were able to pick out their own book – a book they could keep.

Ramon explained that they laid out the books like a book fair at one of our elementary schools. Each child carefully reviewed the title and contents of the books and chose the one they liked the best.

12-27-07As with the previous year, the party was a huge hit for the orphans and for our entire group. Because the children in our group were now beyond the barriers of language and culture, everyone had a fun time.

Communication was expressed by the heart, without words.

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To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Homeward Bound

Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive Part III

20161226_163155When we arrived back at the campground, we loaded up the cars and broke into two groups. Each group included some Spanish speakers and either Ramon or Caleb who knew where we were going.

Our group included the Halls, Edwards, Meagan, Caleb, Karen, and me.

Our strategy was simple:

  1. 20161226_165019Locate homes that looked extremely poor. (They are easy to detect.)
  2. Look for children playing outside.
  3. Break the ice by giving children candy (yeah, it sounds suspicious).
  4. Ask the children to get one or both of their parents.

Once a parent came out, our Spanish speakers explained that we were from a local church and we wanted to provide them a late Christmas present of food and other items. If they were willing to accept our gift, we would retrieve the bucket and box from the car and present it to them.

We had no idea which houses we would visit. We simply drove around until someone in the car felt impressed stop.

It was an amazing experience. All but one family accepted our offer.

At one home, the family was outside cooking corn on the cob. They were extremely poor and willingly accepted our gifts. But they, too, wanted share.

20161226_165635In San Quintin, the locals cook corn on the cob and smother it with butter, mayonnaise, salsa, and cheese. Lee mentioned earlier that he wanted to try this local delicacy. Now he had his chance. The family gladly shared what little they had with him. We are not sure Lee liked it, but he politely ate it.

At one home, we met a young mom with two very young children. We explained what we were doing and the mother’s eyes filled with tears. She explained that her husband was working in the fields. They were both deeply concerned because they had no food in their home. She kept repeating: “God sent you! God sent you!”

20161226_165528This was an extremely moving experience for all involved.

At the next home where we stopped, another young mom explained that she was recently widowed  and was also struggling to keep her cupboard filled for her children. She, too, gladly accepted what we offered.

The other group had several similar experiences. This was Christian service at its best. We did not try to proselytize or expect anything in return.

We simply gave to those in need having no idea who they were.

With all but one set of food items delivered, our group made its way back to Jesus and Armando’s home. They had no idea we would return and were equally surprised that we came bearing gifts.

20161226_171512As it was now nearing sunset, all members of the family were home. But most important to Karen, she had a chance to not only say goodbye to Jesus, but to provide their family with gifts.

The family was quite surprised and Jesus was overjoyed.

We spent several minutes talking with the family. We encouraged them to continue to investigate the church. We can only hope that our several meetings and the pure love of Christ shown by all of our group would have a lasting, positive impression and help them think kindly about the church and its members.

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To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – The Orphanage

Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive: Part II

12-26-21Over the years, the Roberts had a handful of favorite places to eat in San Quintin. Their most favorite place was a small stand that only serves fish tacos. The owners are never sure what type of fish they will serve. They sink their nets in the ocean in the morning and serve up whatever they catch.

megan-013They typically catch small sharks, and the Roberts all love shark tacos. On this day, along with the sharks, they caught an octopus. So octopus tacos was added to the menu. No one was really impressed with octopus tacos.

Karen and I have an aversion to most fish. So we went off to our favorite taco shop just down the street. After we finished our lunch, we drove back to the fish taco stand to mingle with the rest of the group. To our surprise, sitting among our group, with a big plate of fish tacos, was Armando.

12-26-20He was walking by the taco shop and noticed the Roberts family. So he came in to visit. The Roberts insisted he stay and eat. Armando gladly accepted.

When Karen walked in, they both lit up with joy. Karen asked where Jesus was and Armando explained he was out in the fields working with his dad.

Karen noticed that Armando was shivering from cold, even though it was 65 degrees outside. The locals are not used to weather under 75 degrees, so they bundle up for snow when it reaches 65 degrees. Armando had no coat.

Karen gave him 50 pesos and told him to give it to his mom so he can get a coat. When he was done eating, Armando left in a flash without really saying goodbye. But that is the nature of young boys, we thought.

A few minutes later Armando returned to tell us his Grandma wanted us to come visit. He said she lived nearby and he would take us there.

So Armando got in our car. Justin and Lee followed us down into the muddy swamp to some unknown location.

When we arrived, we noticed that this was a very, very poor family. But they were happy to see us and very glad to be investigating the church. We visited for a few minutes but we had to get back to start our food delivery.

Karen said goodbye once again to Armando, but she already knew we would see him again. Karen arranged to set aside one set of food items to deliver to Armando’s family.

To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive: Part III

Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive Part I

12-26-01On Monday, we gathered at the campground to pool our money in preparation for the food drive. We arranged to meet at one of the markets in town.

To say we overwhelmed this small market is an understatement. We had 27 people pushing 20 carts through the narrow aisles.

The Mexicans looked at us with curiosity as we entered the store, but their curiosity changed to amazement as we filled each cart to overflowing.

Ramon had a list of the types and quantities of staples we could purchase that could help sustain a family for two months.

12-26-12We got 25:

  • Bottles of cleaning fluid
  • Bottles of dish soap
  • Bars of hand soap
  • Washcloths
  • Brooms
  • Cleaning buckets
  • Sponges
  • Bags of laundry detergent
  • Packages of toilet paper

12-26-01We got 25 bags of:

  • 12-26-08Rice
  • Flour
  • Corn tortilla flour
  • Sugar
  • Powdered milk
  • Chicken
  • Animal crackers (okay, not really a staple)

We got 50:

  • Bottles of cooking oil
  • Onions
  • Bunches of Cilantro
  • Cloves of garlic
  • Bunches of bananas
  • Bags of beans (pinto and black)

20161226_101117When we had collected all the items, we stood in line at a single cash register. Now we had an audience.

Some locals carefully watched the register’s screen as the cost of each item was tallied.

A handful of 10-12-year-old boys helped box and carry the items from the checkout line to the truck, for which we gladly tipped them.

12-26-16After about 30 minutes of ringing up our purchases, the grand total was $22,059.52 pesos ($1,131.26 dollars).

That comes to about $40 per family (we had also purchased items for the orphanage and the women’s shelter). It is amazing that $40 can supply a family for two months.

With the items purchased, and our cadre of young helpers amply paid, we went back to the campground to sort the foodstuffs into 25 piles.

12-26-36The younger children placed one or two of each item in the buckets and boxes we would use to deliver.

The older children made the necessary adjustments to the distribution of goods, as some of the younger children lost track of where they had put things.

While we were separating the items, Ramon and Caleb went out to discover a poorest part of town that had passable roads.

Before we loaded up the cars, we all headed into town for more tacos. This is when Jesus and Armando came back into the story.

12-26-17To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive: Part II

Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Dinners

12-25-06After the Christmas Sacrament meeting, the members file out of the chapel but no one wants to go home. Some are wearing clothing they received last night from our deliveries. The Branch President loads all the remaining bags of gifts in his truck and assures us they will all be delivered within a few hours.

The children, including most from our group, are all outside enjoying the welcome sun that has finally replaced the rain. They are playing tag or something that requires all to run around shrieking in excitement. By now, the American children have no problem mixing with the Mexicans.

We all drive back to the campground to enjoy our own potluck Christmas dinner. We had smoked pork Justin had prepared a few days prior to the trip. Along with that we had hot dogs, chips, rolls, and drinks. For dessert there were ample Christmas treats and three cakes.

12-25-08Two of the cakes were made by Sister Leti, a member of the branch who makes them for a living. They are Tres Leches cakes. There is no way to describe their heavenly taste except to say that if Tres Leches was manna from heaven, the Children of Israel would gladly have remained wandering in the wilderness forever. It was that good.

We also had a chocolate flan cake that Karen purchased the day before. That was also quite good.

12-25-12After we had all filled ourselves, Ramon announced that Sister Leti had invited the entire group to her relative’s house for Christmas dinner – great timing, Ramon.

So, after digesting for a few hours, most of us headed over for our second Christmas dinner. She was serving homemade tamales and tacos. Off to the side of the kitchen, there were people making tortillas. Meagan and Ramon headed over there to learn this craft.

ramon-27The food was great. But only after we ate the tacos did they tell us it was made from goat. I am not exactly sure what facial expression I made, but soon the whole household was laughing at me.

Being laughed at was one of my skills.

Sister Leti’s daughter, son-in-law, and new granddaughter were there as well. They were visiting from American Fork.

12-25-09This allowed me to exercise my greatest skill, holding a baby.

When we were done eating, we walked over to Sister Leti’s mother’s house where we sat and visited. This was the third year the Roberts spent Christmas in this home and they told hilarious stories of their previous experiences.

When it came time to leave, our several hosts invited us to come any time, Christmas or whenever, to visit. They were sincere. They loved to have us in their home in spite of the language barrier.

To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Food Drive: Part I

Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part III

20161224_161710With the tale of the broken cable behind us, we prepared to deliver the gifts. The members of the branch leadership helped us separate the bundles by area so that we could avoid having cars crisscrossing the city.

Our group consisted of our car and Justin’s. The cars were packed with large plastic bags for each of our families. We had two sisters from the branch in our car. They were a delight. Of course, I had no idea what they were saying, so I couldn’t understand the directions they were giving me.

Karen explained to them that I had no concept of right and left. So to avoid frustration, she told them to point the directions I should turn. The two sisters had quite a laugh that I was so directionally impaired. I am sure Karen added some commentary to this situation as the sisters could not stop laughing.

(Sometimes there are advantages to not knowing what is being said.)

20161224_161610We had a list of nine families. When we made a left turn off the main road onto an unpaved road, the sisters looked at the list again and explained that we would only be able to deliver to a few of the families for most of the roads were impassable.

At this point, one of the sisters asked Karen if we had dirt roads where we lived. Karen explained that dirt roads are quite rare and that most of our roads are paved. The two sisters could not comprehend this. To them, dirt roads are the norm and they were sure this was so all over the world.

20161224_161646When we arrived at our first home we had to park some distance away because the mud prohibited us from getting any closer.

We located the family’s gifts and trudged to their home. This was a very poor family. The concrete home had no windows and was shared by extended family members. The single dull light bulb did very little to illuminate the home.

In spite of these humble circumstances, they invited us in and were so appreciative of our many gifts. The children were elated.

Karen was in charge of explaining to the family why we were bring them gifts. She was choked with emotion as she tried to explain that Christmas was about Christ’s love and these few presents were our way of sharing His love with them.

It is often said that those giving service gain more than those receiving. This was exactly what we all experienced at each home we visited. No one felt like a project that night. We were simply all basking in the true spirit of Christmas.

The next home we visited was in stark contrast to the first. While it was in the same area, these people clearly had more financial resources. The sister of the home explained that the branch really didn’t need the several gifts that have been donated over the years. But they were all deeply touched that so many of their American brothers and sisters would sacrifice so much to be with them. To the branch members, it was never about the gifts. Rather, it was about the community created by our visit.

The final two houses happened to belong to the two sisters in our car. They had participated in the gift giving at the previous two homes so they knew what we were going to say. But they still wanted to hear it and that same wave of love that overwhelmed each of us was just as strong in their two homes.

After the last house, we made our way back to the chapel to deposit the gifts we could not deliver and to wait for the others. Within a few minutes, most of the groups returned. Some were able to deliver all the gifts. Some had issues similar to ours. But all experienced the same flood of emotion.

My guess is that none in our group took the time to read through Luke 2 as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. But I am sure actually participating as the Savior’s hands by sharing His love provided each participant the spirit of Christmas they were seeking.

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To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Morning

Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part II

12-24-07As we were completing the wrapping process, Karen looked at each family printout to locate Jesus and Armando’s family. She wanted to be responsible for delivering gifts to that family. While there were a handful of members named Jesus, we could not locate a family printout matching the family. Mary grew concerned that perhaps we missed a family.

We asked the missionaries, who had spent the day wrapping with us and also preparing the building for the baptism later that night. Karen described the family, and we learned they were investigators.

It was unfortunate that we learned this too late. We were sure we would not see that family again.

By late afternoon, we had all the gifts wrapped and were ready to distribute between the cars. In a few hours, members from the branch leadership would show up to drive with us as we delivered gifts.

Before they arrived, we decided to all head out to town to get an early dinner. Because many of the gifts were in Ramon’s motor home, he had to drive it from the campground to the church. When we left for dinner, many of the participants loaded up in the motor home. As the missionaries had never been in such a vehicle before, they were excited to pile in.

Karen and I left ahead of the motor home, but I didn’t want to get too far in front so I pulled over on the edge of a small police station parking lot to wait for Ramon. I stayed on the edge because most of the parking lot was underwater.

There were three cops standing out near our car not paying any attention to us. I was looking in my rear view mirror and could see the motor home ready to turn from the church parking lot onto the street. Suddenly, it came to a complete stop and the three cops instantly ceased their conversation and looked towards the church.

Ramon’s high-profile motor home had snagged the power lines and severed one of the cables. Part of the broken wire was wrapped around the top of the vehicle and the remainder of the wire was on the ground.

We had no idea if this was a hot electrical wire or a benign phone cable. Caleb decided that since there were no sparks, it had to be a phone line. So he climbed to the top of the motor home and tried to dislodge the tangled cable using a broom – just to be safe. In his attempt, the wire hit his arm and head. Since he didn’t die, Caleb assumed it was a phone line and simply removed the remaining cable by hand.

20161224_141613The cops could see we were all Americans and now had a perfect opportunity to take control.

They motioned for Ramon to drive to the flooded parking lot.

They demanded his identification.

They told him that he could not leave the area until the utility company assessed the damage.

They explained that this was clearly Ramon’s fault and that he would have to pay.

Ramon explained that we were all going to be at the church for several hours and that he wanted to get his passengers food. He asked if he could leave as they waited for the utility company. The cops gruffly refused this request.

Luckily Ramon had a branch member in the motor home. He knew the phone number of a sister in the branch who is a lawyer. He called her and, after her severe tongue lashing, the police officers apologized to Ramon for their rough treatment and said this was the city’s fault.

Evidently, the excessive rain storms had caused power poles all over the city to shift and give in to the weight of the cables. That is why Ramon got into the parking lot without snagging the cables.

It was a great Christmas Eve miracle to have a lawyer as a member of the branch and to have that lawyer aggressive enough to change the minds of the cops. Needless to say, the motor home was no longer used to transport people.

To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part III

Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part I

megan-010We all left the branch party around 10:00 p.m. but we were told by Caleb that the members would party until well after midnight. Friday truly had been a full day. So I was glad to get back to the hotel and into bed.

The rain had let up on Friday night, and I was glad because San Quintin only had a few paved roads. I knew on Saturday evening we would be driving all over town to deliver gifts. Unfortunately, it rained all night and well into Saturday morning. Traveling on the dirt roads was going to be a serious challenge.

By 10:00 Saturday morning, we were all back at the chapel ready to wrap the hundreds of presents. In previous years, there was a shortage of wrapping paper, scissors, and tape so wrapping took way too long. But this year, we had all those items in abundance.

12-24-02Most important, Mary and her son Nick were highly organized. Each family receiving gifts was assigned a number. Mary and Rick had pre-printed papers with each family’s assigned number as well as their names and details about each family member, including their ages and sizes.

We placed 40 chairs around the cultural hall, and Nick taped a family printout on each chair. Next we removed all the donations from the motor home and the truck. Mary and Nick had already bundled the donations by the family’s number. So we quickly separated the gifts to the appropriate chair.

Along with the specifically donated gifts, we had a common table. Here we placed extra donations that each family group was able to gather. Mary and Nick would distribute the extras to augment each family’s pile. This had to be one of the best organized Eagle projects I have ever seen, and I have seen many.

12-24-03After that, the wrapping began.

Wrapping is not one of my skills. So I worked alongside Meagan, who wrapped while I applied the tape.

12-24-04I soon learned that taping is also not my skill.

But I could drive.

So Karen and I went out to gather food to keep the wrappers happy.

We first went to the only real supermarket in town, CaliMax, but Karen noticed small bread, tortilla, and cake shops down a mud-soaked street. So we got very little at CaliMax and purchased the remainder of the refreshments in these small shops.

I can honestly say, there is nothing better than a corn tortilla hot and fresh off the conveyor belt. But I also have to say that there is not the same variation of salsa as there is in the states. Red salsa is hot–very hot. The type of hot that keeps on giving. So after my first salsa experience, I learned to use much moderation.

By the time we got back from the food run, most of the presents were wrapped. The true hero of the day was 12 year-old Landon, who wrapped dozens of gifts without complaint and without a break.

That boy has some skills.

To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part II

Five Hours South of the Border – Jesus and Armando

12-25-03It was at this party that Jesus (pronounced Hey Suess) and Armando came into our lives.

While at the party, Karen noticed a small boy who would follow her wherever she went. He wouldn’t say anything; he would just follow her. At one point, Karen turned to him and said “Que pasa?” The boy was stunned that she could speak Spanish and just stood there frozen, saying nothing at all.

Finally, he ran off.

Within minutes, he returned and brought Karen a piece of candy. At which point Karen asked him his name. He proudly responded: “Jesus.”

Then she asked how old he was. He boldly stated that he was seven.

Karen asked if she could give him a hug. His face lit up and he ran into her arms. At this point, Karen was in heaven. Here was a little, poor boy seeing the very first white person of his life and he was filled with love and acceptance.

Jesus next brought his brother Armando to meet Karen. He was less shy and very willing to talk up a storm. But Armando was much more interested in playing outside with his new friend Josh. Neither of them could understand each other, but soccer is an international equalizer.

Jesus and Armando will weave in and out of our story several times.

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To continue this series, click, Five Hours South of the Border – Christmas Eve: Part I