If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:17-18
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
This past Sunday, while you were blessed to receive the services of Fr. Ambrose, I landed at the San Diego Airport. I was a late arrival with our home building team to Project Mexico, having celebrated two beautiful weddings over the weekend. The parishioners of St. Anna’s were just beginning the Orthros, while the children of St. Innocent’s Orphanage and the volunteers of Project Mexico were celebrating the Divine Liturgy. It was then, that I stepped onto the curb, reading a text that said, “Welcome Fr. Anthony, this is Erik, look for me in the dusty, black Toyota 4Runner. Looking forward to meeting you.”
He was later than expected; stopped at the border into the USA. When he did pull up, I saw him from about 40 yards off, as the curbside bent. The high plume of dust was dancing dramatically from the top of his vehicle as he came around the bend. I thought to myself, “Wow, he wasn’t kidding…that is a really, dusty 4Runner!
Of course, the funny thing was that the inside of the vehicle was much, much dirtier than the outside. There was literally a quarter inch of fine dirt on every surface. Erik Swanson is the Project Mexico Trip Coordinator with whom we’d worked to arrange all the details of our mission. What a tremendously faithful and dedicated young man.
We pulled into the orphanage just before Communion. The Liturgy was beautifully chanted and all in Spanish (of course). I met up with our group. Everyone looked tired, but still invigorated. For the past couple of days, I had pulled the difficult duty of uniting two, lovely couples in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Our mission team, and 60 others, had spent those days mixing and pouring the foundations of three houses. Once the cement was dry, they framed, stuccoed and roofed those homes. Their backs were sore, their knees and shoulders were stiff and a few were sunburned.
Sunday was their day of rest. Sunday was my day to catch up on all that had been accomplished and to jump into the relationships that had already been cemented, literally through cement. Our team was mostly pared with groups from Michigan. We all became strong and fast friends…united as Brothers and Sisters in Christ…there for a common cause. And for our building group, the “cause” was Juan Carlos, his wife Marisol and their infant daughter. The parents were practically children, themselves.
Imagine this: those three people had been living with 12 others in a small trailer. That’s 15 human beings living in a camping trailer! No water. Just enough electricity to be dangerous. The same dust that had amassed the interior of the 4Runner was swirling around in the air. The hot sun that beat down on us, the three-day workers, is the same, hot sun that stifles the interior of their humble (to say the least) trailer every day. The environment was harsh, hilly, and as I’ve said, hot.
Now the family has a chance to spread out a little bit; while some will remain in the trailer, there are now two other homes, including ours, for them to occupy more comfortably (the other was constructed by an Evangelical group). Of course, comfort is relative: these homes are smaller than most garden sheds.
Few people in our experience have witnessed poverty at this level or to this degree. The stark non-existence of worldly comforts is only the first observation to be made. Human resolve, the joy of life, dignity and strength, quickly removed feelings of pity. What was left: feelings of empathy, respect, unity…the reality of being one family. We are of different cultures, from different countries, speaking different languages. But we are one people. You could not escape feeling the human connection. Smiles are universal. Handshakes are universal. Love transcends.
The sustainer for all us, both recipients of homes and the recipients of humility, was our faith in Christ and our active participation in His longsuffering love.
On the third day of construction, we mixed and re-stuccoed the house, shingled the roof, painted the trim, applied the lime wash and blessed the home. The family, in the ultimate gesture of hospitality, humility, and love, prepared a meal for us. I can only imagine the cost to them. The pride in their offering and the joy in their faces will remain with me for as long as I’m gifted with memories.
These people are not poor in spirit, robbed of joy or even aloof to the sufferings of people what have it worse. They said as much. They demonstrated as much! Christ is alive in them. And believe me when I say, we as missionaries in their world, received the same measure of God’s blessings, as the recipients of the homes. They allowed us to know, serve, cherish, appreciate and submit to the Lord.
We will work to take annual trips to Project Mexico. We will continue to make a dent in the massive reality that is poverty, and the inequitable distribution of recourses in the world. In closing, I leave you with the words I wrote to you last Spring, as I introduced our trip, asking for your donations and participation:
“As we continue to move ever closer to the Passion, Crucifixion and glory that is Christ Jesus, I pray that the discomforts our Lord experienced in this word will not be experienced by families living in poverty and cannot provide adequate housing for their children. He had no place to lay His head, so He commands us to provide the place where a child may do just that.”
With Much Love in Christ,