I realized I never posted this! Darn! Here’s the first half of my Tijuana post. I’m not sure if I even created the second half of this, so I’ll post the first half and keep searching…
I just got home from the Mexico Reunion meeting… oh I’ve missed these kids! We talked some about how we view things differently here in the good ole U-S-of-A since returning from Tijuana, and it was an interesting time of reflection. I think overwhelmingly we were all amazed at how hard life is in Mexico, particularly in the area of Tijuana we visited. But talking about it and viewing a slideshow and video from our trip really made me want to put the trip into words. So, here I am. The much promised blog entry is being written. I’m not sure how long this will take, it feels like quite a work in progress. We’ll see.
Sunday, July 12
We all arrived at the church Sunday evening to drop off our luggage, make sure it fit the guidelines in terms of weight, and cover some of the last details before our journey began. At this point the evening was a wash of names and faces, as I was still trying to figure out who everyone is! I led a Senior girls small group this year but wasn’t very involved in the Sunday morning ministry to the HS students, so I signed up for the Mexico endeavor knowing very few people. It’s strange to think back and realize there was a time I didn’t know and love these kids…
Monday, July 13
We’re off! After meeting at the church around 10am to gather everyone, we had a time of prayer and devotion before loading in the bus. The first leg of our trip was driving to Nashville, where we would board the first of two planes. On the van ride there, I sat in the back row with Timmy, Jacob, Grace, and Lynae. The girls and I played Phase 10 nearly the whole ride. 🙂
Through the entire travel time – from the moment we left Knoxville to the moment we arrived back in Knoxville 8 days later – we were divided into travel teams. Each leader was responsible for tracking their 5 or 6 kids everywhere we went – it was much easier than doing massive head counts. We also coordinated paying for meals in the airport through these smaller groups. At right is a photo of my travel team, (left to right) Gabe, Grace, Stephen (yes, he always makes that face… you’ll see it as a recurring theme!), Lynae, me, and David.
We had a brief layover in Denver’s extremely crowded airport and began the third leg of our journey with a flight into San Diego. We arrived late in the evening to a large welcoming party of friends (Fellowship interns and new friends from Mexico!) ready to help us get across the border. After retrieving our luggage (praise the Lord, none was missing!) we piled it in (and on!) the vans and headed… nope, not across the border just yet! First we had a very, very important stop to make…
In-N-Out Burger! Yep! After a 14-hour journey, there’s nothing like a good, healthy dinner. Also, this was our last glimpse of American food before heading into Tijuana. Hey… does anyone know what happened to that goofy video of us singing the TJ song? Did Alex take it?
Anyway, after a FEAST of burgers and fries, we piled back in the vans to do the border crossing. It’s interesting that as you cross into Mexico, even at 11pm, you get nary a glance from the border guards. (Coming back into the US is a very. different. experience.) If only they’d taken a closer look at our van… can you believe they let this group of trouble-makers in? 🙂
Once we arrived we tried to take in our surroundings, but it was so dark we could hardly figure out where we were. Instead… we gladly unpacked sheets, blankets, and pillows… and slept.
Tuesday, July 14
One of the perks of the 3-hour time difference is when we finally woke up around 8am it felt like we’d slept in till 11am. Breakfast was a feast of Mexican goodness… eggs, refried beans, homemade and delicious flour tortillas (man, I could go for one of those now…), and the yummiest and spiciest salsa your tastebuds have ever craved.
Because we were starting the VBS and haircutting ministries Wednesday, we spent today “advertising” our arrival. We drove over to La Colonia to let the locals know we were here! As we met the adults and children, we gave them bags of rice and beans that we’d put together earlier at Pastor Albert’s church.
La Colonia is one of the most impoverished parts of Tijuana – and if you know anything about the poverty all over Tijuana, then you know that’s really saying something. It’s an old dump that has become a neighborhood, with houses clinging to the edges of the canyon walls as though they’re hanging on for dear life. The area is full of people with great need and with great hearts. I think we were all shocked to see this blue house – one of the largest and nicest in the area – but there are two signs to notice… the one on the right says “my house and me we will serve the Lord” and the one at the left says “Thanks Teneese.” That’s enough to make me sit down and soak it in… While I sit here in my beautiful home and type this blog entry, these people are in Mexico and are grateful for what I’ve done. It’s so humbling. And so nothing at the same time.
After we passed out all the food (which didn’t take long – once they realized we had come, they came to find us!), we gathered at the Rehab center in the middle of La Colonia to play with the kids. Lots more of that would come in the next few days!
Back at the orphanage we hung out for the rest of the day, playing sports outside in the sun (like basketball… which I’m terrible at! No kidding, ask Lynae!). I could usually be found inside gathered with kids around a table and dealing cards. Someone called me the Poker Lady, though we never played poker. Just huge games of Revolution, Spoons, Rummy, and other games good for large groups.
After a great dinner at the orphanage and a wonderful worship time with the youth, we went on our first journey to Calimax. The youth’s obsession with this Mexican grocery store is really something to behold. There’s no way they’d get this excited about heading to Kroger or Food City, we’re talking joy, elation, and some downright begging to go to this place. Now, I’ll admit… it’s pretty cool. And the pastry section is incredible! But still, they’re pretty goofy about it. Then again, I was ready for a nice cold Fanta myself!
Wednesday, July 15
I got up early Wednesday… one of my leadership responsibilities was organizing the food for our daily ministry outings. Though I got TONS of help during the day to put it together, only a few of us left in the mornings before breakfast to go get the food. This morning it was ham sandwiches for 320 people. The assembly line to put this together was pretty crazy…
After breakfast, we packed up in the vans to leave. Below you’ll see two pictures… the first is part of our group outside the orphanage – you can see how secure the place is – there’s a huge orange gate at the right that closes over the entrance at night. The courtyard at the left is fenced and topped with barbed wire. Security is pretty serious in Tijuana, even in the nice part where we were staying (all things are relative, that’s for sure!). The second picture shows just down the street to the right (you can still see the orange orphanage at the left). The fence at the end of the street is the actual US border! That’s how we got cell reception at the orphanage! We could see into San Diego over that hill and could still snag their cell towers.
I ran the haircutting team, which was quite an endeavor. I was blessed by the numbers of our youth who wanted to be a part of that ministry and weren’t at all freaked out by worries of lice and dirty hair. The first day was SO hot… we were in the sun all day without any shade cover, but they were champs! No complaints and they were ready to work the whole time.
We did about 100 washes and/or cuts that day, and had about 300 people total at the church that day. Aside from a few issues with water delivery it went so well!
David was really proud of his mohawk… I think it took like an hour, but it was an impressive haircut and the kid loved it!
After working in the sun all day, we returned to the orphanage to rest and clean up. That night we headed back to La Colonia to Pastor Albert’s church for an evening service. It was a little more charismatic than we were accustomed to, but it was a wonderful experience. Our worship band performed a few songs, some of the girls did a dance Simi had choreographed with them in TN, and then we sang some Spanish songs led by the church’s worship team. Adam did a wonderful job giving the sermon that evening, and it was great to see the interaction of our style and theirs.
On the way back we stopped at a roadside taco stand for the most amazing tacos I’ve ever had.