Ysleta Lutheran Mission, El Paso, Texas
February 20-27, 2016
Howdy, y’all, from sunny and warm west Texas. We have had a few firsts already on this trip. First, when the day dawned, we were already in the air headed for Atlanta, GA, the first leg of our trip to El Paso. From there we flew to El Paso where Sharon was already waiting for us. We were greeted by warm (80 degrees) weather and our old friend from the Mission, Chris Hill. He had with him, Mark, a member of a group from Minot, ND, to help get us from the airport to our home for the next week, Ysleta Lutheran Mission. Another first, was getting here in the daylight. We had time to unpack, get our bearings and head out for a little sightseeing. This year we went to the top of Mt. Franklin to overlook the cities of El Paso and Juarez. In fact we were able to see three states(Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua) and two countries(USA and Mexico). We weren’t sure we were going to make it in the van we will be using this week. It is a 1999 Ford van with over 170,000 miles and it has more issues than Newsweek magazine(ask Pastor Chris for the soundtrack). If you aren’t praying for us(but I know you are), at least pray for the van to make it through the week. We got to the top of the mountain on a tramway whose primary purpose is to transport workers to the radio and television towers at the top. The tramway takes visitors up on the weekends only. From there we went to a local Mexican restaurant called KiKis – recommended to us by the tram operator -- which makes a dish called ‘machaca’. This dish was featured in an episode of a show aired on the Food Network. After supper we headed back to camp and evening devotions. We shared some of our hopes and expectations for the coming week. I believe we all felt humbled that the Lord could use us to do His work in projects like this and yet it is a stretch for us to step out of our own lives, culture and comfort zone to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus. By then most of us headed off to bed since we got up around 3 AM or earlier. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We are looking forward to worship tomorrow in the Mission and to the week ahead.
Sunday is another beautiful, warm day in El Paso. We got to know our new friends from Minot, North Dakota over some early morning coffee in the sleeping quarters. At 8 we had our breakfast and were able to renew our relationship with Rita, our cook for the week. At 9 we joined in the worship service, in English, at the San Pablo Lutheran church, then again at 11:30 in Spanish. Pastor Kevin, the mariachi band could have used you today; they didn’t have near the numbers that were here when you came down. It was still fun to participate in both of the services and meet the people of the Mission. After lunch we made our first pilgrimage to a local shopping center called Walmart. It seems that Sunday is THE day to go shopping down here, it was swarming with people. The afternoon for most of us was very relaxed. Two of our group went with the Minot crew into Juarez with Pastor Heimer to a worship service that he held for the residents there. Sunday evening finds us heading to the local bakery/coffee shop to get internet connection and some sweet treats. Finally back the Mission for evening devotions. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
A beautiful morning to begin our mission. We got busy and loaded up our vehicles and met our crew boss for the week, Alonzo. He has a very interesting story. He 'immigrated' from Mexico at 13 and worked as a carpenter. Then he studied to be LPN but after working at that for a year, he decided that was not what he really wanted. So, he went back to construction. Somehow he met Pastor Heimer who leads the Mission and eventually Pastor Heimer offered him a position at the Mission working for them. So, he has worked for Ysleta Mission for two years, first as a handyman on the grounds and the last seven months as a crew boss for the construction sites. He is a very happy man and good at his job. He told us that he has gotten close to God through his work at the Mission and Pastor Heimer's Bible studies. He even assists in the services on Sunday. God works in mysterious ways. On the job site, we quickly set up our equipment and by the end of the day we had the entire exterior framed and sided and the roof trusses mounted. The morning was exceptionally pleasant for the work, but in the afternoon the wind kicked up and sand was blowing everywhere. Fortunately the walls had already been raised, so we didn't have to stuggle against that Many skills were sharpened or learned during the day. Deb even learned to use an air nailer. The owner, Pedro, was around the entire day pitching in at times. He seems very excited about what we are doing for him and his family and has very definite ideas about how things need to be built so he can add on more later. We finally wrapped up around about 4:30 with grit in our hair, ears, and teeth and anywhere else that it could go. An early devotion and then off to the bakery to get internet.
I am not getting much cooperation from the website so I will not be able to put all the pictures on that I would like. I will probably have to load more after I get home, but I will put some on each night.
This morning was bright and crisp. Soon enough, we were headed back to the work site, ready to pick up where we left off yesterday. If you looked at the pictures, you saw that the structure was pretty well in place at the end of day on Monday. So, today, we will tackle the electrical, roofing and insulation. The rafters that were sticking out beyond the wall had to be sheathed with MDF, medium density fiberboard, as well as the entire roof deck. After the MDF was on, they rolled on some tar followed by some tar paper. Tomorrow they will put on another layer of tar and the some roll roofing. Inside the house we installed a single circuit. There are two switches and six outlets for the two rooms. Once the electrical was in, we started putting in the insulation in all the walls and the ceiling. So besides the dust and grit that we got in our clothes and hair, we added some fiberglass as well. We ended our day around 4 PM and tried to see the family we worked for last year, Rafael and Claudia. Unfortunately, they weren’t at home when we got there. Not so many pictures today, I discovered that my camera doesn’t do so well with the battery plugged into the charger back at the Mission. Luckily Sharon had her camera, so we did get a few shots. We are all a bit weary but feeling good about what we have been able to get done. More tomorrow.
Wednesday morning we took an excursion into Juarez. Alonso was our driver and tour guide. For some of us, it was our first time in Mexico. Our first stop was at the site where the group from Minot has been working. The area where they are building is very crowded. It looked like each lot was about 20 by 80 and almost anything that could be used was used for building houses and fences although the predominant material was concrete in some form. Then we headed to the west side of Juarez in the Anapara district and saw where several other homes had been built. On the way we saw many units of government built housing. They looked nice but were very small. The cost to buy one is about $60 a month but all that does is pay the interest and with wages of around $50 a week, it is difficult to make any progress on the principal. Also, we learned that if you are over 40 and have no job, you will most likely never get one. They consider that too old. The further we went in Juarez, the poorer the neighborhoods looked. We visited a small mission that provides some schooling and today they were preparing a hot meal for the local children. They will serve close to 200 kids and it smelled wonderful. After leaving the mission, we re-entered the states through New Mexico and on the way, Alonzo told us of another neighborhood simply called 30K because it is 30 kilometers - that's where the poor people live. We got back to the Mission in time for lunch and then we stopped by Rafael and Claudia's house on the way to our work site. Claudia was home and we were able to give her a fruit basket and a quilt that Sharon had made. She was glad to see us and invited us in to see the house. We were glad to see that the rickety trailer that they had been living in was gone. Amazingly, they were able to sell it. Back at Pedro's project, we were able to finish the roofing and get started on the drywall. We checked to make sure that the electrical circuit worked as well. Eureka, power all the way around!! It was a short but rewarding day. We were humbled by the circumstance in which some people must live and in greater appreciation of the blessings that have been poured down on us. It also serves as a reminder to the obligation that we have to those less forunate. We are all in hope for the work we will have tomorrow. We will be seeing you soon.
After Breakfast ala Rita, we traveled on our own (without Alonso to guide us) to the Hernandez casa for a day "everything drywall." After unloading the equipment from the house, and after a few more electrical holes were drilled and wire strung, we divided into 2 teams to cut and install the drywall on the ceiling and the.walls. During some "wait" time, trim was installed on the corners of the exterior. By lunch time, the trim was done and all but 2 walls were drywalled. Homeowner Pedro was so excited that he started taping and mudding while we ate. Since we have great teamwork in our group, all the drywall was installed by mid afternoon, and some of us took time to tape and mud the drywall.while Pastor Chris waxed eloquent (aka preached) on the topics of modernism and post-modernism, dress, and general ethics. Even workers inside enjoyed the dissertation. Alonso loves to sing as he works and has a warm and genuine laugh (with us and not at us--as far as we can tell.) Laughter is a great gift from God, and it often punctuates our work. Alonso thinks we are doing "excellent" work and that all our tasks are being completed on schedule (Whew!) The work day ended with 2 caulking crews sealing the exterior floor. We are looking forward to the work day tomorrow when we will meet more of the Hernandez family. We may have to make a formal apology to our van, which, although still noisy, has been completely able to get us to and from our destinations without fail. Impromptu entertainment this evening was the rapper at the gas station (ask someone). Question of the day: What do you get when a scientist, a nurse, a pharmacy tech, and a pastor walk into a drug store?
Our final day of work on the Hernandez project. It was also our last meal from Rita and Sharon had made quilt which we presented to her. Then on to the work site and all the finishing touches. There was much sanding to be done and final caulking around doors and windows. Again, as in the previous days, everything went well as we each found specific tasks to do and completed them in time for lunch. Pedro worked along with us all morning. In fact, he had started well before we got there. He was in a very good mood and the smile on his face got bigger and bigger the closer we got to being done. The Hernandez' had offered to make lunch for us and we feasted on yet another fabulous meal of Mexican cooking. After lunch, we cleaned up the work site and packed up all our tools. Pastor Chris offered a blessing for the house and its owners and finally we turned the keys over to Pedro. It was a happy and humbling moment. Sharon had another quilt that she shared with the family and they reciprocated with some hand made table scarves for the ladies in our group -- a very nice memento of the day and week. We all headed back to the mission where we unloaded the tools and got ourselves ready for an evening out. We enjoyed another nice meal at the Cattle Baron steakhouse as we did last year, then back to camp and packing for the trip home. We all were very satisfied with the week and look forward to what next year's trip may bring - hopefully more of you. We are blessed to be a blessing and we truly experienced that this week. Thanks for reading.