Ysleta Lutheran Mission, El Paso, Texas February 1-8, 2014
Click on photos to make them larger and to see the captions
Hello to everyone in the white, white North. This has been an unusual trip from the beginning. If you haven’t already heard, we all piled into Pastor’s van Friday evening and headed to Chicago in order to beat the snow that was headed our way. By the time we left (8:15ish), several inches had already fallen in our area. So, we traveled in snowfall all the way there although the amount on the ground was a little less the further we went. The snow did make for a slightly slower driving due to the road conditions. Also, getting into the Chicago area late in the evening provided an unexpected event. We were driving along when suddenly we saw lots of brake lights and one set of headlights. This is not a welcome sight. A car had spun out and ended up facing the on-coming traffic. Vehicles started swerving to avoid that car, but God was with all of us as we did not notice any collision resulting from this unusual situation. That late, the traffic was fairly light, so we all had enough room to maneuver. We finally got a good night’s rest in a hotel close to the airport only to get a 6 AM wake-up call that our flight had been cancelled. We found space in a flight later in the afternoon hoping that it would be able to go. It did!! We ended up getting to El Paso close to midnight instead of 8 o’clock as planned. Poor Jeff, our driver, had to stay up late to cart us back to the mission. We were all very grateful for his service and friendly disposition.
Today was fun for us. It was a beautiful day and we got a better look at the mission and its architecture. We attended both of the services at the mission church, San Pablo Lutheran Church. The early service was in English and had 30-40 in attendance including some snowbird couples who RV here over the winter an d help with projects around the mission. The pastor called us forward for a special blessing on our work here – very welcoming. The second service was all in Spanish and closer to 80 people attended. No blessing in this service since we didn’t understand Spanish and would be unable to properly speak the litany portion of the blessing. The people were all very friendly and when they ‘share the peace’ it takes awhile because they want to share it with everyone. The highlight of both services, though, was the Mariachi band that played during Communion and the closing hymn. Pastor was invited to play with them, so that was a treat for all of us. He was outstanding. No, really, he was a head taller than any other member and the only one not dressed in black and white. I guess he didn’t get the memo. We were invited to the home of the pastor, Rev. Karl Heimer, to enjoy a Super Bowl party with the snowbirds and his son’s family. His son is also a pastor in El Paso. Then it was back to the mission and learned that internet connectivity was going to be an issue. The WiFi is in the office which is only unlocked during normal business hours. We are housed in a concrete block structure and the signal doesn’t get to us. Pastor would have to sit on a chair just outside the office in order to get logged on. The evening hours are a little too cool for me to join him.
This morning we headed to the kitchen where they serve hot meals to the community four days a week. Unfortunately the Health Department had told them they had to fix the floor in the kitchen or be shut down. So, our job this week is to strip the linoleum tile off the floor and put down ceramic tile in its place. We have a 600 – 700 square foot job ahead of us. One of the snowbirds does a lot of work with Laborers for Christ and is serving as our foreman for the job. The kitchen/dining hall for the lunch program used to be an army barracks at one time for (then) Col. Pershing, so there is nothing fancy about the structure nor is it plumb, level, or square; other than that it is ideal for laying ceramic. The tile were not easily convinced to relinquish their hold on the floor. We didn’t really have the right tools, so progress was slow, inch by inch.
Getting half a tile up was a major feat. Butane torches helped, but we decided that a power stripper needed to be located and rented. Even running that was slower than we had hoped, but between the hand crews and the machine, we managed to clear the area. Yay!! A warm supper, prepared by Rita our cook for the week, was very welcome as was a good night’s rest. God is stretching all of us in many ways, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We are learning a lot about perseverance. Seeing the joy on the faces of the people in worship, even in the depressed economic conditions of the area, confirms that being here to help the mission better serve its community is where we needed to be. This evening Pastor Heimer, an immigrant from Cuba, visited with us about the work here and some of the history of the mission. It has been a Catholic mission, an Army outpost, a Pentecostal church, and now a Lutheran mission. Pastor Heimer had been here the 30+ years of its existence as a Lutheran mission. He is over 70 years old and has no interest in doing anything other than what he is doing right now. He is passionate about this ministry and a visionary for what the mission can be. Please keep the mission in your prayers for the work that they do.
A new day and we are back to the scene of yesterday’s activity. A little final clean up from the day before and then we prepare to lay the new tile. There are a number of corners to work around and several other obstacles like a wall down the middle, sinks and a wash tub. We started with the far corners to avoid working ourselves into a corner. By mid to late morning, we were starting to feel like we knew what we were doing although I doubt that we could fool many with our skill or speed. We are doing our best and it will be better than what they had before. By the end of the day, we completed about one fourth of the tiling. It is a growing and learning process for all of us. Buttering tile, cleaning grout lines, cutting tile, spacers , etc. , these are all part of our jargon now. Our Bible study tonight helps us focus on what we have in common with other cultures and accept the differences. Sometimes this is not easy since we don’t always understand, but perseverance will help us prevail. It is what God wants us to do. Also, this evening a few of us ventured out to a local café similar to Panera where we could get a good WiFi connection and upload some pictures of our trip.
This is by far the coolest day yet, and not the happy fun kind of cool. Temperatures dipped near freezing the night before and the guys cutting tile outside with a wet saw were chilled to the bone. Cleaning the tools at the end of the day not much fun either, but we all survived. The work was more of the same from the day before. Happily we were able to make the tile from both sides of the middle wall meet and properly lined up, God is good! We struggled to get the tile under the sink, but persevered. When we finally called it quits, we were approximately three fourths done and mostly easy work remaining. We hope to knock out most of that tomorrow morning since we are taking a little sight-seeing trip in the afternoon.
Today started with a start. While getting ready, we were all jolted by the fire alarm in our dormitory. It was only some over cooked biscuits, but it didn’t keep a firetruck from showing up. Stepping outside, it is even colder than yesterday; 21 degrees – brr! We couldn’t use the hose outside because the faucet was frozen.
We were able to get the water we needed to mix mortar and set up the wet saw. Luckily the spigot had thawed by noon meaning that the only difficulty in clean-up at the end of the day would only be the chill of cold water. Clean-up was not on our agenda as we ended our work day at noon to do some site-seeing. We didn’t quite get all the tile down. We had gotten a start on the last row and our snowbird friends finished the tiling after lunch.
Our afternoon saw us heading to Huecos Tanks, a Texas State Park. It is a rock climber’s paradise. Climbers come from all over to test their skills on the massive jumble of rock. We weren’t feeling quite that nimble, so we just took the hiking trails with our guide, Mary. We saw rock paintings and carvings from ages past. Huecos is Spanish for hollows, so it is hollow tanks. The name is derived from all the depressions in the rocks that catch and hold rain water. Some rocks have a ‘swiss cheese’ effect with all the hollows in them. After a couple hour hike, we were all ready to head back to the Mission to wash up for dinner at the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. We all had a very good steak and learned that the restaurant had been named ‘The Manliest Steakhouse in America’. We don't know what it takes to achieve this title, but with our bellies full, we headed to a mountain overlook to see the city lights of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. It was a spectacular view but the cool temperatures and a stiff breeze made for a brief visit. Back to the Mission again for our evening Bible study and shortly after that we all took our weary bodies to bed. One more day of work before heading North to hearth and home.
This is our last day at Ysleta. No rude awakenings by fire alarms for us today! After another hearty
breakfast prepared by Rita, we headed to the kitchen one last time. The tiling had been completed yesterday which means that today has us cleaning the excess mortar out of the grout lines followed by grouting and
washing. These are all very repetitive, continuous motion activities, all hand and knees, rubbing,
scrubbing, and scraping. We manage to get done before 3 o’clock, but we all felt like a full days’ work had been done. The snowbirds will have to give the floor a final mopping, caulking around the perimeter and sealing the grout next week. As we understand
it, they want to paint the walls as well. With the needed washing, priming and painting, they probably won’t be able to reopen the kitchen next week. We feel good about the work that we did and we pray for the continued success of this ministry to the community. After a shower, a couple hours of rest and packing, we concluded our week here by stepping out for some ice cream. Even that turned into a mini-adventure. Our GPS was providing some very odd directions and before we got to the intended destination, we saw a Dairy Queen – success!! Ice cream in hand, we headed back to the Mission to watch the opening of the Olympics.
This is our travel day. We had to leave the Mission by 7 AM for an 8:30 flight from El Paso to Phoenix. After a 3 hour layover, we will board a flight for Chicago and finally shuttle back to our van and head home. We are all rather tired but satisfied with the work that we have done. Our hands and knees are a little worse for the wear, but they will heal. The important thing is that through our efforts and the efforts of others in the next week, the kitchen will re-open to serve the community and show the love of Christ in action to the residents of El Paso. The Mission is an inspiration to us on how we need to reach out to help others and show them how Christian love can and does make a difference in lives.
We look forward to seeing you all on Sunday.