Thursday, October 21, 2010


Some weeks in the field I learn and see more than others. Last week in Puerto Penasco was certainly an example of one of those weeks. The group and family that I worked with were both incredible. I got to know some of my Amor friends and coworkers better. I got the tiniest bit more proficient at Spanish. And the desert sunrises and sunsets were incredible. It's hard to remember and keep track of everything that went through my head and heart during the week, but I have at least one more solid lesson to share following it.

Resort Town?

Many of the people for whom we build homes in Penasco are amongst the poorest we serve. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Flores Meza family's income was just $56 a week. Part of what makes this so unbelievable is what Penasco and neighboring Las Conchas have become to American visitors. Because of the beautiful desert, dunes and ocean, this area has become a very popular vacation spot for Americans. It's convenience is a big part of it's popularity, as it sits just over an hour from the border and within several hours of Phoenix. Over the last 20 years, luxury resorts and condos have sprung up in parts of Penasco (Rocky Point to many Americans) and Las Conchas. Whenever I travel highway 8, the main pipeline in and out of Penasco, I am struck by the fact that I lead missionaries with shovels and tools in their vehicles as we are surrounded RV's carrying 4-wheelers and other toys.

In truth, many of the people who visit Penasco on vacation have no idea just how bad things are in the areas that they don't frequent. I observed the shock on the faces of people who have vacationed in the area and never knew the extent of the poverty around them. Despite the fact that ignorance is bliss, I have found myself frustrated and in judgment of the people who visit Penasco for extravagant fun while such dire need exists there. The disparity between Americans with money to spare and the homeless Mexicans within miles has been too much for me to stand at moments.

Personal Reflection

Whenever I find myself in a position casting judgment on others, I try to take a step back for a more objective point of view. One of my favorite things to do is think about Jesus when a mob brought an adulteress to him and demanded that she be stoned. In this story, Jesus bends down to write something on the ground while everyone waits for his response. What he wrote is not revealed in scripture. It is my thought that the reason we don't find out what Jesus wrote is because it is irrelevant to the reaction of the crowd. What is relevant is that he gave them time. Time to consider the hypocrisy of their outrage and demands.

I gave myself a few moments of pause this week to reflect on the way I have judged those that don't understand or help what is going on in Penasco. I immediately looked to my living situation. Two things struck me. My lifestyle is not as comfortable as it once was, but globally speaking, I am living high on the hog. I eat well everyday, have far more clothes than I need, have far more bikes than I need and drive a car that is way beyond my needs. All this while I live 20 miles from Tijuana, a place where people often struggle to get a roof over their head and clean water to drink. If I look even closer, I live in an extremely diverse and impoverished area of San Diego. My apartment is on the border of City Heights and according to geographic information collected in 2005, the median household income was $19,393. The average household at that time consisted of five family members. That's just $3,879 a year for each person to survive on.

As I look at everything that Americans are missing as they pass through Penasco everyday, I also have to consider all of the needs as I am a passerby in my own neighborhood. Life is complicated and full of distractions, some worth pursuing and others not. Our lives and perception of our own needs certainly get in the way of helping those around us. As Jesus calmly draws in the sand and waits for me, I need to look inside, take stock and come to a better understanding of my true needs. Excising some of the wants that I believe to be necessities in my life can certainly put me in position to better serve those around me. I know that this will be a process and I know that I'm not ready to give up many of the things I should. Despite how daunting and discouraging striving toward these goals can be, I know where I can start.

I am going to put down my stone.



Friday, October 15, 2010

Giving More

This past week, I traveled to Puerto Penasco, Mexico to meet a group from Arizona and build a house for another needy family. I arrived a day before the group and took some time to preview the site where we would be building. Upon my visit, I discovered a very friendly family eagerly awaiting a home. The Flores Meza family consisted of Oscar, his pregnant wife Juanita and their three beautiful daughters. They immediately struck me as loving and welcoming. It was great to learn that we would be building for such wonderful people over the coming days.

The next day, I got to meet the group I would be assisting with the construction of the new home. I brought them over the Arizona border with the help of a close Mexican Amor friend, Jorge, and they accompanied me south to Penasco. The group spanned from three middle school aged boys up to adults, including the pastor of their church and his wife, a youth leader. The group was very excited to work with us, as they had missed their yearly trip in 2009 and it was their first time in Penasco. It was great to have such an enthusiastic crew for the week. Starting from the first day, their commitment to the family was apparent. We were up at sunrise (a little earlier than I am used to, to be sure) the next day and quickly at work. This would start a pattern for the rest of the week, affording me the incredible opportunity to see the desert sunrise and sunset nearly every day. While the group did a wonderful job of being extremely productive, they were also very interactive with the family and surrounding community. Neighbors came to help with the build and the group welcomed them and put them to work. Watching the cross cultural bonding and cooperation was incredible.

(The sun sets in the desert. Incredible. I wish you could have been there.)

I learned an important lesson as help came from throughout the neighborhood. I was working on installing a door in the home when a young boy named Jesus started shadowing me. Jesus had been around the site helping with various tasks, but I knew that installing a door might be a little complicated for a boy his age. My initial impulse was to politely point him in another direction so that I could focus on my work. Fortunately, I resisted this temptation. Instead, I did my best to teach him to install some hinges through actions and gestures (My Spanish is atrocious). This was when Jesus started to teach me a lesson. This was not a boy who simply wanted some action without concern for the quality of his work. As I let him take on more and more responsibility, he diligently copied everything I showed him, even including some of my unnecessary idiosyncracies. This also gave me an opportunity to step away and share some of my story with the pastor I was working with. I also came to realize one more thing. I will meet a lot of boys much like Jesus during my tenure with Amor. Such an incredible experience has become day to day for me. His experience, on the other hand, was likely once or twice in a lifetime. The example our group set will cause many ripples in the life of Jesus and others. I'm thankful God took those tools out of my hand and placed them in those of Jesus.

An event that I would consider a miracle happened this past week as well. One of the leaders of our group was nearly fluent in Spanish and was able to communicate very well with the family to find out more about them. She eventually engaged Juanita in a conversation about her pregnancy. It turns out that she is about eight months pregnant, but is having some complications. The baby is currently sitting breach with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. For this reason, her doctors wanted to perform a c-section this week rather than risk a natural birth. The problem with this is that a c-section will cost the family about $800, which has to be paid up front. The Meza family not only does not have $800, they only make about $56 a week. My group found it impossible to walk away from this need and wanted to help. We contacted the church that is providing the Mezas with their new home and the pastor came out to meet with the family and group to verify all that was going on. In the end, the group visited various atm's throughout the town, in order to pull together over $1,100. They donated the money to the church so that the church may take care of the Mezas medical expenses and some incidental baby costs. I was blown away. This group accomplished two unbelievable feats. First, they helped provide for a desperate need. Second, they empowered the local church to assist this family, which is exactly what Amor strives to do in its ministry. They also ended up working for this family through a series of circumstances that they considered unfortunate. In the end, we were all glad for these circumstances, as they put this particular group with a big collective heart in the position to help this very serious need.

This miracle is not complete yet. Juanita will have her surgery this week and it is in the hands of God and her doctors to bring mother and baby through healthy. The truth is, we're not even sure that everything is okay with the baby now, we simply know she has a strong heartbeat. It is one of my deepest desires right now that I will be able to visit the Mezas again and find them healthy and happy in their new home. Please be a part of this miracle in action and pray that mother and baby will come through healthy. Thank you.

(Everyone stands proudly in front of the completed home. Oscar and beautiful, pregnant Juanita are in the first row on the right.)