Mexico Trip Journal
A team of travelers from First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood enjoyed a rich time with Outreach partners in Mexico in February. Below is a trip journal written by team members with interesting details about their week.
Mexico Mission, Xpujil, Campeche
by Israel Flores
Thank God for the opportunity to serve you on this "short-term vision trip” with our friends of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and The Outreach Foundation.
Jesus showed us the greatest example of humility when he left his throne of glory and came to live in our midst. On this trip to Xpujil Campeche, we left our comforts, our daily activities, and our comfort, with the only goal of serving our God and neighbor.
It was a blessing to be welcomed and directed by the local group that humbly guided and taught us to develop join them in the work. It was also a joy to see everyone work without hearing any complaints about it, the weather, comfort, fatigue, food, etc. Our only longing to serve our God went beyond any language or culture barrier.
To Him be the Glory and the honor for all the centuries, Amen.
Israel is a member at Fuente de Vida Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California since 1990. He used to part of the leadership of the Hispanic youth movement of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii (PCUSA). He both and ordained deacon and now an elder.
by Christina Yew
This was our first full day in Xpujil, Mexico.
It was no problem waking up early. We’d gone to bed early, tired from a full day of travel. I’d rested well. Roosters were crowing right outside our bedroom window and coffee was promised at 6:30. I actually felt utterly and completely at peace as I woke up. My first thought was, “Ok, God, it’s your day. What’s it going to be like?” I have often struggled to surrender to God and trust in Him, and yet, here, in an absolutely foreign place, I found myself doing so without conscious effort.
I was sharing a room with Jourdan and Maddie. Eleanor and Lily have an adjoining room in the cinder block house. The walls are painted bright pink. There is a sink next to a small table where we put our toiletries. We don’t drink this water but do use it to wash our hands. We also have a small bathroom with a shower. The water comes from a cistern like the ones we will build. It is obvious that great care has been taken to make this house clean and comfortable. The beds are incredibly cozy, and fans keep the room cool.
The work today was hard. There’s a cement mixer, the kind that can be towed behind a truck. Our main job is to fill buckets with gravel or sand to dump into the mixer. So, we each fill one or two buckets each cycle. I don’t lift the buckets. The gravel is about forty pounds. The sand is heavier. But a fellow worker will carry it and add it to the mix along with cement powder and water. Then the local men, who have done this many, many times, pour it into the area cleared and framed for the cistern floor. Today we poured floors at four houses. There are seventeen cycles of cement for each floor, so we each filled about eighty buckets today. The work is very satisfying. There’s a point each cycle when all the buckets are full and we feel very accomplished, and then again when we load the truck after finishing a house.
The work goes in cycles, so there is time that everyone is busy and time that we are waiting around, chatting, getting to know each other better. We learn a lot about our hosts by watching them interact. No one has to do anything they are not comfortable with. It’s a case of many hands make light work. My son, Nathan, tends to push himself, but it’s been nice to see some of the other men helping him out. Honestly, the local guys would be fine without us, but it is hard and repetitive, and it feels good to be able to make their work lighter. We are also here to get to know them, get to know the other team members, and to encourage each other. It’s also a witness to the neighbors that live here. They are very interested in us, sometimes staring and waving as they walk by.
Each cistern floor takes a couple of hours. When we finish we go to a different house. My favorite house was the one that came at the end of the day when the sun was setting and there was a nice breeze. Everyone sort of perked up and laughed a lot.
After a delicious chicken dinner we walked all around Xpujil, buying ice cream bars and getting a feel for the town. There are a lot of people out and about and many greet Todd or stop him to talk. The feeling of peace that I woke with this morning stayed with me all day, even while learning how to do work that I’d never tried before, with people I’ve never worked with before, some of whom I’ve never met and don’t speak their language. The whole day felt like a gift and I am so grateful.
“God’s provisions for the things he calls us to do is always abundant when we look to him in faith, when we trust him instead of relying on our own strengths, plans, abilities and provisions.” - On Mission by Patric Knaak p. 61
by Nathan Yew
On the first day of work we woke up to a fine American breakfast of pancakes and bacon, all ready for us to devour. After the delicious meal we piled into the cars and drove about 15 minutes to the next town over.
When we arrived the local workers were already hard at work at another site, so we figured out our duties while we waited. The jobs were pretty simple, mostly just filling buckets with sand and gravel and pouring them into the concrete mixer, so it gave us time to rest.
After the first floor was completed we drove to the next house and got a better look at the town. Thick forest grew right up to the edge of town, and chickens wandered about (yes, crossing the road). It was cool to see God’s creation so intertwined with daily life, much more so than back home. After the second house, we headed back to the compound for lunch, which was some delicious chicken. We learned that other meat was not usually present, and that chicken was usually a once-a-week deal, which to me illustrated the hospitality of our hosts. After lunch we had a little time to get some rest, so I swung around in a hammock (which was surprisingly comfortable) until it was time to go. After our rest time we drove back to the work site for another pour. All in all we got four pours done before dinner, which was more amazing chicken.
After dinner we decided to get a better look at Xpujil. Right next to the compound was a small convenience store, where we found chips, coke, and some ice cream. Venturing down the block we found a bar (that looked a lot like a restaurant) that Todd recommended we didn’t attend. It was a reminder to us that we were outsiders, and that we needed to respect the cultures there, and one of those was that the Presbyterians in Xpujil don’t drink. Further down the road we found more convenience stores mingled with homes. Several houses had some kind of business in front of it, whether it was a small convenience store or a restaurant. After finding the ice cream we set out for at one of the stores, we headed back to the compound for a good night’s sleep.
by Phillip Olive
In the morning, after another good breakfast, we visited Chicanná, a nearby Mayan ruin complex. As an architect from Los Angeles, I love touring the ancient cliff dwellings and pueblos of the American Southwest and I enjoyed this in a similar way. These structures are grander statements but getting a sense of the movements of people long gone, no less God’s creation, no less valuable to him – that sticks with me. It makes the temporal expanse of God’s involvement with mankind more tangible and more humbling. And, these buildings remind me that all effort that is merely human will crumble. I can’t place my ultimate hope in my country or my job, but in Christ alone.
The work was tough and hot but it was enjoyable to leave behind the agendas and ambitions of life at home. I didn’t have to drive or cook. I didn’t have phone calls or emails to return. Well, maybe a few emails. To exist in a space where only a few things are required of me is a blessing. This work isn’t forever, nor is the heat. The work is important and worthy of our love and energy. Traveling so far to reach Xpujil and finding men and women living lives as valuable as mine. Jesus knows all of our names and addresses, and every language. He draws near to us. I am reminded of a feeling that I have felt many times, especially while traveling - a desire to live in more than one city at once. To wonder at the way that God experiences humans and locations as only he is able, being omnipresent and omniscient. He loves, watches, and sustains every human with exquisite care at the same time, in every place. Amazing!
Today was Maddie’s birthday and it was quite a spectacle! When Nathan found out that it was going to be Maddie’s birthday a few days ago, he began trying to figure out how to get the ingredients to make a cake happen. It was fun to watch his joy in trying to surprise her and to go above and beyond on behalf of another, in a different country, with a different oven and unfamiliarly-sized sticks of butter. Argel’s sister and her husband traveled 4 hours from another part of Mexico with 5 other musicians to visit with him and to eat, play, sing, and worship with us. Maddie was serenaded royally! The musicians’ joy in the Lord was evident in their playing and in their interactions with each other. So refreshing after a hard day’s work. They had 5 more hours of driving to reach their next destination, but they stayed with Argel late into the night. The people in our lives are worth it and a gift from God. Victor’s quiet strength and leadership made me miss my Grandpa. Encarnación’s sweet kindness made me miss my Grandma, but I am happy that their children and grandchildren still have them.
by Jourdan Allison Turner
By this time in the trip, we have been on the job sites for two days. We know the expectations, the work to be done, the goals. Our work this week is mostly filling buckets with sand and gravel. Bucket after bucket, day after day. I don't normally like routine but the routine of our work in Mexico is a gift and a pleasure. There isn’t anxiety about what the day ahead holds, or if we’ll be able to do the job. We know what the day holds, we know the job, we are finding our rhythm. The routine allows space for teamwork, conversations, and connection across cultural differences and language barriers. We will wake up early, share meals together, work hard, piece together bits of conversation as we can in Spanish, we will laugh, learn. The day will leave all of us - ages 13 to 74 - feeling tired, but accomplished, content. It is also a gift to just be a cog in the wheel of someone else’s vision and project. We are not the bosses, the saviors, the main focus…we are simply workers, alongside other workers doing our part. It is beautiful and humble to simply assist in a good work, not to give ourselves credit for it, just to show up, do what we’re told and be of service. By the end of this day we will be knit together anew and differently with one another and with God.
by Thomas Clark
The fourth day began as usual with the cock crowing at twenty to five a.m. Then it was strangely quiet until crowing at five, and then quiet again until crowing at six. Or is it simply that the constant noise is the new normal and I only notice the really loud racket?
Breakfast was wonderful. The meals are delicious and the selection changes each day. This morning they added black beans and fried plantain to the usual American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and flap jacks, toast and jam. Yummy. Our hosts are amazing.
The work schedule changed a bit, so we had free time after breakfast until ten for reading and conversation. Everyone is in good spirits and is ready for the work to begin. At ten we headed to the work site for our daily assignment. All the digging and rebar preparation for the cisterns was completed before our arrival. Then we participated in the pouring of the floor, and the first level of the circular wall. Today we will help with the second and final level of the wall. The vertical forms for the wall were set up before we got there, so it remained only to prepare the concrete and pour it between the inside and outside forms. The local work crew is fast and efficient, so a lot gets done while we aren't there.
We arrived and started filling the plastic buckets with sand and gravel. These go into the gas powered mixer with water and cement to make the concrete for the cistern. When fully mixed, the concrete is dumped into wheel barrows and carried to the cistern. The wheel barrow is hoisted up manually by two workers and poured into the gap between inside and outside forms. They must lift the barrow higher for the second level, so it is not filled as high as previously, and more trips are required.
Our help consists of filling the buckets with sand and gravel. Some of our men are strong enough to carry the filled buckets to the mixer. Some of us just fill buckets. The first day the local workers showed us that they do that work twice as fast and twice as efficiently. They are young, strong, and experienced. Over the four days they allowed us to fit in more and more into the work routine. This was greatly aided by the casual conversations and friendships initiated by our two Mexican born teammates from LA, Israel and Argel. We interact with the local workers as best we can, but there is a language barrier for the rest of us. In particular, Israel often operates the mixer and is constantly interacting with the workers, and a couple of the ladies poke around inside the forms of the cistern filled with concrete with a long stick to ensure that there are no air pockets in the walls. And now we can address workers by name, as Israel knows them all.
After work we return to the house to shower and change for dinner. We have a reservation at a local restaurant for the evening meal, but must carry our own resin chairs. We arrive at a hamburguesa stand that is run by one of Todd's sisters-in-law and her daughter. The eleven of us overwhelm the available seating, hence the need for chairs. Also interesting is the local version of hamburger: bun with meat patty and slices of ham and cheese, topped with hot dogs and grilled onions, plus a side of french fries. Very filling. The shack has an enviable location, across the street from the community center.
We have really been well taken care of by Todd and his family. They are all really friendly and sweet. I sense that it's some sacrifice on their part, but it's not noticeable. They are just really nice. It's been a great pleasure and much joy of life. Looking forward to Sunday.
by Maddie Mitchellweiler
It’s day four of our trip, and I continue to be amazed by how richly balanced our time here in Xpujil is. Work, rest, exploration, play…there somehow seems to be space each day to do it all! The tireless local team had to work on a few of the more technical pieces of the cistern this morning, so we start the day off exploring yet another ruin site. I still can’t fully wrap my mind around how ancient these structures are. The people that inhabited these spaces also had rhythms of work, rest, exploration, play. It sure is mind-stretching just to be around ancient things.
We get to the work site a little before the local team, so of course we take the chance to do some group photos by the cistern ready for its second layer. I remember seeing photos of cisterns at this stage before we came on the trip, and now here we are standing before one we helped create! It’s such a joy to be even a small part of the process. Three days of work and already the experience has become such a rhythm. And in the rhythm, we all have a part to play. Filling buckets, lifting buckets, mixing concrete, pushing wheelbarrows, lifting wheelbarrows, mixing out air bubbles. There are only a few parts I can play in these rhythms, but it’s a gift even to accept my own limits, and to watch someone else who is differently capable step in to do what they can. Todd keeps encouraging us to see all the parts of this work as gift. From the gravity that helps you fill the sand bucket, to the muscles of your friends that enable them to lift wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete - all of these things are gifts given by God. At times, I’ve gotten caught up in the gifts I don’t have. My own arms are barely strong enough to shuffle one of the full buckets to a better spot on the pile, let alone lift it over my head to carry to the mixer. But as I look around in the moments of rest when I can’t be working, I see the beauty of other gifts all around me. The shared smiles, small conversations, and moments of laughter that keep the work light even with the heavy loads. These too, are gifts from God to further the common good of our work together.
As the workday comes to a close, gorgeous light settles over our final site and the air starts to cool. Earlier in the day, we had found a discarded pair of work boots in the sand. One of our teammates, Israel, now starts to arrange some other objects around to create a character passed out in the pile. All of us, LA travelers and locals, get a good laugh over how all-too-resonant we feel with this make believe guy sprawled out in exhaustion. All of this, truly, is a gift. The work, yes. But also the fellowship that happens along with the work, the connections we make that don’t seem to happen as easily behind desks planning things on computers and over email. I begin to wonder how we could cultivate the richness of these gifts back home, in our own congregation, within our own programs and ministries. Those are questions I’ll keep asking, and listening for creative answers. But for now, I’m just grateful for and soaking in the gift of these rhythms, these days. La obra de Dios! What a gift, indeed.
by Eleanor Hoppe Herbst
Our last full day in Xpujil, and it was full indeed.
Church meets in the morning and evening. Just before 10am, we walked a few blocks to Congregacion El Sinai for prayer and praise and Sunday School hour. We were warmly welcomed. We interspersed our fluent Spanish speakers among us to help get a sense of what was happening and find the Bible passages. Song lyrics were projected on a screen, we could sing along phonetically. The sanctuary was full of sunlight. Lizards rested on the stained glass cross, maybe until the sun moved and they scattered. With the gift of translation, I understood parts of the Sunday School teaching from Esther on raising up new church leaders. Church felt comfortable and familiar, even thousands of miles from home and through the language barrier – worshiping and learning with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
After a grilled chicken lunch-feast, we headed out to tour the third Mayan archaeological site of our trip. This site was the largest (and steepest) of the three we were able to see. The climbers climbed, the explorers explored, the wanderers wandered. Expansive vistas revealed lush landscape as far as the eye could see. We spotted stunningly vibrant plants and trees. I had the sense of being in an ancient place, thinking about a long-ago society, something complex and intricate just below the surface that left both a link across ages and a mystery too.
Back home for showers and preparation for evening worship. We had the privilege of being invited to the church and home of Victor who manages the cistern work. Again, this church family welcomed us abundantly. Worship at El Buen Pastor felt different from the morning church experience. There was less translation and no hymn lyrics, so I had to make room for the Holy Spirit to take over and help me pay attention to the people, rhythms and flow of the service; to help me be present and blessed by the worship. Babes in arms and kids in general were a lively part of the service – the way the families made space for the kids, let them be comfortable and participate – was a joy to see. Everyone knew the words to the hymns and sang with energy and gusto! As the service closed with communion (the bread was cake-like and sweet, another wonderful surprise), I left wrapped in God’s abundance and blessing.
Our evening was far from over. We were welcomed to dinner with Victor’s family, eating in his home, sharing a meal at their table – an immeasurable honor. We who came to serve alongside were served a truly delectable meal of chicken, rice, homemade tortillas, corn on the cob with chili and lime, and my new favorite – apple soda. A highlight of the evening was practicing math facts with one of the kids – being able to count to 10 in Spanish was enough to find common ground and laughter.
On the way home, we pulled over to stargaze. Light-saturated Southern California hides the stars… but in the deep, peaceful darkness of Xpujil, the night sky popped in all its glory. Stars upon stars, tracing the shape of constellations, the Milky Way and even the curvature of the sky – twinkling, sparkling, colorful, endless, uncountable. A clear glimpse of God’s handiwork evident in the heavens… God’s capacity for love and beauty …a reminder of our smallness in the universe … and an echo of all that we had experienced throughout the trip – the love and beauty of the people and land of Xpujil, and the guiding hand of the Lord on our time.
Mexico Mission, Xpujil, Campeche
by Argel Chay
Greetings brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to share with you, what this mission has meant in my life and how it inspires me to keep on sharing the message of Jesus to other people, as far as the Lord allows me to reach. Without a doubt, I have deeply enjoyed the company of each of you. It was a pleasure working as a team with great confidence and effort to do the work that God entrusted us in this mission. For me, this is the second consecutive year that God has allowed me to be at his service in Xpujil Campeche, and from my first experience in that place, I could see the great need of these communities, for the lack of having enough water to cover their main needs of each family.
This situation has led me to reflect on how I can be an instrument of God to help change in some way the situation of these families. Something that can only be done through the love and compassion of Jesus that has touched our hearts in some way for the water problem in that place. Although it is not an easy task to achieve, God manifests to form great teams through his Church in different parts of the country to be a blessing for the people of these communities.
Today our Hollywood Presbyterian congregations are blessed to be part of the Lord's team that not only cares but also works with great passion and energy to reflect the love of Jesus. Helping our neighbors with their needs without caring about their social class and culture. The Lord moves his people to be at the service of others even in places less thought for us. And even without basic training for the tasks we have to do, God through his Holy Spirit guides us and directs us perfectly to fulfill his purpose.
I am truly grateful to each of you for your time, effort and patience during all these days. I am also very grateful to the first Hollywood Church for sharing enough resources to make this mission possible, and to their leaders who with great professionalism and effort helped make this mission in Xpujil possible. We give the honor and all the glory to our Lord Jesus Christ for being with us at all times. Amen.