Bible study project brings inspiration

Heather Mangan

Heather Mangan

As we crossed the Mexican-United States border, I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be Mexico. There aren’t any beaches, resorts or nightclubs.’ But I was in Mexico and about to experience a side of the country not seen in brochures.

During Christmas break, I spent a week in Juarez, Mexico, building a home for a family who had next to nothing. It was one of the most influential weeks of my life and an experience I won’t soon forget.

I got the chance to go to Mexico through my Bible study group, Campus Christian Ministry. When the leader of CCM, Rick Cole, told me about the trip, I was immediately excited. I had always wanted to build a house and liked the idea of spending a part of Christmas break in Mexico, so I decided to go along.

CCM usually travels to Mexico with FOCUS, a fellowship group from Oklahoma State University. Both groups work together through an organization called Casas por Cristo to build a home for one family each year. This year, 12 SDSU students, nine OSU students, one Kansas high school student and four advisors traveled to Juarez to build a three-room house.

We left South Dakota Jan. 1 and traveled two and a half days to El Paso, Texas, where we met our Casas por Cristo foreman, who gave us directions and surprised us all week. That afternoon, we headed straight to our work site in Juarez.

It took us an hour to get from the border to our work site, so I got to see a portion of the city. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. In big cities, you often see rundown areas where you can tell the people living there have a harder time. It’s only one part of the city, but in Juarez, it’s the whole city. Trash lined the streets, most houses were about the size of American garages and the people did whatever they could to survive.

When we arrived at the work site, I realized why we were there. We were building a house for a Christian family of six that lived in a one-room house made of pieces of plywood. They had some electricity, but no running water inside the house. Their bathroom was a small outhouse.

We began working right away. Because we arrived at the work site later than anticipated, we only had time to build the frames for the concrete.

After our first day of work, we drove to a church about ten minutes away. This was the church where we would stay while in Mexico. The church wasn’t big or extravagant, but you could tell it was a holy place. It had a sanctuary that would hold about 100 people. It also had a kitchen, two bathrooms, and five classrooms in which we slept.

Water was a limited resource. We could only use Mexican water for washing our hair, taking showers and some cleaning. We had to use bottled water for drinking, brushing our teeth and preparing food. We weren’t allowed to flush the toilet after each use and we could never flush toilet paper because of Mexico’s poor sewer system.

The next day, we arrived at the house before dawn and began pouring the concrete and building walls. We finished our work for the day around noon and took the afternoon off to let the concrete dry.

We spent the rest of the day experiencing the Mexican culture. We shopped at a market, ate at an authentic Mexican restaurant and visited a Mexican grocery store. The market was an overwhelming experience for me, because I am not used to bargaining for my products. People were very persistent about making a sale and wouldn’t let you walk away empty-handed.

We began very early the next day and worked the entire day. At the beginning of the day there was a concrete slab, but by the end a house-like structure was standing. We split into several groups and did different jobs. Some people worked on the interior and everyone else worked on the exterior. We put the structure together, put up fiberglass siding and chicken wire, put up insulation, began setting up electricity, started dry-walling and finished laying the roof. The end of our third night was exciting for all of us, because we could see our hard work taking form. We went back to the church at the end of the day tired and hungry, but proud.

That night, the church in which we were staying was holding an evening mass and the pastor invited us to come. Although only a few parishioners were there, it was an amazing experience. The pastor translated the sermon from Spanish to English, but all the prayers and songs were in Spanish. We couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, but we could tell that these people had a deep love for the Lord. I felt connected to these complete strangers who didn’t even speak the same language because of their strong love for God.

We woke up the next morning tired and worn, knowing this was our last day in Juarez. We worked all morning stuccoing the exterior and hanging drywall inside. After five hours, the house was completed and ready to be given to the family.

Before we gave the family the keys, we held a special ceremony in which we all joined hands, including the family, in prayer for our blessings and thanksgivings. This was my favorite moment of the trip, because while we were in prayer, I opened my eyes and saw all the smiling faces of my co-workers who had become my friends in the last three days. I then saw the family who was beaming with excitement and the mother who was crying from being overjoyed. Then, I cried.

My trip to Mexico is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The people I was with are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever come across. They taught me a lot about life and have made an impression that will always be with me.

I learned about who I am and what I can do. I also learned that life is much bigger than I know and things that used to be important are now just petty. I learned that I am very blessed and that my life isn’t so bad, no matter what happens.