The first full week of July I went on a high school mission trip with our church to Mexico to build houses. I was involved with this trip many months beforehand as I helped make some of the arrangements, so it was exciting that it was finally here. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed by this trip. While I have been on one other mission trip with 100 people, I have never been one of the people leading. I will also admit that as the trip approached I didn’t really want to go, but that is the story of my life. I don’t want to do things that take me out of my homebody comfort zone, but I know that once I am there I will enjoy them, and I did enjoy this trip. The battle was in getting there, but once I was there I was fine.
However, it was difficult getting there. I was planning to leave a day earlier than the rest of the students to meet up with our leadership team in San Diego. My plane out of Philly got delayed 6 hours due to weather, causing me to miss my connecting flight and get stuck in Phoenix over night. This turned out to be a blessing because Chris’s aunt and uncle live in Phoenix, so I spent the night at their place, spent time catching up with them in the morning, and then they brought be back to the airport in the afternoon for my short flight over to San Diego. The only down side was that I could not get my checked luggage and I packed NOTHING in my carry on. Since I have not checked anything in years and figured I would be fine with a two hour layover, I quickly learned that you should always pack a toothbrush and a change of clothes, no matter what. So I ended up getting to San Diego an hour after everyone else arrived (including their plane delay). But that is why we planned a buffer day before driving into Mexico. That night was the 4th of July, so we watched fireworks over the bay, which was awesome.
The next day we spent the morning at the beach as on of our students got baptized in the ocean. Then we met with Amor Ministries, the missions agency that we’ve been going into Mexico with for years. After crossing the border it was about a 20-30 minute drive to base camp. We spent the rest of the evening setting up camp (so many tents and a massive kitchen build!) and then relaxing before our busy week began.
While there were 100 of us on the trip (about 85 students and 20 leaders/cooks), we split up into 7 teams of 15 people to build 7 houses. Before the trip we met several times in our teams for trip preparation and for fundraising. However, my team, which I co-led with my friend Ted, did not get put together until about 1.5 months before the trip and we never got the chance to meet as a team. So with that being said I was a little worried as we met for the first time, many of us not knowing each other. I am thankful to say that I was pleasantly surprised by my team. They all got along well, worked really hard together, and bonded as the week went on. We named ourselves Team YG (Young Grande) and our team song was Break Free by Ariana Grande, which came out a few days before the trip. We listened to our song every time we were in the van, singing and dancing like crazy. We played pump up music every time we drove up the massive mogul sand hill that we thought we might tip our van and die on (really, we screamed in terror the first time we went up it). We had fun doing dinner clean up and learning interesting facts about each other. They were competitive about wanting to be the first team to finish their house (we were not) and rejoiced when we were one of the first two teams back each day. I am so thankful for the students on my team. They worked so hard and personally invested in our team and I couldn’t ask for more.
All of the houses our teams built were on the same road, so it was fun to see each teams’ progress throughout the week. Not only did we have to deal with the massive hill to get to our homes, but the houses were set on a hill, making our builds more difficult. While most of the materials we down by the houses, all of the dirt and rocks we used were on the road, meaning we had to haul the materials down tire steps to get them to where we were building the house. Luckily our stairs were steadier than most. We also build several of our walls up on the road due to space, so we had to carry those down too.
Our house build was divided into four days. The first day we focused on setting the foundation of the house using a mixture of cement, dirt, rocks, and water. Those who were not working on the slab started building some of the house frames.
Day two we finished building all the frames and put all the walls up so it actually started looking like a house!
Day three we put the roof frame and plywood up (that day one of the girls and I almost got beheaded when a piece of unnailed plywood slid off the roof and landed right behind us). We also started making the walls more secure on the house by putting up bailing wire and then prepping the house for stucco with tar paper and chicken wire.
Day four the boys finished the roof and we stuccoed the house.
Overall this was so much harder than I thought it would be. While I love building things, it was definitely more difficult to do everything by hand (hand saws, hammers, etc.) and to surrender my perfection to 14 different people of different skill levels working on one house. I was also not in the best shape before the trip, so doing manual labor 4 days in a row for 8 hours each day was exhausting. I think day 3 was the hardest. People were getting tired and we were all starting to be more careless, which caused one student to get seriously dehydrated and one of our leaders fell through the roof and broke his pelvic bone. Not good. But I think this caused all of the teams to become closer and we all learned from what was going on around us.
After building our houses, we headed back to San Diego the next day to relax and started preparing to go home. We walked around the beach that night and spent the next day exploring Sea World. Then we went to Chick-fil-A because it was dress like a cow and get a free meal day. Let’s just say we overwhelmed them when 100 of us walked in dressed like cows. I saw Ryan Ramirez there from So You Think You Can Dance and I was pumped! After eating I met up with my friend Kathy from college. It was so much fun catching up with her! I love connecting with old college friends because it’s a time to reminisce about college and to share what we have learned since leaving. Kathy is so sweet and her love for Christ is contagious. I can see her heart for wanting to serve her husband, friends, co-workers, and her community. It was such a blessing to spend time with her.
Another unexpected blessing of the trip for me was meeting April. April works for Amor and her husband had attended Princeton Seminary and was involved at our church while he was a student (meaning him and Chris hung out in the summers when Chris was home from college). April has a passion for her relationship with Christ and she wanted to share that with others, whether that be with the students coming to work with Amor or the Mexican families Amor was building houses for. Throughout the trip I enjoyed getting to know her story, which encouraged me in ways that she doesn’t even know. I think if we lived in the same place we would be really good friends. And I think that’s what I learned the most from her. In Princeton I still felt like I had not made strong connects with people. We had a group of friends that we enjoyed hanging out with, but I didn’t really have one-on-one relationships with the other wives. April made me realize that I need to start being more intentional about making friends in Princeton. While it scares me to put that much effort into relationships, especially knowing that many of these friends are leaving in a year, I think it’s worth being intentional versus going through another year of not having close friends. April taught me to be a little more adventurous and to say yes more. I tend to say no because I am a homebody, but I’ve realized that I need a better balance in my life. So since being home I have been being more intentional about attending BBQ’s, having couples over for dinner, and saying yes to opportunities that arise. So I am thankful for the conversations I had with April that are leading me to change my life back at home.