A few short weeks ago, my long-time friend Pam, four new friends (the McGrorey clan) and I, along with 190 other Club Dust 2014 volunteers stowed luggage, blankets, pillows, hundreds of shoes, new bicycles, tools and more, and climbed aboard buses bound for the Mexican border.
Our destination: The El Niño Valley near Tecate Mexico, a dusty, desolate hillside encampment located just 45 miles from San Diego’s world-class beaches and vibrant lifestyle scene.
Our objective: to, in a span of three days, build new homes for six families who were selected by Club Dust as recipients based on a number of benchmarks.
Tecate’s Rancho la Paloma Ministry Center served as home base for Club Dust 2014, and after an early breakfast on day one, we boarded the vans and buses headed for El Niño. (http://www.rancholapaloma.org) As we approached this encampment for the first time I experienced overwhelming shock at the extreme living conditions. My heart instantly felt heavy and guilt filled my conscience. How can people living so very close to my home be existing in such poverty? Why? Why am I so blessed while the residents inhabiting this barren dustbowl are simply repudiated? Yet I observed children running, playing, smiling, laughing. Mothers strolled the dusty roads with babies in tow, chatting with each other while Club Dust teams set up at the various job sites. A few minutes later, Pam, Cindy, Natalie and I had paint rollers in hand at site #5 and were coating trim pieces for Ana, Carlos, Cristian, Carlos, Carla and Jacquelin’s new home. Behind us, framing had begun on the house and detached latrine. Along the dusty road, five more homes were being raised just as efficiently. That overwhelming sadness I initially felt was quickly replaced with exhilarating hope! First of all, who knew just how much children love to paint? They came in droves from all directions, pleading for a paintbrush. Let’s just say things … and people … got really colorful! In just a few remarkable moments, the sleepy village of El Niño became a vibrant, bustling community. Residents graciously and lovingly welcomed us into their homes and families. Kindness, love, compassion and open hearts miraculously built a bridge between two distinctly disparate cultures. At the end of day one, Club Dust organizer Ray Meltvedt reminded us that the experience of serving and connecting with the people of El Niño through God’s grace is the primary purpose of our mission work. “Don’t worry” he said, “The homes will get built.” Profoundly perfect!
And so our adventure continued. Up for a new experience on day two, Pam, Cindy and I wandered into the furniture building site where team leader Ken happily schooled us on all things nail gun, drill and impact driver, and then put us right to task. Working side by side with Ishmael, Josua, and other Mexican youth was absolutely fantastic … to witness them eagerly helping with furniture construction for their neighbors was incredibly heartwarming! By the end of day two, eight bunk beads, a dozen or so picnic tables, bench seats and food prep tables were ready for paint. Day three became a whirlwind frenzy at every home site. Roofs were laid, sheetrock installed, walls painted, brick patios, trim work and latrines were completed while furniture painting and delivery was organized. And as Saturday’s sun began to set on the dusty enclave of El Niño, six exuberant families received an inspirational dedication and blessing along with a set of keys to their new home. Homes which will serve as safe shelter, a dwelling for peace and a haven for the creation of beautiful family memories for decades to come.
Thanks to the vision and dedication of Club Dust, other organizations and countless volunteers, the chalky, desolate hillsides of the El Niño Valley continue their slow but steady transformation from a landscape of dust and ramshackle dwellings to a community of vibrantly colorful, secure and enduring dream homes for local residents. But the most profound transformation is not in the construction of homes for impoverished families; it lies instead within the genuine relationships that are cultivated by listening to our hearts and opening up in reverent service and humility to the beautiful people residing in the remote, forgotten El Niños of the world. I went to Mexico to “pay some of my blessings forward” by building homes for the poorest of the poor; families living in unimaginable poverty. Yet the life-changing, heart-melting experience I received is so much more than I offered. Without a doubt, physical poverty is extreme in El Niño, but evidence of vast richness lies in the heart and spirit of the people who call this place home. Look deep into their eyes … transparent windows to their soul; you’ll witness compassion and love overflowing. Take a child into your arms and you’ll be overcome by their joy and gratitude as they hug you ever so tightly. Ray was right; the houses got built. But who would have thought that the people I came to serve would instead serve me?
Our result: a soulful connection with a culture of beautiful residents who struggle daily to feed, clothe and shelter their families, yet find reasons for joy, abundant love and happiness in this barren wasteland beyond the streets of Tecate. And the construction of six more 16’x20′ houses … palatial estates … by the standards of the 31 residents who now inhabit them. Club Dust is changing lives one family at a time. Yes, I’ll be returning to Mexico’s El Niño Valley soon!
The Club Dust Mission:
Serving God’s people in simple obedience to James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Club Dust organizes two separate four-day home-building mission trips to Mexico each year; one in June and another in December. They also operate several day trips to the El Niño Valley (typically the third Saturday of each month). Please visit Club Dust’s website at: http://www.clubdust.org for complete details about the organization or for registration information.