Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tijuana Time - The Trilogy

We stayed at a humble home for the duration of our stay in Tijuana; right next door to the orphanage that about 45 beautiful children call home.

When I "signed up" to go to Tijuana, I knew that we would be spending time at the orphanage and, in my mind, I had lots of ideas of what is was going to be like.

I imagined that I would see sad children; not very socialized. I imagined that they would have "raggedy" clothing and that they would probably be dirty. I imagined that these children would need my love and attention and all the hugs that I planned to give them.

My perceptions could not have been more wrong.

What we saw were children: happy, smiling, playing, and very friendly. They were dressed in nice clothing and they were very clean; they showered every day. And while the kids eagerly accepted the love and hugs that they were given, they were not short on love.

Through my "Tijuana Trilogy" I wanted to share with you where I saw the Light of Jesus; and even though I didn't think I would find much of anything uplifting at the orphanage, it's where the love of God is dwelling and where his Light is shining brightly.

Enrique and Lupe, a young couple with two young children themselves, run the orphanage. Just in the past year, Eduardo (he has three orphanages in Tijuana) was able to get them a mobile home that sets right by the orphanage; this allows them a little bit of their own family time and a place to "get away" when they do get a day off.

Enrique and Lupe have given their lives for the children of Mexico; most of the children, we learned, are not adoptable. The children end up in this orphanage because their parents can't afford to feed them and take care of them for various reasons, but they don't give up their rights to the children. For many, as soon as they are old enough, their parents take them back home so that they can start working to help support the family.

Enrique and Lupe, with the help of their 3 or 4 other employees, teach them about Jesus in tangible and intangible ways. They teach the children about God's great love for them in their actions and their words. They give so much and they don't expect anything in return.

I was humbled by the way Enrique and Lupe love these children even though, on so many levels, they are being taken advantage of. But God's love and his light are in this couple and they don't ask why, they just love - unconditionally. And the children love them - they LOVE them!

I left Tijuana ready to get home to hug and love on my own kids; but it was so hard to walk away. The kids are so easy to fall in love with - and a part of my heart will always be there with them. I pray that God calls me to Tijuana again; but if he doesn't, I look forward to the day I'm reunited with my "Tijuana Kids" in heaven.

On the way home my friend, Dori, asked me how I was going to describe my time in Tijuana in one sentence. After some thought, I said, "I expected to see despair but I saw hope."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tijuana Time - Part Dos

I was "warned" that the church service on Sunday was going to easily be two hours long; it was...and then some. But I wouldn't have known unless someone pointed it out to me.

We were in a warehouse in the middle of Tijuana in a neighborhood, we were told, that you did not want to be in at night. Cement floors swept clean, red carpet that was donated covered the area where approximately 100 chairs - mismatched, old, and dirty - were set. About 40 people, including kids, filled the chairs.

The service began with some praise and worship, unfortunately for those of us who are are Spanish-impaired, we couldn't sing along until we figured out what the song was and then, we could only sing along if we knew the words. It didn't' matter though that I didn't know the words - God is really cool that way - I was still drawn in despite the language barrier. I felt almost like I had an advantage because I wasn't distracted by trying to follow along to the power point, or distracted by some lyrics that have become so familiar that I don't even "hear" them anymore. It was just worship and intentional worship at that.

After praise and worship, the kids were dismissed to children's church; after they left, there were a lot of seats left open-in fact, church looked "empty." Joel, a Christian guy with an awesome testimony, was going to translate the message for us. Joel used to live in the United States so he speaks very fluent English and Spanish and he teaches an English class every Sunday morning before church.

At first, it was hard to follow Joel, it was a little noisy and I had to almost look right at him to hear and understand. I was a bit discouraged and so I asked God to have me hear that day, what he wanted me to hear.

Over the next hour or so while Kuko, the pastor, delivered the message, a transformation took place. Toward the end of the message Kuko explained that the church, only 3 years old, started as a small group study; he asked the original members of the small group to stand up. Approximately 10 people stood up. He asked them to stay standing.

Then he asked the people who started attending that 2nd year when they became an official church to join the others that were standing. Another 20-25 people stood up.

The people who had started attending within the last year were asked to stand up and join the others. Maybe 25-30 people stood up.

Kuko then asked anyone, including the Americans who were visiting, who was attending for the first time to stand up. Approximately 30 people stood up.

Kuko explained that three years ago he had to choose to believe that God would build this church; that he asked the people to stand to strengthen their faith about what God was doing and to strengthen his faith. Because he believed, he said, they were going to set up another 30 chairs for the following week and he was going to believe that God would fill them.

It was then that I realized that almost every chair had a person in it. Church was "full." I felt as if God was saying to me, "Janelle, look what I can do."

I don't know what happened that following Sunday; I wish I could have confirmation of what I believe God did.

God is on the move in Tijuana, even on the streets where drugs, violence, prostitution and stealing are taking place.

It only makes sense, God wants to be where the hurting people are.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tijuana Time - Part 1

There is something about the mindset of the people in Mexico; they don't get too worked up about anything and they really don't seem to set deadlines. They just work for the day and what doesn't get accomplished today, they'll do tomorrow.

I could stand to have that sort of mentality; not worrying about my lists and schedules and getting this and going there...if I don't get it done today, do it tomorrow! I've done that, in a way, with my blog.

Two weeks ago at this time I was sitting in the San Diego airport waiting to head back home. As I sat in the airport, I was thinking about how I would describe my experience in Tijuana, with the children, at the church, and by the landfill.

You've seen the headlines and watched the news about the violence in Mexico; and it's real. We didn't see anything or feel threatened but my husband did hear a gun shot one night.

The Tijuana landscape is like nothing I've seen before; it's littered with liter. When someone says take the garbage out - they do, and then they just give it a toss. And the architecture isn't like ours; no fancy Spanish-style villas like I've seen on TV.

It's been difficult for me to put my experiences on paper so a friend of mine suggested that I share about the mission trip in "parts."

On Sunday our group, which consisted of 10 people and our two guides/drivers/translators along with a man by the name of Eduardo and his adopted son and two other boys went to a part of Tijuana known as "the dump."

The dump is actually the landfill; the poorest of the poor live here. They get food from the landfill and they build their "houses" out of things that they get from the landfill.

The thing is, in Mexico, they don't throw anything away; and the things they have aren't really very nice. I've thrown out furniture that is nicer than most everything I sat on while I was there.
Throughout the weekend, I had been focused on taking notice of where God was at work in Tijuana; our pastor intended to have the four of us from our church that went share specifically where we saw God's light shining.

I never expected to see God's light shining at "the dump." But I did and it was!

As we drove up and into the "neighborhood," the vehicles we were in began honking the horns and continued honking until we came to a stop; as we drove, people began running out of their homes. And within minutes, there were people lined up waiting for whatever it was they knew we were going to give.

We handed out food - the basics: flour, rice, oatmeal, tomatoes, onions, lemons, and a few other items. Not much of a grocery "run" is it?

My job this day was to hand out the plastic bags that the people would put their food in; as I did, I intentionally looked each person in the eyes. Since I don't speak Spanish it was the only way I could communicate to them that I loved and cared for them.

So, where is the light in that? you ask. Let me ask you a question: how hard is it for you to accept a gift when you are in need? Does your pride get in the way of receiving?

I tried to imagine what the "locals" must think. "...here come another bunch of Gringos...rich Americanos..." I don't know if they do, but maybe. The simple fact that some of the people took their bag and looked me in the eye and said "gracias" was a visible sign of God's light shining in Tijuana.

We also had a handful of people support us financially with monetary donations and others who purchased cinnamon rolls which helped us raise money for this trip. Each and every person who gave financially was a part of giving food at the dump that day. The food that was purchased for that day, was paid for with the money that was so generously given to support our trip.

Our group of ten people gave food out to probably 150 people that day; we also gave out 100 bags of candy to the children. But it wasn't just the ten of us, it was everyone of of you who bought a dozen cinnamon rolls all the way up to those of you that donated $350 - you were God's light shining in Mexico. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.