a home for the holidays

Last June Quinn sent an e-mail to all of her family members, inviting us to join the Anderson family in Juarez, Mexico, to build a house together over Thanksgiving break. They have a real heart for the people who live in the colonias outside the city the media calls the most dangerous in the world. Despite their hard work, the people still live in poverty. So over the last three years the Anderson family has led several teams down to build homes for deserving people, an unforgettable experience they wanted to share with their “greater” family.

Why, you ask, would they risk their lives, and now suggest we risk our lives, to help just one family in Mexico? Let’s just say right up front that the danger you hear and read about is in the city, not 30 kilometers away in the colonias. Teams cross the border from New Mexico into a country setting. Traveling to the Missions Ministries complex, we passed through one security check point, which was much less invasive than what we experience in our own airports. For the entire time we spent in Mexico there wasn’t a single moment we felt anything but completely safe, and now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I feel sad for all the prospective teams that back out of the project out of fear. It makes me wonder what I’ve missed out on because I didn’t follow my heart.

So we said yes! And so did our John and Erin. And so did my niece Krista (from Santa Barbara, CA). And so did Dusty’s parents, Neil and Randee (from Seattle). And here is the story about how God used our willingness, our small efforts, and the prayers and financial gifts of a host of family and friends to get ‘er done!

Day One

About a week before our departure I sent a “heading for Juarez” letter to family and friends who are supporting us with prayer and have shared financially in our joyful mission adventure. In the letter I asked for specific pray for health, safety, smooth travels for our team, and that God would use our efforts to bless the people we went to serve.

So when our 8:15pm flight from LA to El Paso was canceled, we wondered how God might “smooth” out this little wrinkle in our travels (since so many were already paving our way with prayer). Near the end of the long line of disgruntled Thanksgiving travelers hoping to be rebooked, we refused to worry, and when it was our turn, sure enough, there were absolutely no available seats in any upcoming flights to El Paso. Desperately, the ticket agent asked if there might be somewhere else close we might fly. Mauri and I simultaneously said, “How about Phoenix?” Her eyes brightened, obviously cheered by the notion that she might actually be able to help us. A quick call to Quinn confirmed our hopes: she would pick us up at midnight and we could ride down to El Paso with them in the morning! Get this! Not only did we enjoy seats together on the Phoenix flight, they were in the exit row!

After a comfortable, though short, night of sleep, we shared the company of Quinn and young Paul, along with all the supplies packed into one of the two cars the Andersons drove down to El Paso. So I like to think we simply traded one Plan A for another Plan A.

Too many words? I don’t usually write so much, do I? Let’s let some pictures do the talking.

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We all met at the appointed time in the Quality Inn in El Paso and loaded up the trailer.

After overindulging our appetites at Great China Buffet restaurant, we made a quick stop at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club to shop for the housing extras and food outreach (provided by our team’s supporters).

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The border crossing took time—with this form and that security check, this passport stamp and that Spanish translation—and later Mauri, who rode shotgun, noted the out-of-our-ordinary close proximity to so many heavily armed men! But only my computer and John’s camera, discovered with a high-tech sensor, gave them any concern. We couldn’t make too many observations on our way to the Missions Ministries team center, since only our van headlights broke the darkness.

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You can see there isn’t much “suffering for Jesus” going on here. Right away we were fed a delicious meal in very pleasant surroundings. You can see how comfortable the kids are here, this being the 7th trip for three of the Andersons and the 3rd for the newest two. In fact, their parents are convinced they would all choose building a house in Juarez over a trip to Disneyland.

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Come time to unload the trailer, all hands were on deck. The most memorable part of this was the bucket-brigade handoff of the diapers and formula donations for Babies of Juarez.

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Soon it was time to stage the delivery update photo. Type-A Quinn wants the presentsation to accurately represent all of what donors have provided for her precious babes.

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It’s a chilly evening, and Erin makes room for Cassidy in her jacket along with Baby Macy. (Erin is six months pregnant!)

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A final swing for Cass with Guh, her other grandma, before bed.

Day Two—Thanksgiving!

We gathered for devotions at 7 a.m., bundled against the cold. Mauri and John led us in some worship singing. Quinn reminded us to be on the lookout for God’s activity in the work of the day. We prayed, ate a hearty breakfast, loaded the mission bus, and headed for the job site.

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The family that would have a new home the next day had been sleeping in their van with their year-old baby, Megan.

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Krista wasted no time in greeting Briset. We quickly learned to depend on Krista for interpretation.

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We all had to work on our pounding chops (and several ended the day with bandaged fingers).

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The Mexican workers remind Paul how it’s done.

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And now he’s on his own!

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Next the siding goes on the frame.

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We happily shared our hammers with Juan Carlos and Briset, because they wanted to get in on the effort.

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Dusty took a break to admire the progress.

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Someone (me) used her hammer, so Marissa became the official photographer for a while. Here are some of her winning shots:

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Yes, yours truly got in on the fun. Many joyful moments came my way as I observed, photographed, and participated in Missions Ministries’s well-planned and smoothly executed process of home building.

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John and Erin braved a good camera on the job site to capture the building process. They’ll share their pictures eventually…

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This is the most exciting part! One wall is uprighted and half of the team steadies it while…

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…the back half is uprighted and held in place while…

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…the side and center pieces are brought in and secured.

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I tried to imagine what Carlos and Briset were thinking as they helped hold up the wall against the strong wind, knowing they would no longer worry about freezing to death in the night, as many do.

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Part of my fun was getting to hold Megan while her parents worked. You might have already noticed how my camera balked from the grit blown into its mechanism. (The partially closed lens shows up most on this shot.) I finished it off when it fell from my poorly zipped pocket into the sand. Dusty saved the day by handing off his camera with the kindest of words: Shoot away!

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Next—the roof!

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Dusty shows Krista and Erin how to cut the window openings.

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Meanwhile, the roofing is added.

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Quinn and Randee install the windows. (You can see I eeked out a few more pictures before my camera gives up the ghost.)

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And inside, Bailey checks out his dad’s insulation installation work.

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Jesús stayed one step ahead of the workers, experienced in helping newbies learn the process. Marissa’s favorite part of the build is the roof, and she didn’t want to miss out!

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Bailey’s no newbie, this being his seventh build! He’s glad there are no child-labor laws in Mexico.

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Neil has a pretty good view from the top.

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Chief Mama wanted to check out the roof as well.

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John and Erin get a head start at teaching their son/daughter how good hard work feels.

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You don’t actually see me working, but I was the designated caulker and very dedicated to my task! By lunch time we had four insulated walls, a tarred-and-papered roof, six trimmed (and caulked!) windows, and a front door. As many times as I’ve heard this can be accomplished in one morning, I didn’t believe it until I saw it for myself.

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It looks a lot like a prison from the outside, but the inside is friendly and inviting.

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Cassidy and Bailey ring the lunch bell.

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Food is plentiful and tasty, prepared by a friendly Mexican staff. Our lunch meal on this day of Thanksgiving included turkey, dressing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie!

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She’s a vegetarian, so you might know this was posed.

After lunch we toured the Missions Ministries complex. It includes full accommodations for work teams, a well-equipped clinic for medical teams, and the shop where the house-building pieces are cut, stacked, and stored.

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Quinn was quite excited to see the new shelves built especially for storing the diapers and formula donated for the babies of Juarez.

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Note the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes already delivered and waiting for distribution to the children in the colonias.

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After another bus ride out toward our work site, we enjoyed a first-hand look at one of the libraries operated by Missions Ministries scattered around the colonias. The children are like magnets to Dusty, his love for them so evident.

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Little extrovert Paul didn’t hesitate to make a friend.

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Susy and her husband, Leo, met Krista’s flight in El Paso and, thanks to Krista’s Spanish skills and similar interests, they quickly bonded. Here Krista gets to see the library that Suzy oversees, along with two of her (soon to be) five children. This whole setting resonated with the homework club Krista operates in her home one day a week for the children in her neighborhood.

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The evening offered time to relax.

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No, wait, what was I thinking?!?! All those newly acquired diapers and formula needed to be added to those cool new shelves.

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Everyone gets in the act, and Jesús has very specific ideas about how the supplies and stored and distributed.

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Still more to accomplish before bed. Here we assemble 100 hygiene kits, purchased with some of the funds our friends and family donated.

Day Three

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Bright and early we were back on the job. But just because the sun shone bright does not mean it was anything but cold! Another opportunity to be happy for this family whose home is now half built.

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The outside crew got busy with paint and rollers…

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You have to look at the kids’ shadows to see the paint actually has color.

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While the inside crew hangs the drywall.

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(the spots on the pictures represent grit)

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Another full-family shot—Erin and babe outside, John inside.

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Masked man caulking. Yes, they overtook my job.

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But I was busy painting trim…

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…and the baño.

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Little Megan entertained herself.

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And Paul entertained the Mexican workers, who are well instructed to stand back and let the gringos do what we came to do and to jump in for the electric and other skill-needed tasks.

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The kids are allowed to use the scrap wood and leftover paint to make whatever they want, which appeared to be crosses. Here Cass helps her brother paint the words “Jesus loves people” on his cross. She suggested “Jesus loves me” because it would fit better, but he insisted on “people.”

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When he gave it to the Martinezes, Krista was on hand to interpret the words.

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Down to the finishing touches—on the outside…

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And on the inside. The family will do the inside painting after the mud dries, and we learned later that Briset chose orange, not a soft orange, no no, fuego (the Spanish word for fire)!

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Now it’s time for Dusty to distract Juan Carlos and Briset while we sneak in the “extras”—mattresses, linens, household/cleaning supplies, clothes for Megan, food stuff, diapers, personal hygiene items, a Spanish Bible—all a surprise and all purchased with funds donated for this purpose.

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I include all of these pictures so that you who gave financially toward this project can see with your own eyes how God used your generosity.

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And then the dedication, where we all gather in close while we offer our expressions of care and gratitude through an interpreter. Can you see Paul’s raised hand behind Erin? He wanted to go first.

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Addison offered the cross she made and shyly attempted to share her thoughts in Spanish.

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Quinn presents the Bible, signed by all of us, after reading words from her own.

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Smiles all around, and more than a few happy tears shed by many of us, including Briset.

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Finally, Juan Carlos expressed his gratitude to our team and to God. He wanted us to know that he and Briset are Christians and that because of our gesture of kindness he feels we are now family. (Gulp)

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Then they went inside and found all the surprise stuff.

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Big smiles from both as Krista tells them who knows what! I need a refresher course on my high school Spanish before returning for another build, that’s for sure.

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Ah, the joy of another dream fulfilled!

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More happy faces as we ride the bus back to the team center.

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After lunch there was more hauling to do—loading the bus with what’s needed for the food outreach.

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Nobody asked, but Marissa wanted to neaten up the yard of her home away from home.

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Into the bus…

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off of the bus…

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carried into the community center…

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and organized for quick assembly.

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Cass takes ownership of the juice distribution.

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She’s too fast for a non-blurry photo.

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No one gets missed.

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Once tummies are full, it’s time to pull out the crafts. Marissa covers the most popular table—beads!

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“Business” is booming at the craft table, though there were other stations like tattoos and coloring.

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Where two or more Macys are gathered, there will surely be a hacky sack.

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Cassidy was happy to see her friend Lolita, who lives in the very first home she built three years ago.

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The moms, Quinn and Guadalupe, are also close friends, despite the language barrier.

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Lupe’s little boy Selseo enjoys his third ice cream bar.

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Krista heads out into the neighborhood with food for her new young friend’s shy parents.

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Later that night (Friday) we attended a service at one of the five churches in the colonias whose pastors are supported by Missions Ministries. We sang many worship songs as part of the congregation, and one of them, to our great delight, was the familiar “How Great Is Our God.” Our team had a small part in the service. Krista read from the Spanish Bible passages from Jeremiah and the psalms relating to what became our team’s theme song— “Be Bold, Be Strong” (for the Lord thy God is with thee…for I am not afraid, no no and I am not dismayed, no, ’cause I’m walking in faith and victory because the Lord my God is with me)! We also sang “Lord Most High”—another song we sang in morning devotions because it so perfectly states our mission: “From the ends of the earth…From the depths of the sea…From the heights of the heavens…Your name be praised. From the hearts of the weak…From the shouts of the strong…From the lips of all people…This song we raise Lord. Throughout the endless ages you will be crowned with praises, Lord Most High. Exalted in every nation, Sovereign of all creation, Lord Most High be magnified.” Jesús interpreted the message for us, and it was an evening we will not soon forget.

Day Four

At 7 a.m. devotions we shared more highlights; they went on and on. (During one of our many debriefing conversations on the drive to Phoenix I told Quinn that when I separate out the family experience from the Juarez experience I feel full and equal joy from both.) Then Quinn read about Moses coming down from the mountain, his face radiant from having seen God’s pure glory. Her parting prayer “for us would be that our experience while down here would be worn on our faces and it would be obvious to the people around us that we’ve seen the Lord.”

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The goodbyes began as we packed up to leave and snapped just one more picture of everyone/everything.

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Krista got to say some final words to Leo, one of the Missions Ministries pastors and Suzy’s husband.

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Paul helped me carry our scaled model of the house we built.

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Our team, hearts crammed full.

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Back on the bus and headed for the border and home.

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Back in El Paso, final farewells. Nine head toward Phoenix; five head toward the airport.

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Just one more squeeze, and then it’s time to start dreaming and planning for the next time! Maybe you want to join us…

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15 Responses to a home for the holidays

  1. Michelle says:

    I read every word and soaked in every picture. Beautiful job of describing and showing what happened! Thank you so much Sherry. It’s incredible what just a few days can do/can mean. Praise God from whom all blessing flow.

  2. Denise says:

    Wow…I have been sitting here just immersed in your experience…which vicariously became MY experience too…thanks for putting so much effort into sharing it with us. What a huge blessing for you to be able to be there…

  3. Donna says:

    Wonderful pictures and story, Sherry. I was praying for you all as you went. Thank you for sharing your family with the web… it’s a blessing and widens my world. With thanks to our Father — for you!

  4. Karen Schelhaas says:

    Oh, oh, OH… just sitting here with big ole tears dripping off my chin. What a beautiful Thanksgiving… indeed. And your faces DO look like you’ve seen the Lord… thanks for putting this together. My family will enjoy seeing all of it tonight after school…

  5. Tonya says:

    Thanks for sharing the experiences you had in Mexico. The pictures and the words complemented each other and made it real to me. I love how your whole family was involved and shared in the experience but invited others in as well. I know it was a very bonding time for each of you. I even teared up at the end when you all had to say goodbye to each other.

  6. Julene says:

    Thank you for recapping the trip with the pictures! They say so much and can be looked at over and over! (Jim, will like seeing that bus!) The energy that God placed on all of you is apparent and a blessing to hear about! The sweet family that got the house must be pinching themselves!! The extra’s you sneaked in make it even better!! 🙂 God Bless each of you..more and more!! You have blessed us!!

  7. Great to read all this!! I like when you write as well as post pictures. 🙂 Thanks for doing this and serving and sharing your joy!

  8. Terri Bowen says:

    WOW! What a great experience. Thanks, Sherry, for sharing your experiences with us in words and pictures. My heart rejoices with all of you for what you were able to accomplish in a few short days. . . and how you blessed that little family.

  9. rachel says:

    What an experience! What a gift (for everyone involved, really). Thanks so much for sharing all of it so thoroughly.

  10. Barb Mann says:

    So looking forward to Rachel experiencing this on spring break with GAGA. Now I can picture part of what they will be doing! Thank you.

  11. Carol Bullis says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful account of your trip. I have been there many times in the last 20 years and have experienced what you have experienced. Even so, your story brought tears to my eyes once again. Quinn is an amazing woman, wife, mother and servant of God. Your whole family is awesome!

    I am looking forward to another trip the end of February, right after Quinn’s next trip. It is such a blessing to be a blessing to these precious brothers and sisters in Christ. As you know and everyone says, “I received much more than I gave.”

    Our prayer is that more teams would take this step of faith to serve in such a beautiful way.

  12. Pingback: Mauri and Sherry » a third home for the holidays

  13. Pingback: a fourth home for the holidays | Mauri and Sherry

  14. Pingback: a sixth home for the holidays | a little bit of this and a little bit of that

  15. Pingback: a seventh home for the holidays | a little bit of this and a little bit of that

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