a sixth home for the holidays

Too much was at stake to set only one alarm to wake us at 3 a.m. that day before Thanksgiving. All systems were go—but everything had to fall into place for the plan to work. We couldn’t afford a delayed flight in Portland or LA in order to get us to El Paso in time to meet up with our team. One glitch and we’d spend Thanksgiving in Texas. But our travels were uneventful.

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Or so we thought as I posted this picture on Facebook while we waited to be picked up at the El Paso airport.

Turns out the Denver office hadn’t communicated an airport pick up in the notes for the Mexican team that comes to the US side in vans and a trailer to escort us across the border. At the meeting place, Quinn casually asked Jesús who was slated to pick up her parents. Jesús speaks perfect English but used only facial expressions to let her know he knew nothing about a pick up. So they quickly put together a plan for Raúl to get us. Raúl doesn’t speak much English and is shy about going alone to pick up non-Spanish-speaking team members. But when Jesús told him it was us, he smiled and waved “no worries.”

Meanwhile, Leo Pineda, in his office down at the Juarez team center, noticed the picture of Mauri on Facebook. Aware the team notes had no mention of a needed pickup, Leo quickly contacted Jesús. They all had our backs, and we joined the team in plenty of time. (Quinn would have left her post to get us, regardless, but this made a fun story to tell.)

Even though our day began many hours earlier, we still had much to do (refer to earlier post on Dorothy’s Match). Our beds at the team center never felt more inviting!

In 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, you faithfully (and without complaint) scrolled through lengthy photographic stories of the small dent we’ve helped make in the large housing need in the colonias outside Juarez, Mexico. Each year our history becomes richer as we gain relationships with the people who work so hard to make their way amid governmental oppression and the lack of basic essentials of living.

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Here it is 2015, and we had the joy of showing up at the job site to meet Carlos, Maribel, and Andrea. After prayer with a local pastor (“…and please hold back the waters…”) Jesús, our site commander, gives initial instructions for putting together the frame.


Quinn does this 4 to 5 times a year, so she has no learning curve.


I, on the other hand, usually have to pull out my first few wayward nails before one goes straight in.


Ahem, let’s not compare my number of taps with Jesús’ two solid whacks.


Krista puts her Spanish to good use.


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The cacophony! I wish this blog had sound.

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The first wall is raised. They have to be in just the right spot.

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The roof goes on. Hugo, in the middle, is new to the construction crew this year.

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My favorite job on the roof (mostly for the view and short, two-whack nails). I try to stay out of the way of the real work being done around me.


Ground-level jobs.

Tera’s first try with the powered nail gun.

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Cass caulks (one of the hardest jobs, actually).


Bailey cuts window openings.


Quinn and Marissa cut insulation sans the masks that got left behind.


Lo and behold, by the end of the first morning of work, a house stands alone. Time for lunch.


Before we head away from the job site, I want you to meet backyard neighbor Juana/Jenny. Of course Krista was the first to meet and talk with her; then she called me to the back fence to chat too. Smiles go a long way in “conversations” like this, but with Krista’s help I learned that Jenny travels to/from El Paso to be a caregiver for elderly people. She needs the work because she has 15 mouths to feed (plus her own). The mouths belong to her 15 beloved dogs, whom she introduced to us, each by name. Most of the dogs we see in the colonias are sadly undernourished, but these played happily together in Juana’s backyard. The next morning we went back to talk to Juana and she had a picture of her granddaughter to show off. I spoke to her in my one-word Spanish sentences, but she got the point.

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While the rest of us built, these four served in a different way, given their medical degrees (and one headed toward a nursing degree). The team center opens its clinic every time a qualified team comes down.

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Mauri and I stayed behind, but the rest of our construction team spent a good part of the afternoon with the kiddos at a nearby orphanage. Most of these children have parents who are unable to care for them. If any are adoptable, only other Mexicans qualify, so their futures seem bleak. Still, the care they’re given is often better than other children in the colonias. The Mexican government provides meat and milk, but all other expenses and support are covered by individual donations.

Enjoy hearing Marissa read in Spanish to these eager listeners.

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You will always find Dusty with a young one in his arms.


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Later we enjoyed a surprise visit with Jasmine and her boys, Fidencio and Alvieri, at the house our team built for them in 2011. (Her baby girl was sleeping.) Jasmine works long hours at a local gas station, so we were lucky to catch her at home.

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Hoop at the team center.

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After dinner, Leo expresses appreciation for all of the diapers and formula folks donated to keep the dear babies fed and dry.

After a good sleep and some more rain, we climbed into vans headed back to the job site. It was cold and windy, but the rain held off for our second morning of work. Today’s tasks included painting the outside (and the baño) and sheetrocking/mudding the inside. We’re always eager to see what color is chosen for the exterior. For this house, Quinn told us (on the side) that she had contacted John Williams to ask what color Rachel might have chosen, which added a lovely personal element to our work.

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Maribel and Andrea did not hold back!


Painting cousins! (Krista is my sister’s daughter.)

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I did my share.

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Not much of a break for these hard workers! Juan Carlos, Bailey, Leonel, Raúl.

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Cassidy taped and mudded.

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Tracy and Laura, wives of the medical team, kept the pace.


The Finkbeiner sisters (Maycee, Taylor, Gwyneth / left-right).

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The finishing touches on the exterior.

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Mauri checks his Facebook while the furnishings are arranged inside.

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Lea took special interest in shopping Arizona garage sales to turn this house into a home for Carlos, Maribel, and Andrea.

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The house dedication. Dusty didn’t notice until later, when looking at his pictures, that the crew had tar-painted “Dios es amor” on the roof—God is love. Can you see it? The family expects only the house, so when they go inside they get a big surprise! Extra funds are raised for the beds, linens, food, refrigerator, clothes, etc.

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Extra funds also go to provide a food outreach for the neighborhood. First a simple lunch . . .

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This guy had high hopes.

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After everyone’s fed, we clear the tables and put out crafts and games.

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Doctor Dorin gives the soccer ball a swift kick.

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This might be my favorite craft this year.

There’s a story: Almost since Day One of my church office job 12 years ago I’ve wanted to tackle a certain storage space, clean it out and, organize everything that has been haphazardly shoved in there! Finally I was tasked with the project. Yay! That’s like heaven for me. I tackled it in orderly fashion—purchased shelving, sorted through all the miscellaneous categories of stuff, then invited each team member to give input about things that might be under their purview. All the while, I had my eye on a collection of red and white caps, maybe 10 of them, hoping no one would claim them. My hopes were about to be realized when I was called back to the office to answer phones while Denise went on an errand. Imagine my distress when I returned to find they had disappeared. Nooooo! Someone claimed them; my hopes were dashed.

But wait! In my absence, a self-appointed chief took it upon him/herself to toss them in the Dumpster! It’s probably a good thing I never sought the identity of the culprit, given my best-laid plan to snag those hats for a craft with my Thanksgiving kiddos. As it turned out, I reclaimed them from the trash, and here is the result.

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Ten happy children left that day with a personalized hat, and I was a happy camper.

I’ve just read chapter 21 of Jen Hatmaker’s latest book, For the Love, titled “Poverty Tourism.” She offers a pointed critique of short-term mission trips such as this: “Invite anyone who can afford it to a poor country or community; raise tons of money; collect supplies to transport (rather than in-country purchases to spur the economy, …release unskilled laborers on a construction project of your choosing (I know I’d want twenty-five teenagers to paint my house or build a whole structure rather than a skilled local contractor); do some western-themed evangelism; put unknown burden on local leaders as they host (and forget to ask missionaries how they truly feel about most short-term trips); go home conflicted but grateful for abundance; and change your Facebook picture to one of you with that kid you “loved.” She goes on to explain the harm this causes.

Later in the chapter she clarifies her concerns and, thankfully, shares the right way to go about it. I won’t claim everything is right about our trips, but for those who have similar concerns, I’d like you to know:

1. Team members either donate or raise the funds to pay for the house, their own travel/housing/food expenses, and the extras mentioned earlier. At the dedication we make it clear to the recipient family (through a translator) that we represent many in America who care for them and want them to have a better life.

2. We are nearly always assessed and pay a tax to the government for the supplies we carry across the border. There are no stores anywhere near the building sites.

3. We are all unskilled workers who do the grunt work while the skilled construction crew do the electrical and roof tar and the heavy lifting.

4. Our hosts are Mexican, not missionaries. Our involvement provides jobs for a whole crew who cook, clean, drive, secure the premises, and build.

5. We attend the Friday night church service, sing the songs, clap enthusiastically, listen to the sermon (Jesús interprets), go forward with our offering, and when invited will go to the front to read a scripture passage or sing a song for them.

6/7. As we drove away from the team center and entered the highway toward the border, I heard Krista behind me say, “I sure do love this place.” I looked around for even one thing to love about that place. Fail. Of course I know what Krista loves about that place. She even managed a separate visit with Leo and Susy in July because she loves the people of that place so much. She used her Spanish and teaching skills to help the children with their English, an asset for future employment potential. She goes / we go home conflicted because we can’t on our own solve all the problems they face. And here I am unabashedly sharing this on Facebook, just like Jen said! She got that part right.

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If you were a grandmother who lived in this neighborhood,

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and shared this “house” with your seven grandchildren when the roof fell in, wouldn’t you be glad to have some Americans come alongside you and build a house for you, even a small one with three rooms, insulation, electricity, and a baño in the back?

Jen also encourages us to visit our sponsor child.

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Meet Esther. Our extended family sponsors Esther’s education and required supplies. She had just given Quinn and me presents! Last summer Krista helped her with her English and she proudly handwrote this card with her gift:

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Here is beautiful Esther with her two moms: her birth mom (Susy) and her mom by default (Quinn, since I am her grandmother). I say the more grandchildren, the merrier!

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This friendship has grown over the past eight years through these trips to Juarez. They banter just like brother and sister, the sign of a true, caring relationship.

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Six Thanksgivings, six houses, six families—all told it doesn’t add up to much in the big picture. There is so much more to do. We aren’t getting any younger, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else come November 2016. May God grant us another opportunity to return with our American friends and family to hammer a few more nails and decorate a few more hats with our Mexican friends.

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