English: The start of the border fence between the United States and Mexico near Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S.A. and Rancho Anapra, Chihuahua, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Several years ago I was blessed to participate on a work related mission trip in Juarez, Mexico through AMOR Ministries. The goal of AMOR is to provide housing for the poor in cities along the northern Mexican border. Through the efforts of those who donate materials and labor, the love of Christ is conveyed to local Hispanics in a tangible way. AMOR has staff members who raise all of their support themselves, and are a dedicated bunch of folks. Another goal is to introduce Christians and non-Christians alike to missions outreach. Team building is a key component of this dynamic. Each house is built by a team of up to ten people. Sometimes there are fewer workers available. AMOR’s model is to have each house completed in three days from start to finish.
I traveled with a close friend of mine to El Paso, and then to Juarez. Jason introduced me to AMOR and invited me to go serve with him in the desert. My reasons for doing so were manifold: compassionate ministry and assisting the less fortunate have always interested me; I have been on a couple of missions trips before and recognized the value of them; my friend was very persuasive; the need was evident so I felt I could make a difference; my construction management skills could be of added benefit; and most importantly, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me. I was reluctant to go, however, because I suffer from a chronic back condition which keeps me in pain much of the time. I knew I would be doing a lot of standing and bending which really intensifies the pain. I decided to go anyway. The conditions were a bit primitive as we stayed in tents on a field of dirt within a fenced area, worked in the heat and sun all day, and had cold showers and very basic toilet facilities…not delightful, but doable for three days.
I met many wonderful people including several staff members, strangers who became friends as we worked and worshipped together, and the families we built for. We visited an orphanage while in Juarez and I immediately saw the compassion of those who ran this facility. I became closer to my friend who invited me and I gained a greater appreciation for his heart to serve God by serving others. This trip was a memorable experience and one of great value because of several lessons that I learned.
Prior to leaving our home, I prayed that the Lord would give me a ‘reality check’, as I recognized that I was becoming too influenced by the things of the world. Business was good at the time and I lived in an affluent county where financial success was paraded around me. Although I tried really hard not to get caught up in this dynamic, I was affected by it. My fear was that I was becoming indifferent to the plight of the less fortunate and that I was becoming a bit stingy in my giving and serving. Therefore, I pleaded with God to change my heart and show me again what He valued the most so I could join Him whole-heartedly. My prayer was answered immediately upon our arrival and then throughout the three days.
My friend had an acquaintance that picked us up from the airport and drove us to a home he and his crew had just completed in a Colonia, the name of the small communities which pop up in the desert on the outskirts of border cities. It had just rained a couple of days before (unusual for this area and time of year) and there were puddles of water everywhere. We were invited into the home of the woman for whom the house was built. She spoke no English, and my friend and I very little Spanish. Fortunately, our driving companion was fluent in both languages. As I looked around the new 11’x 22’ two-room house with concrete floor and stucco exterior, I could see the pride in this mother’s eyes. I asked what she thought of her new home and as she explained, she began to cry and raise her arms towards heaven.
Anxiously, I asked our interpreting friend to tell us what she was sharing, and this is what he told us. This dear mother of three children was praising God for giving her a house with doors, windows, concrete floor, and most importantly a roof that didn’t leak. Prior to this house, the family would endure muddy feet due to wet dirt; the roof would leak and there were no windows or door in the wall openings to keep out the rain water. Tears of joy filled her face, and then mine. I was zapped with the realization that God had, indeed, revealed to me in this moment what really mattered. I had just received my first reality check only hours after arriving. I was hoping something like this would take place while I was in Juarez, but didn’t expect it so soon and so powerfully. I selfishly felt God had orchestrated this meeting specifically for me in answer to my prayer. I was humbled.
My second experience of witnessing humility, and the humbling that tags along with seeing humility in action, came when I was teamed with a group of college students from Texas A&M. I learned that every year up to one hundred or more students and dedicated adults head to Juarez during Spring Break to serve. These young adults and sponsors give up their vacations to serve others. It wasn’t merely the serving that struck me, but the spirit in which they served. These young people, full of energy as can be expected, grabbed onto the concept not only of constructing a house, but of nurturing the families whom they served. It was a common sight to see girl and boy alike pickup and play with the children of this community, and interact with the adults. The teamwork philosophy fostered by AMOR Ministries pays dividends, in that a real sense of community is developed, literally overnight. Many of these young people vowed to return in the summer to serve again. I believe many did. In addition, these servants began to learn skills not previously known to them; plus they learned the value of cooperating and being effective builders of community. Again, I was humbled.
The third experience which God placed before me had to do with the interaction I had with a small group of youth and their pastor who came from several states away to be a part of this Spring Break endeavor. Because there were not enough of them, I was asked to assist this group. Although few in number (maybe seven) and with little to no building skills, they jumped in whole- heartedly in constructing their house. The process of construction consists of mixing gravel, sand, cement and water on-site, thus creating the concrete for the slab. The concrete is leveled and finished smooth within forms placed on the dirt. The following day wood stud walls are built and then erected onto the edges of the slab. From this point the roof framing is installed. Plywood walls and roof decking are cut and nailed, and then felt paper applied. The single slope roof receives a waterproof fabric while wire mesh and stucco are applied to the walls. Three windows and one door are installed, and the exterior is painted. Upon completion, each house is dedicated to the owner, in the name of the Lord.
Working along side this church family was wonderful because they all possessed such servant hearts. They invited me and my friend to attend their evening meal and time of worship. We quickly accepted. The meal was simple, but good. The worship was pleasing to the ear and to the heart of God…like incense rising to heaven. At this point we thought we were finished and were ready to head back to our tents and get a well needed night of sleep before we left the next day. The humbling took place before we were dismissed. The most spiritually sensitive girl of this group (I can’t recall her name, but God does) read from the gospels about how Jesus served His disciples. As she read she asked us to allow her to wash our feet just as Christ had done to His disciples in the upper room (John 13:4-9). I was overwhelmed that a sixteen year old ‘kid’ would humble herself and wash my feet. I almost acted like Peter by refusing, but recalled the Lord’s rebuke to him. So, I acquiesced and had my feet washed. As she gently washed our feet (over the desert dirt) and towel dried them, this precious young lady spoke words of encouragement as she prayed over each member of our group. As you can imagine, I was humbled, again.
Jesus told his followers that when we seek the kingdom of God, we will receive that which we need to sustain us (Matthew 6:33). He also told His disciples that when we seek after the things which He holds dear, we shall find them (Matthew 7:7-8).
My seeking led me to discover that which I was looking for, and needed desperately. The greatest gift of this trip, one which has not escaped me to this day, is of humility. I was humbled repeatedly by His overwhelming love and mercy. I witnessed humility played-out through the lives of others: via the ministry of AMOR, in my friend and through the volunteers who sacrificed their time and gave their best to assist the less fortunate. Even the people we served were humble in there acceptance of us, and were appreciative of our contribution. Tears of joy flowed as each house was dedicated during the three days I was in the desert.
I gave, but I received so much more. James states in chapter 4, verse 10 that when you “humble yourselves before the Lord, He will lift you up”. Certainly, I was lifted up. Most definitely, I was humbled. Without a doubt, my faith was buoyed with a renewal in the promises of God. And, I was reminded that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40). Without question, when we serve others with humility, we serve our Lord, and by serving Him, we become more like Him. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.