Spring break is a week set aside to relieve students and teachers of semester pains, the torrential downpour of assignments and perpetual projects. If a friend proclaims, “I am going to Mexico,” one may think of sun, beaches and the sound of waves- not hammers pounding on nails, the roaring of a chop saw cutting wood and a generator pulsating through the Earth.
During spring break, a group of NMU students served on the Mexico border building a home in Juarez, Mexico with an organization called Casas Por Cristo (Houses for Christ).
“I wanted to go help a family in need, do something not for me, in a way that would show God’s love,” junior secondary education Spanish major, Micaela Redders said.
On Feb. 28, huddled in two vans, the team, 16 NMU students from His House ministry, two campus ministers, a supporter of His House and a student’s cousin, traveled over 1750 miles and 33 hours, one way to Mexico.
His House is a statewide campus organization seeking to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
“God calls us to serve, strive to be like Christ and show His love to others,” Redders said. “As Christians, we believe we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Casas Por Cristo (CPC), established in 1993, facilitates teams who build homes in Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Teams pay for building supplies and CPC leads them through the building process. The His House team built a home for the Medina family: Camillo, the grandfather, his wife and son, Brano, his girlfriend, Tania, and their daughter, Kimberly.
The materials needed for building the 30-by-14 house cost $7500, and each team member paid about $600, with a portion going toward food and travel expenses.
Based on a CBS news article from 2010, Juarez was labeled “Murder Capital of the World,” after more than 7,000 people died that year. The economy was down and more people migrated to the city, thus the need for housing increased.
Adam Steinhauer, junior mechanical engineering technology major, said his grandparents did not want him to go, but their fear did not sway him.
“I had no concerns whatsoever,” Steinhauer said. “God’s hand is going to be on this trip and what will happen, will happen.”
Casas Por Cristo Human Resources Manager, Gail Andrews, was the missionary leading the His House team, and she further explained that the drug cartels have no reason for violence against CPC, who help build up their city.
“The drug cartels would never deny a fellow member of the community a home,” Andrews said. She looked around and pointed to the shacks made of plywood, tarps and cardboard. “Your heart breaks for the people here when you start to see what they are living in and what they don’t have. Yet, they are still joyful in spite of their current circumstances.”
His House Campus Minister Peter Elenbaas said it was life changing to see the contentment displayed by those living in this impoverished area.
“The poverty in Mexico is a stark contrast to El Paso,” Elenbaas said. “However, the people show that happiness does not come through accumulating material possessions that we have taken for granted in the U.S.”
In Mexico the team saw garbage everywhere. Stray dogs roamed the streets. The smell of burning rubber infiltrated the vans. Construction began Monday morning. A frame was built to contain the concrete; however, it rained the first two days.
Despite the rain, students encouraged each other to keep working. Whether or not the concrete would set correctly was the looming question at the end of day one.
“It seemed disastrous, but God’s hand was on it,” Steinhauer said. “There was a reason behind it all.”
Unbeknown, to the team or Andrews, Camillo Medina, the grandfather who had 20 years of concrete experience, continued working until 11 p.m. finishing the cement.
“That’s the Lord providing something I couldn’t do,” Andrews said. “The house always gets finished, even against the odds and weather. It’s really Jesus and His work we are doing.”
The next day consisted of putting up walls, nailing the black board and attaching the roof. Wednesday’s agenda: insulation, electrical work, chicken wire, stucco, finishing the roof and starting the drywall. On the last day, the team dedicated the house by giving the Medina family house keys and a Bible signed by the team.
NMU students prayed in Spanish and a wooden cross was given to hang on the wall, Steinhauer said.
As each team member gave the family hugs, Tania, the mother, said in Spanish, “If you all hadn’t traveled over 30 hours, given up your spring break to build a house for us, my little girl wouldn’t be growing up in her own home.”
Andrews explained that many families Casas Por Cristo builds for do not speak English.
“They know we are loving people, even though we don’t speak the same language,” Andrews said. “Serving isn’t about you, but the people whom you’re serving.”
According to Redders, even though spring break is meant to be a time to relax, NMU His House went to Juarez to build a home and serve a family in need, but the mission trip was more than building a house.