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Youth from small towns discover God while building homes

Youth in Mexico

Teens work side-by-side.

Students in church youth groups in Davenport, Reardan and Wilbur may compete in school sports but, working through ecumenical community groups, they recruited 45 youth in 2004 to build a house in Mexico.  Plans are underway for the 2005 trip.

The experience has changed participants’ lives and their communities’ culture.

In organizing such mission trips for 15 years, the Rev. Ted Broadway of the Presbyterian Church in Davenport has found short-term mission experiences “click” into place an understanding of the power of living faith.

“They expose us to God without cultural trappings, helping us see God at work in other cultures and giving us experiences of what it means to serve,” he said.

It’s both at home and abroad
Aware there is “poverty in our own backyard” as well as abroad, he believes response is not an either at home or abroad matter.  It’s a both/and matter.
Churches and youth can express caring in their own communities and around the world.  The accessibility of Mexico makes it popular.

Davenport youth

Davenport youth help in Mexico.

Ted works with Amor Ministries in San Diego.  Year-round, Amor arranges for mission teams to build 11- by 22-foot, two-room homes in the outskirts of Baja, south of San Diego; Ciudad south of El Paso, and Puerto Penasco, south of Lukeville, Ariz.

Participants in two-week trips—including travel and orientation—learn about hope in the form of a concrete floor, four walls and a roof, as well as in the exchange of “giving more than you can and getting more than you can,” part of the Amor slogan. Building a house in a week without power tools or skilled labor, they feel a sense of accomplishment.

‘Amor’ means love
Amor—“love” in Spanish—works with Mexican churches to create cross-cultural understanding and immersion experiences to help people understand poverty while building homes. 

two boys

Two Mexican boys the teens met.

The program is an outreach to families.  They do not need to be saved or attend church to receive a home, Ted said, believing that “the faith-based love of builders who are Christian speaks clearly” to them.

Having grown up in different states, the Middle East and Europe as his father moved in the Army, Ted values international experiences.  After high school in Southern California, he earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara and a master’s of divinity at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.

During 13 years of ministry in Southern Oregon, he connected with Amor.  He has been at Davenport nearly three years.

The church, which called him to “shake up” the congregation, now draws more than 80 at worship, rather than 30.  More than numbers, Ted finds “the Spirit is moving, and people are changing.”

When he first came to Davenport, he saw a “teachable moment.”  A poster on one wall said, “If you want to get close to the Lord, give to missions.”  He changed it to: “Go on missions.”

At first the idea of a youth trip seemed intimidating, but high school youth were responsive in 2003.  In 2004, Reardan and Wilbur church youth joined the team, and Heather Drehobl, former youth leader at Davenport and now youth minister at Community Presbyterian Church in Post Falls, is recruiting youth from there for the 2005 trip.

Youth return changed

girls building

Girls assist with project.

Ted described changes in youth from the trips:
• Many become Christians—those in the church and friends who go.
• Many begin to own and deepen their faith—praying, reading Scripture and attending worship.
• Many feel more grateful for what they have and more aware of the brothers and sisters in the church around the world.  That changes their outlook about the world.
• Through service, fulfillment comes in different degrees to different people.
• Youth become more sensitive to issues of poverty and race.
• Some want to study Spanish.
• Trips can change the school culture, increasing appreciation of the value of education and improving students’ work ethic.
• Some have gone on to do short-term mission experiences or enter ministry.
Davenport youth raised $625 each last year by “selling stock” in the trip.  When they returned, they held a “shareholders dinner” with a slide presentation and testimonies.

Reardan youth prepared
Organizers of Reardan First Presbyterian Church’s Mexico mission trip last summer applied the local school sports approach of requiring participants’ to attend training and fund raising regularly.

“If a volleyball coach can say that anyone who misses a practice cannot play, we decided we could require attendance,” said Lori Ward, who helped with preparations but did not go.  Two of her children did go.

“Finding time for church youth activities has been hard since schools stopped holding Wednesday afternoons and evenings free for church activities.  After harvest, sports consume 20 hours a week,” she said.

One group brings cohesion
To build on the cohesion among youth, who are all friends at school, Reardan has a community youth group for the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and Catholics.

The Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Bill Ward, said changes in priorities are part of the “angst” of small community churches, which are no longer the pillars of the small community social culture.   Schools now have that role.

He believes that, because the church set expectations for participants, they have been especially animated and articulate about their experience.  At a fall Friday Youth Prayer Breakfast, those who went to Mexico described their experiences with ease.

The church and the community raised funds for more than two years to send 11 youth and adults along with 14 from Davenport, 11 from the Wilbur area as part of a group of 103.

For Reardan youth, whose previous mission trips were to lead vacation Bible schools in Washtuchna and other communities, this was their first experience abroad.

“They returned surprised that people who had so little could be so happy,” said Lori.

In Mexico, the group drove past empty condo developments in Tijuana. After the North America Free Trade Agreement, companies built these condos, expecting to hire 25 million people.  More came, but after Sept. 11, there were fewer jobs. 

Many Mexican families spent all they had to go there, so they now live in shacks, cars and drainage pipes.  One family of seven lived in a tent patched with duct tape, she said.

The team stayed in a tent city.

Groups built nine homes
Supervised by adults, groups of 12 youth built each unit.  The group built nine dwellings.  Some Mexican families built with the teens, and some were working. A mother of seven stayed at home with her four pre-school children, Lori reported.

Amor purchases the land, prepares it and cedes it to families. Part of the funds youth raise provides materials.  Youth pour a concrete floor, put up wood frames, cover chicken wire with a stucco exterior and spread tar on the roof, Lori explained.

Homeowner receives keys

Homeowner receives keys to home teens built.

When the Reardan group passed the key to the mother of seven, she cried as she repeatedly opened and closed the door with the keys.

On Sunday after church, families shared their limited food and embraced the youth.

Students who knew Spanish used it, but many Mexicans under 30 speak English fluently.

The Reardan group now knows teens from neighboring communities and southern Oregon and experienced the empowerment of being in a large group.

Wilbur youth empowered
Nine youth and two adults from Community Presbyterian in Wilbur and nearby churches and communities found the Amor experience empowering, said Becky Sheffels, youth leader and mother of one participant.

“My son, Corbin, had a strong faith before going.  Putting his faith into action by building with his hands, he came back charged with educating and helping serve others,” she said.

“We interacted with Mexicans, seeing people with amazing joy even though they had little of what we consider basic necessities,” said Becky. 

In worship, Americans found they knew many of the songs the Mexican Christians sang.

“We realize that we serve the same God although we live in different cultures,” she said.  “We go on a mission trip to help people and our lives are changed by the people and by God.” 

They shared with their church and community a report in slides, music and personal stories.

“Youth are eager to reach out to others.  They realize they can do something here, too.  They now see past themselves,” said Becky, who plans to go again with her son and husband.  She hopes the Wilbur group for 2005 will be 12.

The Wilbur team included a student from Creston, two from the Catholic Church, two from the Lutheran Church and four from the Presbyterian Church.  All are together in the community youth group.

While church youth activities compete with school sports in Wilbur, there are no games Wednesday evenings, so from a third to half of 80 students at the high school attend each week.

“We offer a biblical message tied to everyday life.  We open and end with prayer.  We have ice-breaking, relationship-building activities and discussion,” Becky said.

One annual project is to buy gloves, hats, toothbrushes, shampoo and other items to make 20 boxes for homeless teens at Crosswalk in Spokane.  The group carols and gives cards to the elderly, gives cookies to shut-ins, goes bowling and visits the local nursing home.

Becky said it takes time for teens to move from the understanding that God loves them to putting their faith into action.

More youth will join 2005 trip
For 2005, students are raising $675 each to participate.
Ted said that the Davenport group could be as large as 30, plus 12 from Reardan, 12 from Wilbur, 16 from Post Falls and 10 from Sunset Presbyterian Church in Portland.

They will again join First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Ore.  He expects the total number to be about 175, and the total budget to be about $100,000.

This summer’s team, which will be in Mexico six of their eight-day trip, will seek to build at least 12 houses.  This year, area participants will fly to San Diego.

“Again, we expect to see lives changed—Mexican lives and our own,” said Ted.

For information, call 725-1802, 796-2142 or 647-5402.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor -Copyright © March 2005