Greetings from home, sweet home, Athens, Alabama! We arrived in Athens on Saturday evening around 7:30 ish after a long day of driving, all done by our expert chauffeur Kayo. Some of you may have already heard that once we unloaded all the Pinson, Miller, and Gregg belongings, Doug took over the driving job to get the church bus back to its FPC parking spot. Before we could even get to the red light at Forrest and 31, the bus just died. We eased into the parking lot at Suzanne’s and called Kayo, hoping he knew the magic trick to get it going. Sadly, the bus was done, so we called Tom Clem, and he gave us the name of his towing company, which we called to take the bus to Clem’s. No word yet on its condition.
It seems as though it has been a month since I last wrote; however, Friday was only a few days ago. We were slow getting going on Friday, as it has become our custom to “tear down” our sleeping area and pack up all our stuff before we even have breakfast. (That way, when we return at the end of the day, all we have to do is change our clothes and load up for the trip home.) Carolyn and Charles Bell were our breakfast helpers, and like the other church helpers, they stayed for morning prayer and then took over clean-up, as the two Diane’s travel to Mexico with us for the last day. We loaded up all our already prepared food for the fiesta and headed to the border. Even though we got a green light on our last day crossing into Mexico, the agent raised his hand for us to stop and be checked. Of course, he just wanted to make certain that all we were bringing in was food for lunch.
As we entered the colonia, Kayo slowed down enough for us to window shop at the piñata store. We have already decided that next year, we are going to purchase a piñata for our end-of-week fiesta. When we arrived at the compound, the men, (all three of them,) loaded into another van, as they were going to our home site to finish the last two rows of block. The seven women had already made plans to go to the clinic with Colleen to visit with Nurse Betty and Doctor Joaquin, and to help Oralia and Pastor Carlos with the children’s breakfast, accompanied by a brief Bible lesson and an English lesson. (The feeding program also includes some of the elderly residents, as long as there is enough food.) We were able to serve the food, as well as talk and “color” with the children. (Both Kata and Elise have demonstrated facility in picking up on the language; consequently, all week they have been adding to their Spanish phrases, and it seemed so much easier for them to sit down and converse with the children and adults there. Kudos to them for “rocking” the Spanish language with Kayo!) Robin spent a long time talking with Nurse Betty about some of the needs of their current patients, as well as the needs of the clinic. By the way, Nurse Betty has ownership of the old clinic, and she is going trying to make that space into a senior center which will assist with the needs of a growing older population.
We loaded up with Colleen in the Faith Ministry van to head back to our family’s home. (On the way, I asked her if the stop signs were just a suggestion, as no one we rode with ever stopped at them. She said that was true, because paved roads were considered “through ways,” and it was not required to stop if the road were paved.) When we got to our family’s new home, Anahi and her mother Isabella were there waiting with the baby. We introduced ourselves to Isabella, and she greeted each one of us with a big hug and her sincere gratitude for making a home for her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. It was then that we found out that our little family of three had been “squatting” in abandoned houses around the colonias for the past two years. When Alejandro and his family were discovered, they were kicked out and then forced to move to a different abandoned house, at least three times. Now, they will have a permanent home.
While we were at the clinic, the guys worked on the two rows of block, but were not quite finished when we arrived, as the framing for the ring and columns had to be taken down before they could begin. They also had to move more block into the house to complete those two rows. Kayo revealed that he had even given Emily a ride in the wheelbarrow! (I do not think I have mentioned Emily, the little girl who lives across the street and who became Myra’s “best friend” this week. A couple of days, she had a big blue stuffed bunny with her, and so she became Emily and her big blue bunny, sort of like the Emily and her big red dog, Clifford. She spent most of each day at our house or following Myra around the worksite. Kayo said that when they arrived at the work site today, Emily was sitting in the house waiting for them. There is no doubt that on Saturday morning, when we did not arrive on her street, she was probably very sad.) This year, Diane Miller, who, as an elementary teacher, has exceptional printing, did the writing on the plaque which goes on each house. It has to include the house number and the year, but we also add FPC Athens, Alabama. Everyone who worked on the home signs his or her name, and then, if there is enough room, other info may be added. Because it was so hot, we had to work fast, as the mortar was drying quickly; nevertheless, Diane was able to add “God bless this home,” as well as an adorable little starfish.
When we returned to the compound, we had very little time to prep our food for the fiesta. Consequently, we worked quickly and soon had our buffet line, (think Morrison’s Cafeteria, if you are old enough,) with servers ready to roll and we were just a tad behind schedule. It is our
pleasure to return the hospitality that our friends have shown us all week by giving them a lunch of brisket, chicken and vegetables, lasagna, charro beans, baked potatoes and potato salad, Asian slaw, rolls and bread, chips and salsa, cookies, and Joyas and Cokes. When all have been served, (we think there were about 120 folks who ate,) we sit down with our friends to visit. It is customary for our scholarship students to be invited to the fiesta, so those of us who are sponsoring a child’s education have an opportunity to visit and make a photo with our students. For the Athens group, that includes Don and Diane, Robin, and Randi, Doug, and Elise. (Because Shawn, Jessica, and Jamie could not be with us this year, their student was not invited, but the rest of us had a short visit with her earlier in the week.) Additionally, this year, Kata asked Colleen to try to find her young friends from the last time she was on the mission trip. With Kata’s old photo, and the assistance of the secretary Yadira, Colleen figure out the family and invited them to the fiesta, too. Kata’s friend Chivis is now a young adult, but both parties were delighted to spend a little time catching up on what has happened since they met in 2006.
After many fond farewells, lots of “próxima annos,” and a fair number of photos, we departed for the border, where we breezed through; Officer Garza asked no questions and he did not even match up the passport photos to the occupants in the van. When we got to the church, Pastor McCann and Charles Bell were waiting to help us load our stuff on the church bus, and after changing our clothes and having a traveling prayer, the FPC bus and Don and Diane’s car went their different ways. Don and Diane were heading to McAllen for the weekend, and then on to some of their Texas relatives for a short visit; the rest of us loaded the bus and began our journey back home, via a Baytown stopover, before traveling the rest of the way to Athens. (We also stopped in Bessemer to hand off Karryl’s suitcase and his vanilla, and give him his little 2018 mission award.)
We are so grateful to you all for giving us the opportunity to serve the Lord in Texas and Mexico, and even in Bessemer! While several of us are rather “old” physically, we are still young and eager to share the love of Christ with those we meet on this mission trip each year. It is our desire to be able to continue to serve again next year, but it is also our hope that some of you will decide to join us as we strive to make a difference in the lives of others.
Your mission penpal … Randi