In February we packed up our new van, our family of 9 and headed south. It has been four years since our last Mexico trip. Our longest time away from Baja since we started going there as a family back in 2005.
I was more than a little apprehensive about our ability to wrangle 7 kids including a toddler, maneuver a child with cerebral palsy, and maintain any sort of marital peace but we were excited to go. I had already spent months planning details, booking lodging, and packing what we would need for multiple climates and locations.
We took 4 days to get to South California. That part of the trip is always grueling and we decided to make some time for visiting friends and playing along the way. We rented a beautiful little house in the Garden Grove CA and happened to hit a wonderful winter heat wave. We soaked up the sun like it was breathing life into our winter weary souls.
We spent a few days recovering, did some sightseeing and did one day at Disney Land which in my view was kind of a flop. I hope the kids made some fun memories because all I know is that it was exhausting, busy, and someone peed their pants on Pirates of the Carribean ride...which brought the day to an early end. It too closely resemebled an episode of "The Middle". It seems that maybe our 2 parents to 7 kids ratio tipped the scales this time. What we really did enjoy the most in California was a day spent at Seal Beach, which was totally free. Live and learn. We all just finally got to relax and let go of some pent up travel tension. Spending that much time in a vehicle and hotel hopping with this many people tends to build up stress levels. It was so warm that day, probably the warmest day of our whole trip.
Once we left our rental house in Garden Grove CA.we drove down the Baja and realized instantly just how deeply we had missed it. The longer we were away from Mexico the less we were drawn to making that long trip back, but our memories and affections for this people and place were ignited as we felt like we were arriving home.
We missed the Machado family and it was wonderful to spend some time with these long time friends. These are some of my favorite people on the planet. You can find Amber's blog here.
(Kayden and Silas have been buds since they were toddlers)
(These two first met as babies. These amigas were happy to spend time together)
This time we stayed at Welcome Home Outreach and lived in one of their dorms. We had enough space to spread out and we each had our own bed (an improvement from motels). We also had our own bathroom, that we didn't have to go outside for, which I don't take for granted at all. It was very adequate. We really loved our stay with this ministry. They were so very welcoming and open to us coming as a family. We aren't the usual demographic of a "mission trip" group and our capacity to be useful is somewhat hindered. We had a wonderful host named Michelle who coordinated work projects for us and gave us lots of freedom to visit some other ministries and old friends we had made over the years. She was great with our kids, as were all the staff. Everyone from youngest to oldest was included and made to feel useful and welcome. This is very unusual in our years of ministry experience. Children are too often viewed as a liability.
(the girls on one of our morning work projects. Painting a new section of wall)
You can visit the attached link to check out this ministry and the important work they do. I've also written about it in the past, you can find that post here. We basically just helped out whereever we could, did some projects, washed dishes, mopped floors and just had the privilege of witnessing what God is doing through this place and the staff.
These ladies are wonderful. They not only allowed kids into the kitchen but they so patiently gave these two a lesson in tortilla making. The girls loved it.
The daycare cook Cande is as sweet as her name.
This woman works hard all day making meals for a cafeteria full of kids. She always has a smile on her face. Her love for the Lord and these daycare kids is very evident.
My kids were all on dish duty after each meal. From youngest to oldest they all got to practice serving. They had great attitudes about their jobs and were eager to pitch in.
(Michelle introducing Annie to some of the daycare kids)
The Welcome Home daycare picks up kids early in the morning brings them here for breakfast and a day full of play, games and preschool education. The older ones are taken to Kindergarten in town for the morning and then brought back here for lunch. This ministry, and others like it, are so important in this area. There are so many single mother homes where the Moms work long hard days in the fields. The options for most are to either leave young children locked in the house alone or keep school aged siblings home to look after young siblings, which means they don't get an education. When day to day survival takes so much effort things like education get pushed to the side. Which is heartbreaking because it ensures a cycle of poverty continues to the next generation. A basic education, and literacy, here is worth so much as far as opportunity goes. It's a game changer. A daycare like this not only ensures the children have nutritious meals and a safe, stimulating place to spend their days but it's helping break cycles and preventing child abandonment into orphanages. The wonderful staff here also minister to the whole family, on a very personal level, in whatever way is needed.
Annie and her new amiga. They played together all week since Leyla lives here at Welcome Home. Her parents are the daycare directors. One girl speaks English and the other Spanish but somehow they made it work.
Our family above with Cande and our host Michelle. Michelle lives and works here at Welcome Home full time. She left her life as a teacher in California and moved down here to serve needy kids here in Baja. She works hard from morning until night doing whatever needs to be done. Anywhere there's hard physical and humble dirty work to be done she can be found there doing it. The rest of the teachers and staff are locals which I also really appreciate. This ministry also does house building for poor families. Our friend Jose is one of the builders.
We were able to visit some other local ministries including a men's rehab "Casa de Restauración El Sembrador" . Just the guys went this time and I stayed home with the little ones. It was an eye-opening experience for my boys. This rehab ministry has some amazing success stories (some we know personally, such as the formerly deported gang member turned pastor of a thriving and growing church) but it is underfunded and the accommodations are not very weather tight. The need for this type of ministry is so great but it's too often overlooked. "Fund better facilities for recovering drug addicts" isn't quite as appealing as "come hug an orphan" when fundraising or planning mission trips. These guys are hard workers and are active in a local church. When the hearts and lives of men are transformed, all of society goes with it, yet men are so often undervalued when it comes to ministry focus. When men are equipped to be faithful husbands and nurturing fathers so many other societal problems and so much poverty is eliminated.
(photos courtesy of FB page)
We were also excited to go and visit a new ministry that some old friends of ours began a few years ago. Eternal Anchor is a school for children with disabilities in the morning as well as an adult life skills school in the afternoons. I was SO impressed with this facility, its mandate and it's methods. I can't even say enough good things about this place and how important their work is. They are not only providing therapies, equipment, life skills and education to kids who wouldn't otherwise have access to those things they are working with families and parents to help better equip them to care for their disabled children. They do a lot of middleman work with getting kids to surgeries and medical care. They also take kids to a therapy ranch to ride horses. As a mother of a child with cerebral palsy and intellectual disability, I know the importance of these sorts of life-changing interventions and opportunities. Even just learning how to do proper stretching of spastic limbs every day makes a big difference as a parent. If you have a heart for very underprivileged children with disabilities and also have a passion for abandonment prevention this is an excellent, and trustworthy ministry to support.
Another ministry we visited is one started by another old friend of ours who has a deep passion for helping women. This is a shelter for women and their children coming out of some of the darkest and most dangerous situations imaginable. They are in the process of building facilities on a new piece of land they acquired but they have minimal accommodations at this point. The women and their many children are still crammed into old donated camping trailers. The whole place is on a high hillside so it has required extensive dirt moving work. The view is stunning though. It's secluded just enough to give a sense of peace and serenity to women who so desperately need it. Another very worth while cause that desperately needs funding. Every little bit helps. If you have a heart for vulnerable women and children trying to rebuild ther lives check out "New Beginnings". You will be glad you did.
Of course while we were in our little town in Baja we spent some time with the kids that call us "Tio" and "Tia"...the kids who we will always consider family. It was so great to see them, as well as their mother Italia. They've all grown up so much and a few new little ones have been added to the family in the last few years! Our dear Minerva (who we had met a decade ago while on staff at a local orphanage) now has 3 children, the newest born a month after we left this spring. She has the cutest little purple house that she keeps immaculate care of. It was built by a local charity last year and I'm so very happy for her. She is such a special young lady. One sad surprise was that some of the older kids were down in South Baja working in pea fields and wouldn't return until after we were scheduled to leave. We were very sad to miss each other. I have been in contact with Alvaro for a couple years now over FB messenger and we write back and forth fairly regularly. We were actually working for many months on bringing him up here for a few months last summer but matters of the heart and responsibility at home changed his mind (a new wife, baby on the way and building his family a new cement block house took precedent). I'm so proud of his maturity, responsibility, and commitment to be a good husband and father. He is the hardest working young man I've ever met. I couldn't be prouder of him. We met when he was just a little boy at an orphanage, and his gentle nature and sweet smile stole my heart all those years ago. We also missed seeing Carmela and Ramiro. I miss them so very much. They have grown from small children into mature looking teens. They all do field work now to provide for the family. I wish we lived closer but we continue to love them and pray for them from a distance. Now that all of the older ones have Facebook it's easier to keep in touch.
(Minerva with younger sibling and her daughter)
Louisa, her niece Luz and two little sisters Carla and Gabriella. Luz (holding the pony) was just a newborn last time we were down so it was so fun to get to know her this trip. She has such a fun little personality. Carla and Gabriella remember us visting 4 yrs ago (they are older than their size suggests). I love these girls and I hope another 4 yrs doesn't go by before we can visit again.
Walking from Italia's house to Minervas new home across many empty lots being sold for homes. The actual price of the lots would shock you. Its a wonder anyone can afford a plot. Not that long ago this was a field. You can see one of the former campos in the distance where migrant workers were housed until they were shut down. They were pretty horrible places to live. Now most of the indigenous field workers have their own homes and are less transient. I lot has changed in this valley since I first came here 20 yrs ago.
Spunky Gabriella is around the same age as our Cece (8) although closer in size to Annie (4)
(Minerva's adorable new house. I'm so happy for her)
(Italia, the matriarch of the family, making tortillas. I was relieved to see how well they all are doing.)
(Out for a stroll with Italia carrying her youngest child, Minerva with her two and my oldest Aili)
(Italia watering Minerva's little garden)
It was so hard to leave the little town we have grown to love after only 10 days. Usually, we settle in and stay in one place for at least a month but we had to keep moving this time. This family trip was special in that it will likely be Aili's final road trip with the family (she'll be graduating next year). Her first trip to Baja was back in 2005 when she was only 4 yrs old. We lived at an orphanage in our camping trailer for 6 months. We returned many times after that, once again for 6 months, and the rest for 1 or 2 months at a time. She has a strong sentimental connection to Mexican culture, food, and a particular little town in Baja. I'm glad we were able to go down for the first, and probably last time, as a family of nine. From now on she'll be off on her own adventures. Maybe she'll let me tag along on occasion.
(Icecream at the park. A tradition since 2005. This little town really feels like a second home.)
(How we eat out while in Mexico. Taco stands)
(to be continued)