On June 20, 2014, a group of twenty-two people from Christ Central United Methodist Church left Rainbow City, Alabama for a mission trip to northern Mexico just south of the Rio Grande, the border that separates that country from the United States. Our job in the small village of Calichera, on the outskirts of Reynosa, was to build a house for a family of seven. As one of the youth who traveled with the group my task would be working on the house and simply interacting with the adults and children around the village.
My grandmother warned me I would be shocked by the living conditions in Calichera, but it it’s hard to envision such a lifestyle unless you see it. The homes are just shacks made from whatever the people can find. There are holes in the walls, and no plumbing. They are just a small space to sleep and get out of the sun.
When it rains in Calichera the whole world turns to mud. We experienced this first hand one day. We had to walk two miles back to the safe house, in mud that felt like quick sand. The church van could not navigate such conditions. This is a common occurrence in the village, so good shoes are important. Equally important are school supplies and uniforms, as the children cannot attend school without them. I found that many of the things we take for granted are vital to them. I have to admit, it made me feel sad, and a little guilty.
Adequate clothing, food, school supplies, and a dry place to sleep, these are things most of us take for granted. It is hard to see people who have to struggle daily for such basic needs.
I am happy to report that we did manage to build and dedicate a house for the family during our week. And my life will be changed forever by my experiences in the village. I will want to return every year to do what I can for the people of Calichera, and I think many in our group feel the same. The main attraction in the village for me is a group of grateful, caring, respectful, loving, and happy children that we all became very attached to. My heart was especially captured by an eight year old girl named “America.” It was America’s smile that I noticed first. After a few days she would run to me and give me an enormous hug and a kiss on the cheek every time she saw me.
It was America who taught me a lesson about the true meaning of happiness. Happiness is being thankful for everything always. Happiness is telling people how much you love them and smiling, just smiling a smile that lights up a whole room. America has the sweetest, most beautiful, light-up-the-room smile I’ve ever seen.The children of Calichera don’t have much in the way of material things. But they do have a wonderful sense of community and family. The children do not spend time on ipads or other gadgets. They are outside playing soccer. They are expected to work hard in school. These families are trying hard to break the cycle of poverty.
Although this was my first ever mission trip, this was my church’s fourth mission trip to this area. The people of the area need so much, and are so grateful for what is done for them. We were all proud to be a part of a team working to give at least one family a better place to live. Meeting the members of the family--grandmother, mother, five children--(the father had died in a horrible automobile accident) who would live in the house really gave it special meaning. When I returned home, I remember telling someone, that I couldn’t wait to go back, and they looked at me strangely. All I can say is, “You just had to be there to understand.”