Tuesday, July 25, 2006
We crossed the border for the first time on Saturday morning, prepared to pass out flyers in the Rio Bravo and Progresso neighborhoods. I videoed our crossing. The road above the Rio Grand was terribly bumpy and there was no easy transition between road and bridge. It was just a huge BUMP on and off the bridge. The river was lined with colourful shanty houses and the American side of the river had a high fence around it as far as you could see. The Mexican Border Crossing area was under construction. Actually... it was difficult to tell if they were building or tearing down. There were concrete chunks every where. After a few minutes of bumpy driving, we approached the actual crossing. A gentleman was in the booth and nothing more than a gate crossing guard appeared to hold the Americans back. (The other side of the highway headed into the US was crowded, however.) We made it through almost without stopping. I was surprised to see that we only paid a fee to go across, but weren’t asked for ID or what our business there was.
First we drove a highway that didn’t seem to have any speed limit. It was well maintained and well marked. The election had just happened and so several political candidates’ pictures were still up. They all looked the same to me... with different faces. One man stood out to me as he had a defiant fist held high. We got off the road and made our way to the Ranch church in Rio Bravo. The building was a grey concrete block building labeled "Iglasia De Christo" behind it were two outhouses. One with pink trim and one with blue. Behind that was a ditch partially filled with water and floating debris. And a shanty house flanked it on the left. Roosters and dogs were already up and busy. Some of the church members met us in the tent-like structure next to the building. We had plans to greet people in their own neighborhoods.
We drove back to Rio Bravo after a short while... and though it was only 9:30 in the morning, it was already quite hot. We drove through the colourful city, making our way through the huge speed bumps and morning traffic. Eventually we crossed the railroad and turned onto a dirt road. The buses unloaded under the shade and we split up into several groups headed in several directions.
The houses were very close together and sometimes it would have been impossible to tell if it was one structure or two if they hadn’t been painted different colours. It was Saturday morning, so we were greeted by people who were tending gardens or families who were meeting out in the cooler morning air. The houses were usually well gated and friendly dogs followed us up and down the street. Each yard was filled to the fullest with all sorts of random items... wash basins and car hoods, pallets and plumbing parts. We noticed that most of the houses still had huge rods sticking up out of the brick and mortar roofing. It was peculiar to us... so we asked about it and learned that the families were not well off, and would build on the houses as they had the cash to do so. The rods were left up in case they had plans to build a second story. We never saw a house with a second story. The gates were ornate and were often topped with broken bottles secured in mortar to keep folks from jumping the walls. People were skeptical and no one spoke English. I looked down at my paper and deciphered what was written on it. I told folks the best that I could about a free clinic at the church of Christ in Rio Bravo. Medical, Dental and vision... and that the children would have a bible school. Then, I would place the green flyer in their hands and hope for the best... wishing them a Buenos Dias...
As we finished up in the streets of Rio Bravo, I noticed that it was our newest Christians who were pounding the pavement harder than any of the rest of us. I think the poverty level of the Mexican families really touched them.
Next we loaded up and did the same sort of thing in Progresso. The streets were wider and I’m not sure they were much safer. It was nearly noon and the sun was beating down on us. Most folks had returned into their darkened houses, so it was more difficult to find families who were willing to speak with us. I walked one street to find a small group of children playing in the water that was running off of what ever their grandmother was cleaning. A little boy was naked and ran back to grandmother, but the older boy who must have been three was talking very loudly to me and had his arms crossed. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but noticed that he kept pointing to his older sister... who was quite shy. She had her little chubby hand held out and presented me with a bright pink flower. I was deeply moved and thanked them for the gift. I nodded at the grandmother and grinned all the way back to my group. It was truly the sweetest gift I received on that trip.
As we loaded up, we realized that a group was missing. It was terribly hot and though we all had our personal containers of water, there just didn’t seem to be enough water to go around. The vans couldn’t run in hot sun without driving because they would overheat... though we desperately wanted the air conditioning. We waited for a while, but when half of that group showed up nearly in tears we started up the van. The group had been accidentally split up and both halves were lost and dehydrating fast. We took one van into the village and began retracing the steps of the first half of the group. Immediately our pre-pharmacy kids took to dunking whole towels in the ice water that was in the cooler and placed them on the red-faced kids. We passed them our own waters and even diet cokes and told them to just sip them slowly. The van was quiet and serious. We were very aware of the graveness of the situation. We drove the bumpy roads and took turn after turn... and eventually we found the other half of the group. We scooted over and began tending to them as well. The younger kids in the group did everything they could to hold it together, but when they thought no one was looking, I saw tears. Being a mama, I snuggled up and cooled them off... I really felt for them. It was the most terrifying thing they’d ever been through. Being lost in a foreign country. They had a great leader who had really gone all out to keep the kids calm and used the cellphone to guide our driver to where he was. His translator had accidentally split the group.
We met the rest of our huge group at a small restaurant in Progresso where nearly 200 ice-cream cones were waiting for us. We took the restaurant over. After we were done cooling ourselves off, we were off to have cokes and do some shopping. Strangely, much of our group didn’t care to shop. They just couldn’t seem to stomach it after what they’d seen.
We all headed home tired and dirty and sweaty. We approached the US border and my anxiety about the validity of my US citizenship set in. I had never used my Indian Status ID card to claim citizenship before... and I was worried. I whispered a short prayer (one of many) as we unloaded to walk through. The building was clean and cool and I was so glad to be on the US side again. The border patrol agent asked everyone their citizenship... including me. I stated that I was a US citizen and then handed him my Canadian ID. Without missing a beat, he asked my for my date of birth and waved me through. I was so relieved.
We washed up in the hotel and went out to eat. Something cheap. I couldn’t get the kids out of my head. The heat. The dirty roads. Supper was swallowed hard. We had a devotional later that night and we could see that all of us had been really moved by what we saw. The medical supplies had been held up at the border for the entire week and we weren’t sure they’d make it through. We prayed about it... it was after all the main reason we were there. Mike had us pray and encouraged us to remember the greatness of God. We prayed some more.
I crumpled into bed that night wondering what worship would be like tomorrow. Do we dress up? Or would that just be rude? Or... do we not dress up and show up in our grubs? Would THAT be rude? I had my kids prepare their regular clothes. And, exhausted we all hit the sack. Zion prayed for the Mexicans to be rich. I thanked God for the little girl’s flower... a symbol of God’s beauty in both of them. We slept hard.
Posted by ~Jennifer~ at 4:06 PM