Across The Border: Days 1-4

Be prepared for a lot of pictures, a lot of text, and some Montezuma's Revenge. Right now, I'm in Mexico on a missions trip with about 29 other people from my church. Most of the adults are doing a building project, and the rest, including the teens, are running a vacation Bible school at a local church. 

Day One 

3 a.m. Got up after going to bed the night before at 9:30p.m., but once my feet hit the floor, I got such a rush of adrenaline that feeling tired was not an option. I was about to leave the country for the first time in my life! 

5:05 a.m. On the road to Mexico! 

I slept for a couple hours, but by the time I started winding down enough to sleep, the teens were winding up! 

We stopped for lunch just before crossing the border, and then came the part I was nervous about. The teens had told us that the Mexican soldiers at the border would be carrying machine guns. There's something about a gun that creates just a little bit of tension! However, just like the teens had said, when we crossed they just smiled at us and waved us through.

Across the border, we entered Encanata. We aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto!

Mexico seemed much more foreign than I expected.

Something familiar

The Ocean!

These boys smiled and waved at us until they turned a corner

See the Starbucks sign in the background? I was SO EXCITED to see that!

For the last several hours of the trip, the teens in the back seemed to be getting louder, and Louder, and LOUDER. Did I carry on conversations of meaningless banter when I was a teen? I don’t remember being as obnoxious. I guess I’d have to ask my youth leaders, but most likely, I was every bit as annoying as these guys can be. I reminded myself multiple times, they've been sitting in this van for almost 10 hours. This is totally understandable.  


We arrived at the Mission Base at 5:04 p.m., almost 12 hours to the minute. We unloaded our sleeping bags and suitcases and found our rooms. Originally I’d planned to stay with the teen girls, but after spending so much time with them in the van, I really wanted my own space and some peace and quiet. I felt completely exhausted, and my small store of patience had evaporated. 

There's nothing like being in a van for 12 hours, or being deprived of accustomed comforts, to teach you about your shortcomings!

Our room didn’t help my emotional state. I’m fine with plywood bunk beds, small foam pads, cement floors, and block walls. I have no problem with that at all. But bugs and I do not get along well together. Our bunk beds were covered in cobwebs, a giant black beetle emerged from under a bed, and the upper bunks were littered with unrecognizable dead bugs. When Brian lifted my foam pad to shake it off outside, we discovered piles of mouse poop underneath.

That all made me just a little stressed. But after a few minutes of sweeping and squishing, the room was livable.

After dinner, the missionary gave us some instructions. Don’t drink the water. Don’t brush your teeth with the water. Take short showers. Drink lots of bottled water. And throw away the toilet paper.

Yes, throw it away, not flush it. Here in Mexico, everywhere you go you’ll find little trash cans in each stall. You wipe, and instead of dropping the paper in, it goes in the trash can. Otherwise, you’ll plug the toilet. It's been incredibly hard to get used to!

I had a little meltdown that night. Technically, it was over whether or not to wear my pajamas to the shower, but really, it was just the culmination of the stress and exhaustion, along with a hearty dose of feeling useless, inadequate, and over my head.

Day Two
Today was Sunday. We had our own church service here on the mission base. After a short break, we had two sessions of orientation. I’m so glad this organization provides orientation; there are so many things about the culture I wouldn’t understand at all without it. Even though Mexico is so close to the U.S, their culture is so very different. As the missionary explained, it’s partly due to the difference in how they were colonized and the impact England had versus Spain. The governments are also very different, there’s a lot of corruption here, and laws are viewed more as “guidelines.”

 Most of the residents in this area work in the strawberry fields, earning $7-10 a day. After middle school, parents have to pay to send their children to school, and since at that age, the children could be working in the fields and making them money, they usually choose not to. However, just because most of them aren’t as educated, they are not lacking in wisdom. To them, social skills and life wisdom is more desirable than an education. They put great importance on manners and etiquette. Their culture focuses on good relationships and respect.

The missionary instructed us to be sure to greet everyone when entering and leaving a room, to eat all the food that we were served, or at least do our best, and to make sure we kept an easy going attitude. The Mexicans are not in a hurry for anything. They take it all in stride, and peace is of much greater importance than timeliness. I could certainly stand to learn a few things from them in that area!


Sunday afternoon we went to the church we would be serving. We met the Pastor and some of the church leaders, and then we canvased the neighborhood in small groups, passing out tracts and a flyer with information about the church.

I started feeling some culture shock. I couldn’t talk to anyone we met, and our translator, the missionary’s son, never translated for us what people said. The streets were all dirt, the houses varied from extremely elegant to hovels, and dogs, chickens, and even a horse roamed the streets.

When we got back to the mission base, one of the teens, Jeremy, was having a very animated conversation with the wife and daughter of one of the church leaders. The missionary’s wife was helping translate as Jeremy practiced his Spanish. The missionary’s wife eventually left the conversation, leaving me, Jeremy, Mikayla (another one of the teens), and an older lady. Hilarity ensued. The older lady seemed to think that repeating the same words slowly and loudly in English would help the Mexican ladies understand her. We found creative ways to learn new words, such as acting out tocar el perro (to pet the dog), and many gestures. We had a long conversation with them, and it was probably the most fun I’d had yet on the trip. For the first time, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and totally inadequate. Laughter is the same in any language.

The missionary was right about the Mexican’s lack of concern for promptness. When church started, hardly anyone was there, but they steadily trickled in until the auditorium was full. Our group sang special music, “Amazing Grace,” and a song in Spanish, “Jehova es mi Pastor.”

Jeremy and I did a puppet skit we’d practiced earlier in the afternoon. It’s easier to lip-sync Spanish than I would have thought! The skit went well, and I didn’t need to be as nervous about it as I was.

We took all the children out for the sermon part of the service, and sang songs, did another puppet skit, practiced the Bible verse, and listened to the story of David and Goliath. I cannot get over how cute the kids are! They were so eager to shout out answers. 

After church, the ladies fixed us dinner. We spread out so that we sat next to some of the church people. Brian, some of the teens, and I sat next to a group of kids. We asked them their names in Spanish, and told them ours. I could ask them how old they were, and sometimes understand their questions to us. They laughed uproariously when we tried to put together sentences in Spanish, but they were happy to tell us what things were, like serviettas (napkins). We had a blast trying to figure out what we were saying to each other.
The Spanish I’d taken in high school started coming back to me, but along with it came the French I learned in college! I’m discovering that in many ways, the two languages are not so similar!

The food was delicious.  I had chicken, tortillas, cabbage, and beans, and following the example of the Mexicans around me, I scooped it all into a tortilla and ate it that way.

After I went to bed, my stomach started burning inside. I figured I was tired enough that I’d be able to fall asleep, and I’d feel fine in the morning.

Day Three
I was wrong.

At 3 am, after fitful dozing, I felt the diarrhea coming. I made it to the bathroom, and there I stayed until after 4 am, when it finally let up. I went back to bed, but my stomach was still burning, and I couldn’t really fall asleep. Plus, my legs kept cramping up, probably because I was dehydrated.

After Brian left to eat breakfast, I felt another episode coming on, so I headed to the bathroom again. Since everyone else was getting up and around, it was full. Luckily, I remembered that they had opened a second set of bathrooms, but I didn’t know where they were. By some miracle, I found them before it was too late.
Then the vomiting began. I’ve thrown up pretty violently in the past, but never like this. I thought all of my intestines were going to come out. I honestly thought I might faint.

By God’s grace, Pastor Roger happened to hear me in there. He told me later that at first he thought it was the teens yelling, then he thought it might be a cat fight, and then he thought it could be a car with a broken fan belt. The fourth time, he realized it was coming from someone in the bathroom, and he ran to get his wife, Tammy.

By the time Tammy got there, I’d finished expelling all my stomach’s contents. She helped get me to bed, fixed up with a trash can to throw up in, several bottles of water and Gatorade, Pepto-Bismol, and anti-diarrhea medication. I slept until 2, and then my stomach felt much better. I got dressed and worked on my classwork for two hours, but by the time I was getting close to finished with it, my head was throbbing, and I had chills and aches all over. I went back to bed for several hours, hoping my headache would improve, but it only got worse. I felt utterly miserable. I couldn’t take any pain reliever, because I had an empty stomach and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it down.

Finally, Brian got back from working at the church. He bought me crackers and Powerade, and shared some Mexican chocolate with me too. After eating the chocolate and half the package of crackers, I took the pain reliever, showered, and went to bed.

Day Four
Besides being hungry and weak, I felt completely better in the morning. I ate a little breakfast and packed a lunch to take to the church. Apparently, my digestive system just isn’t capable of handling the food here.

This was really disappointing to me. One of the main highlights everyone who’d been on the trip mentioned before was the amazing Baja Mexican food. It wasn’t really spicy, but it was fresh and flavorful. Most likely, I’d have to miss out on it all.

In the morning, I worked with some of the teens and one of the moms clearing the empty lot next door to the church. It was hard work, shoveling and raking dirt, trash, and branches. I was a little over zealous and had to sit inside and drink Gatorade for awhile after I started feeling lightheaded. I watched the guys work on hanging drywall on the ceiling. Now, that’s a hard job.
my husband is the one holding up the drywall with his head
The church ladies served us lunch, and of course it was the meal I’d been looking forward too for months: fish tacos and horchatta.  It smelled amazing, and everyone around me said it tasted amazing. I managed to get down a granola bar and banana, but then my stomach started acting up again. I took more Pepto, and was mostly recovered by the time vacation Bible school started.

First there were two...

Then there were more...

Then there were a lot more...

And more!

This little girl was the jump rope champion for awhile, but our translator's son, David,  was pretty good too

The kids loved the bell on this bike

Tackling Jeremy

I got to help a group of kids put together their craft. I had a hard time explaining how to do it, but I could give them a thumbs up when they were doing it right!

By the time we got back to the base, I was exhausted. I did eat a decent sized dinner; I couldn’t resist smell of grilled hamburgers! After dinner, I went back to our room and worked on typing this. It’s 8:30 now, and 9:30 is quiet time; 10:30 lights out. Brian has been snoring on his bunk since I started typing, over an hour ago.

So now, I'm used to the bugs. And when I look at those kids' smiles, even being as sick as I was is totally worth it. I'm so excited for the rest of this week! 

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