Long before my passion for photography ever came to be, I had a mission-focused heart. I grew up in a home where we were taught to serve and have compassion on others, and not only am I incredibly grateful for that, but it also lead me to some amazing opportunities to serve people all over the world. There's something so valuable in traveling somewhere new, not only seeing but sharing in their culture, and opening your worldview to something so much bigger. People need people, no matter where you go, and that's what missions is all about.
To kick off 2017, a team and I from the UG at Evangel, traveled to Tijuana to serve the RDSN, Ranchos De Sus Ninos, organization and ministry. We had roughly a week there to serve in a variety of ways from physical labor to save water costs to playing with kids and making them feel incredibly valued and loved as they are. It was absolutely amazing and unique to any other mission experience I've had, and while I wish every person on the team could share their stories with you in this moment, I'm going to try to let the images do most the talking.
Here we go!
Day 1 in Tijuana
We arrived to Tijuana on Monday right as the sun went down, after going through a very long border crossing process. We were given a warm welcome, a quick tour, and shown where we'd spend the night. They directed us to our two rooms which basically consisted of a cement room with some wooden bunks, and no heat. If we're being honest, it was a bit of surprise to the team, but we were ready to sleep and kick off day one of ministry with an open mind and fresh heart.
So, day one of ministry began!
I woke up a bit early to catch the sunrise and get a better feel for the area as the previous night's tour was mostly in the dark, and wow, was I instantly amazed and surrounded by pure peace. We were surrounded by large, blue mountains in nearly all directions, and the way the light brushed the red-orange ground was warm and comforting. Soon enough, the kids started walking to school, and the team and I were on our way to our morning devotion/worship session.
I absolutely LOVE Spanish worship, so I was in heaven! From there, we were directed to our first activity: Shoveling gravel for three hours straight. Yes, this was just as fun as you might imagine haha, BUT we later found out that the gravel we were shoveling was going to save the ministry $80k a year on water costs that could, instead, be put towards the orphanage and more buildings. Amazing! Plus, it was a good way to bond with the team.
Afterwards, we got a break to relax, freshen up, and take some time to ourselves before tackling our ministry that night. We really had no idea what to expect!
Day one was the night of trash ministry. We loaded up several buses with both groups and simply reached out to people in their homes asking if we could take their trash. This service isn't commonly offered in areas such as these, so it was a great way to bless them, but also make connections and invite the families to the event the following night. I was amazed at how the homes are laid out, and at how many dogs filled the streets!
The hand-lettered Spanish typography was very impressive to me, as a designer, so you'll see some of those, too. We ended the night was a Mexican food tradition: Corn on the cob with some sort of cream (tasted similar to sour cream). And thankfully nobody got sick!
Day two was very similar to day one in that we had our devotion and then shoveled gravel for another three hours. This time, though, it was bright and sunny so the team definitely enjoyed feeling that luscious head on their skin. AND we had an amazing sunset.
Our ministry that night was similar to a VBS or sorts here in the USA. We went back to the same community where we picked up trash, and went door to door inviting them to come as a family. I was sooo proud seeing so many of our teammates try using Spanish as they never had before! They did it boldly and confidently, and loved seeing the people understand what they had to say. My favorite moment was seeing a little girl peak through the top window of her room to see what was going on.
For our activities, we took over a local basketball court with several chairs and tables for face painting, coloring, you name it. They also had some football and other games going to keep all the kids having fun. While coloring, this is when I met the sweetest little four-year-old and her family. She was so sweet and wanted to know EVERYTHING about my family. (Although its super intimidating talking to a 4-year-old who can speak Spanish far better than you.) We connected and I was grateful.
Then, they moved into the 'show' of the night. They had everyone rush to their chairs to play several large-group games like Simon Says and Musical Chairs. They all loved it and got prizes like blankets and pillows for winning. After the games were done, the RDSN leader gave a message and you could tell the audience really connected. The little girl I bonded with found me and wanted to sit next to me, and when it came time was able to pray with her! When I was finished, I looked back and her entire family was in one big hug praying with some of the leaders. It was a moment I'll never forget.
Day 3 of ministry was our final day of shoveling! We finished the entire wall of 'rooms' of cement, and were so excited to have served in that capacity even if our bodies were incredibly sore. Most of the day was quite rainy and dark so photos were few, but that night we got to go to the different small groups the ministry has on a weekly basis.
Every group of 4-5 people went to a different community so we all had different experiences, but with ours we were just glad we made it. With all the rain and the dirt roads, it was sooo extremely muddy. We were't sure the bus would make it, but thankfully it did with some extra care.
Before the small group started, our leader and her team wanted to visit their friend, a middle-aged man who had been living with cancer. He was sick and living with his family, however he has lived past his medical expectancy and is improving in health every day! He event joked about how he could race his little nephew, he was walking so well. He loved to talk about anything and everything, and was grateful we had visited him even if we were strangers.
When small group time came, we were welcomed into their home with coffee and these delicious treats. While the room was small, the joy was abundant. One of the team members convinced a few of us to try these spicy chips and wow they were hot!! From there, we had a time of worship in both languages, read a passage of scripture, and then went around to give testimonies from the previous week. It was very special to be invited into such a small group as an outsider, really, but it was amazing for us to see their homes and to meet people who benefit from the RDSN on a daily basis.
Day four was probably the most memorable day. Instead of shoveling, we got to the ropes course! This was a fear of some members on the team, so it was incredible to see them brave their own fear of heights and to overcome that obstacle in their life. I personally LOVED it, and had so much fun. My adrenaline was rushing as we got to zip line off the top to return and complete the course. I took a big leap and just went for it—so fun!
For ministry that day, we got to do what we were all anxiously waiting for—to play with all the kids! We got to play with them during their day care portion of the school day and all the kids were just sooo excited, and we're shy at all! They instantly approaches us, grabbed us, and off we were coloring, playing soccer, running around, dancing, doing cartwheels, you name it! It was active, and it was fun.
The three girls I hung out with for a majority of the time were all 11 and best friends. They loved gymnastics so they were delighted to find out I could handwalk, and taught them how to do the same by holding their legs up for them. Then, amidst taking lots and lots of photos, they couldn't stop feeling my very thin hair, and suddenly all three we're braiding it! I was a bit concerned it'd turned into one big mess, but to my surprise they gave me a traditional Mexican braid and it was beautiful! They even gave me their hair tie and we exchanges 'te amos' (I love you's) as we left. Heart breaker!
Afterwards, the team thought it was finally time to climb the mountain that we had all been in awe of since we arrived. Sunset was quickly approaching so the entire hike was incredibly gorgeous... let's just say I was the last one because I kept stopping to take photos! Finally, we all made it to the top, and there was this simple cross that was just so appropriate. The sunset was breathe-taking, and we prayed together over that moment and the community of Tijuana. Nothing will beat that moment, as the sun fell behind the mountains and purely displayed all the promises of God. Amazing.
Then, if not everything that day wasn't great enough, we got to go out for some of the best local tacos! Im not a taco expert, but these were some pretty awesome tacos across the board. We all ate as much as we possibly could.
Our final day in Mexico was spent having fun along the ocean! We had some delicious pastries, walked the shoreline with sand in our toes, and some of us even road horseback along the ocean! It was hot out, the view was both amazing and refreshing, and we got to eat more great Spanish food.
The night closed with some time together as a team around the campfire to reflect on our experience, and to give 'shout outs' to every member of the team. It was the perfect way to end our time in Tijauana.
Thanks so much for taking part in the missions experience in Tijauna! The main thing that I learned was that beauty has a lot of appearances. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing or the best photograph to take, but the story and the person is beautiful in who they are and the life they live. I met so many astounding people who have so little, yet live so big. Big in the way of their attitude, their faith, and how they give to others. And that's a beautiful life.
If you'd like to get involved more or help the ministry we served at, please connect with them here and even consider sponsoring a child. They are seriously excellent at what they do, and I can't support them enough!
++Also, special shout out to the team for being great the entire trip. We all had ups and downs over the course of the week, but we were there for each other, and became family. We all experienced Christ in so many ways, and I can't wait to see what's in store next!