The Mexican Border: A Candid Look at our Volunteer Experience

We just spent a week a few miles from the Mexican border.   Why did we come to this part of the country? An answer to prayer, really. Chris and I listened to an older woman and a Mexican Pastor speak at our church two years ago about their ministries in Mexico and along the border. She was specifically asking for prayer for God to send a younger couple to help them with some construction projects. Their work touched our hearts, and we said a prayer for God to show us a way to be able to help these people. A year later, we decided to quit our jobs and become full-time RVers. These were our top reasons for our decision: 1) we wanted to spend more time on people and less time on things, 2) we wanted to spend more time on our wellness and in the outdoors, 3) we wanted to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Our lives had become too comfortable. We wanted to put ourselves out in this world, share our lives with strangers and let go of those things that were holding us back. RVing sounded like a good start. As we set out last June, we were remembering that prayer from the previous year. We knew that if we wanted to be true to the goals we had set, we would be planning a stop in Donna, Texas. The Lord answered our prayer, and now two years later, we found ourselves in Donna asking ourselves: what on earth were we thinking?

What is this mission I am talking about?

The woman who had come to our church 2 years earlier and her husband are the founders of Flame of Truth. They are originally from the Lancaster area, she was Amish and he was Mennonite. I won’t tell their entire personal story, but they felt led to come to work as missionaries in Mexico and made their way down to the border 50+ years ago with 9 children at the time (they have a total of 12). Today, one of their daughters and her husband are considered their coworkers and several of their other children live on the property and help out. They do mission work in Mexico and Texas. In Donna, TX, they run an RV park for missionaries, a food pantry for locals and a church.

Shall I paint you a picture of our first day along the Mexican border?

Arriving in the area, we were shocked to see how built up it is. The towns in this part of the Rio Grande Valley have overgrown their boundaries to the point that there is no telling where one ends and the next one begins. Instead, it looks like a small city without a skyline.

The driving is intense. It is much more wreckless than anywhere we have been (that is saying a lot since we have been on the road for 9 months). There are also a lot of vehicles with vehicles in tow – we later found out that those are people taking vehicles into Mexico. We also learned that a portion of the drivers do not have insurance, or even a license.

Littering is an epidemic in the area, along with stealing.

Once we arrived at the RV park, we met the with the founders who reviewed the crime in the area, including the murder of 10 cartel members just five days earlier in Reynosa, Mexico. They told several tales of theft on the property, but the more recent installation of a fence had curbed that crime. According to them, 30-40% of the area’s population is illegal aliens. As our anxiety levels reached a crescendo, Chris set out in the 90 degree heat to work, and I got a tour of the grounds. The RV park, church, pantry, founders’ home, and several other outbuildings lie on 10 acres of land. At the back of the property, there is a “colonia”. These are Mexican small communities that have been put up in the past 5 or so years. They feature small homes with fences around each one. Many yards have a dog tied outside with warning signs, while other packs of dogs roam the streets. I will politely comment here that these are inhospitable places with unwelcoming faces. Chris and I accidentally drove through one when we missed our turn into the RV park, and Chris was ready to call it quits and leave the area. I have traveled in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador, so I was more accustomed to the look of these areas, but it is a shock as a first time visitor. Between the heat and the surroundings, we could not have been more uncomfortable and unsettled. There is always an adjustment as you make it into each new place, but this was the most difficult adjustment we had faced. That night we prayed for protection and for our hearts to be settled on the task at hand. We also decided definitively that we would not travel into Mexico. By the next day, we felt much better about our situation and were able to find a rhythm in the work we were doing (thank you, Lord). It also cooled down into the 60s, so that was a big help for us northerners.

Allow me to share some of the other tales from the week with you…

  • There were grapefruit groves on each side of the property, and they were in bloom. The sweet smell of a citrus blossom is heavenly, and it wafted through the park for several days. Then, they sprayed the groves with pesticides and they stopped smelling. (For those of you who know me and my crazy organic ways, don’t worry, we left for the day during the spraying and came back at  night – it still smelled in the evening. By the way, no one is permitted inside the groves for 12 hours after spraying.)
  • There were two Ball Rooms on our street – they are similar to a community center. The Mexicans use them for quinceañeras, etc., but they have also been the location of serious crimes.
  • Some of the almost daily sounds: a lot of gunshots, a random peacock’s eerie call, rooster’s crowing, dogs fighting (like 50 dogs at once), music from the Ball Rooms, an ice cream truck, the wind rustling the palm trees
  • The weather was extreme: one day in the 90s and the next in the 60s. There was also a lot of wind. I actually gave up on my contacts midway through the week, as they had become so dry and dusty. A gentleman staying there who lived most of his life in Oklahoma said it is the same type of daily wind.
  • Fire ants! They are everywhere. I was so diligent and observant, and I still had one bite while I was weeding.
  • We went to a restaurant after church for lunch, and we were surprised when we were solicited twice during our meal. First, a man and his son came to our table and the man told us that he lost his job and needed money. He had a few pieces of artwork with him that he was selling. Second, a man came to our table and placed several calendars on it with a note saying that he was deaf and asking if we would purchase one. They went to all of the tables.   I have traveled in Central America, Europe and now all over the U.S., and I have not had that experience anywhere else.
  • The only other white people we saw during our week were on the grounds of the RV park. Everyone else was Mexican, all of the hundreds of drivers on the road, the sheriff when he visited, etc.

Our Conclusions…

Between the fire ant bites, the sore muscles, the unbearable heat at times, the dangerous areas, the random dogs, the pesticide scare, and other misadventures; I would say we faced many uncomfortable circumstances, and yet we were able to feel comfortable despite them. We owe that to our ability to look past circumstances and see the bigger picture. By focusing on others and serving, like we learn from Jesus, we were able to put the oddities and uncomfortableness aside. Were we perfect? Absolutely not! We were scared. We did not feel safe in those unwelcoming places so near to us. We had moments of real discouragement. On our first day, we weren’t even sure we were going to stay the whole week. But, God held our hands when we needed it. We wrestled our weakness and came out stronger. We are so grateful we had an opportunity to serve and complete several projects for the mission. We met so many wonderful people working there who are a real testament to selfless love, who willingly submit to dangerous circumstances year after year to be able to serve. We hope we were a small encouragement in their part of God’s work, because I can assure you that fellowshipping with them was a huge encouragement to us. In giving, don’t we always receive so much more, my friends? By the end of the week, we did not want to leave.

Here are some of the images from the week…

Flame of Truth property in Donna, TX. You can see Aunt Glady off on the right!

Flame of Truth property in Donna, TX. You can see Aunt Glady off on the right!

They had 4 replacement windows to put in that had been sitting around for two years until the right person came for the job. They were 2nd story windows that were attached from the exterior, rather than normal windows that are an interior job. It was tough work, but Chris got it done!

They had 4 replacement windows to put in that had been sitting around for two years until the right person came for the job. They were 2nd story windows that were attached from the exterior, rather than normal windows that are an interior job. It was tough work, but Chris got it done!

We completed a siding project together on the vestibule of the church. Here is the before just after we finished hanging the Tyvek.

We completed a siding project together on the vestibule of the church. Here is the before just after we finished hanging the Tyvek.

 

The after shot. Not bad for a day's work.

The after shot. Not bad for a day’s work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Route 2 near Donna, TX

Route 2 near Donna, TX.  This gives you a little perspective on how built-up the area is.

The last image I have for you is of the US Border Patrol.  When we left, we got about 45 minutes North, and there was a checkpoint set up.  Obviously, we did not have anything illegal, but we really weren’t expecting this and with a camper, we weren’t sure if they would be checking us out.  There were three lanes of traffic and it was stop and go up to the checkpoint.  When we got there, about 15 cameras surrounded our vehicle.  Then, we saw that they were using dogs on each vehicle as it passed.  When we got to the front of our line and stopped to talk to the officer, he asked, “are you citizens?”, to which we rightly replied yes, and he signaled us past.  Most of the people around us were Mexican, and they pulled several cars from the road for further investigation.  So, Aunt Glady passed her first check point with flying colors, as we knew she would!

US Border Patrol

 

If you are interested in supporting Flame of Truth, here is their website:   Flame of Truth      Their website is dated, and they are in the process of establishing a new one.  The founders are in their 80s, and you can imagine their workload.  They have a newsletter with their specific prayer requests. Their most recent requests are: 1) for them and their ministry, 2) for the violence in Mexico to cease, 3) for the pastors in the mountains of Mexico, and 4) for builders to construct roofs over three RVs. They are also holding a revival in April that you can pray for. If you want to make a monetary contribution for the church building projects in Mexico, donate to the pantry in Donna, or give for another of their causes; they will honor your specific request for the allocation of your donation. They are always looking for physical help on their grounds in Donna, and they have RVs that you can stay in, as well as full hookup spots available for workers.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions- towanderfreely@gmail

5 comments on “The Mexican Border: A Candid Look at our Volunteer Experience

  1. What an experience. I am so grateful that you are sharing this with everyone.

    • It is such a pleasure to share our adventures Bud, glad you are enjoying following along! – Chris

  2. Jen and Chris, not only are you experiencing a wonderful adventure, but you thrill us with your comments and photos. This particular time right on the border certainly must elevate your trust in the Lord for His protection. I pray for your safety and I look forward to your return back here in the next thirty years so I can get a hug. God bless both of you. I love you!

    • Ha ha, it won’t take us that long to get back! Love you too, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Chris & Jen,

    Enjoyed reading this. It is interesting to see how the Lord is connecting things together for you with the RVing. The safest place to be is always His will.

    God Bless,
    Joshua

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *