Every summer, my wife and I and at least one of our children have the privilege of building homes in Mexico for families who are in need. The Ensenada Outreach Center works with churches in Canada and the United States to bring teams of people to build the homes and provide funds for the building materials. Local churches find the families and arrange for the foundation to be poured and for a toilet to be dug with the help of local volunteers. The church also follows up with the families to offer support after teams have left.
When we come, we are there for a week to do our part and what we receive through the experience is greater than what we give. One part of what we receive is the reminder that the building of the house is a vehicle through which a greater goal, God’s goal of redeeming people, can be met. In many ways, what I experience each summer in Mexico is a similitude for what I do the rest of the year here in Fresno. The time helps me to remember when the challenges of living in a fallen world divert my focus from the work of God’s Kingdom.
I remember a few years ago, we had a belt break on one of the vans. Thirty miles short of the border and early on a Saturday morning, we were stopped. We asked a local where we might get the part and were directed to a place that would open in a few hours. There was a detour on the road back and we didn’t seem to be going in the direction the man had explained so we stopped at a large hardware store that was just opening to ask for directions.
We asked the man behind the counter where we might find the place that sold belts. The man just looked up. The rafters of the store were filled with belts.
I think of that when I am working with a student or addressing a program need. I need to remember to be willing to find solutions where I may not see them and that what I think is always less than what God knows. I need to be reminded that the belts I need are right there if I will only look up.
I remember the experiences with the members of our teams while building the homes. The teams are comprised of 16-20 people and this allows for the members the time to learn to hammer nails or find the studs to hang dry wall. It also allows for us to take time from building the house to interact with the families and those in the neighborhood who are just watching. It is through those interactions that the Gospel is shared.
Students come to FPU for degrees and credentials and yet that is only part of what we hope they get here. We hope their experience will direct them toward the Gospel. What they see us all do to build an education testifies to them. It is the way they are received in financial services or how we take time to discuss assignments in class or how we balance grace and accountability in those assignments. It is the way we take time to teach and not just talk in class. It is the facilities person who smiles or the person walking by who takes a few minutes to describe where Marpeck 107 is located.
I also have vivid memories of time away from the building site. Time spent that revitalizes us. Every morning and evening we meet for chapel. We worship, we hear God’s word and see a video of the work we did that day. We have quiet time in the mornings and on the Friday before we leave we go to the beach to just be together as a church family. This time away from the work influences the work in a way that helps us situate that work in the Gospel. It helps when we are tired and pushed to finish the house. It helps when people get sick or emotions run high or just when we might miss home.
It is easy to forget that centering in the Gospel is prerequisite to what we do here at FPU. We can fill our time with work, buying into the lie that reflection and restoration are a waste of company time. We might start the semester or even the week full of energy and grace, but as we draw from the spiritual reserves built up in time away we reach a point where those reserves are gone and along with them the capacity to serve with patience, kindness and love. The house gets built, degrees get conferred, but the way in which those are done fails the greater goal.
Our time in Mexico is short and our efforts are only a small part of the work that is done to serve those who need material and spiritual support. When we drive back we are encouraged to take with us the spirit of the mission to our neighborhoods, schools and places of work. We are encouraged to remember that the building of a house is the means through which greater things can be accomplished and not the accomplishment itself.