by Anastazie Jordan
Project Mexico and Saint Innocent’s Orphanage is an Orthodox Christian non-profit organization known for building houses for the families of Rosarito and the surrounding area in Mexico. Land is very expensive in Mexico, and many families do not have the money to construct a permanent home. Project Mexico has been building homes since 1988, and all of the houses are built with donated funds and volunteer labor. A single house takes four days to build, followed by a house blessing at the end. Groups primarily from around the U.S.A. and Canada have built over 300 homes, and, at the end of the build week, they often find that more has changed than just a family getting a home. Project Mexico not only changes the lives of the families it builds for, it also changes the lives of those who go on this incredible mission trip.
I am an Orthodox Christian teen living in Colorado Springs and attending Holy Theophany Orthodox Church. Most of my life I have wished to be a missionary. I have always wanted to help people and show God’s love through acts of kindness and charity. I had always heard about the amazing things of Project Mexico and the change that it can bring to our worlds. To be to be completely honest, I had never seen true poverty before going on my mission trip to Project Mexico this summer (I went on the Orthodox Basic Training – OBT – build week June 30 to July 6, 2016), and even though I expected it to be drastically different, it was a culture shock.
When you first cross the border into Mexico, you instantly see the poverty and decay of Tijuana. It is amazing what a few simple miles can change. I was shocked into silence at the sight of families living in shacks made of plywood, tarps, garage doors, metal boards and rough concrete walls. These are materials that America has deemed unworthy to build houses with, yet hundreds of thousands of families have never lived in anything with a window or even a real door. I was holding back tears when I realized that for these people, this is normal. For many of these kids, they will never know what a real house with heating and running water is like, they will never even know what a house with four solid walls and a roof is like.
Project Mexico’s goal is to change that: “Building hope for boys without families and families without homes.” That is their mission statement, and as my work group was driving to our build site, I was overjoyed to see kids point out previous houses they had built. There was something so rewarding about physically building something and seeing a home progress through hard work and the fellowship of Orthodox Christian peers.
Our family of five – the family for whom we were building a house – was living in a trailer smaller than my bedroom, but they were still so happy with what little they had. The father took a whole week off of work to build with us, saying “I cannot be given so much freely and not give anything in return.” He made about $180 American dollars a week, yet was fully willing to give that money up to help the people who were easily tripling their living space. He and his wife were full of this quiet humility and lovely joy that was always present. As we were raising the frame to the small two room house, I looked over at the mother, and there were tears in her eyes. I smiled at her and she smiled a beautiful smile back, waved me off, and went back inside before I could see her cry. On the very last day, when it came time to bless our house, the family, along with the rest of our work crew, were in tears. The amount of joy and happiness felt in the simple two room house that didn’t even have running water, electricity or insulation was overwhelming. It was such a beautiful thing, to know that as an Orthodox community, we have helped this family forever.
We built a house and home for our family and helped them in so many ways. We built a permanent refuge for them to raise their children. We gave them hope, but they gave me so much more. They gave me hope, that I can one day be as happy and content with my life as they are. Even though by our standards they have nothing, but in my eyes, they have everything, at least spiritually. I have truly never seen anyone with the amount of happiness and humility that my build family had. I would like to think that I could be happy with the little they had, but I know it’s not true, not even close. My build family made me realize that I am nowhere near as close to God as I even wish I could be. I learned to think about God in the little things in life and find joy in those little things. I learned that everything that happens in my life happens for a reason, there is no reason to be cruel towards someone or to judge others, for that is not finding God. God is in everyone and everything. It took seeing poverty and having the beautiful experience of building a home and so much more, for me to truly realize that for myself. For all things are good by God.
The hardest thing about this mission trip was realizing that we can’t help everyone. While I can’t build a house for every family or bring a small amount of joy into every child’s life, by attending Project Mexico, I can build a house for one family. And that is more than enough. The thing that stuck with me, even through coming back to the States and returning to my normal life, is the joy and happiness that was there, even in the poverty. We talked about how the “real” world isn’t full of joy and happiness, but this, where we are right now, isn’t the real world. St. Innocent’s Orphanage and Project Mexico, bringing God into every small work they do and dedicating all to him, that is a real world. A world where joy and happiness can always be found. Even in poverty.