By Karen O'Connor
The best model for an inter-cultural mission
experience is when the folks being helped get in on the action. If it's a
building project, they learn new skills in addition to hearing the gospel. And
a sense of achievement replaces the lethargy that often accompanies that
overwhelming feeling of hopelessness after a disaster. That's what happens when
a mission team from Southern California helps a community on the Mexican border
recover from their losses after the season's heavy rains.
People living in their hillside shacks made of paper, mud and cardboard have
little defense against the mudslides arriving in spring. Their homes routinely
wash away-their few belongings destroyed or strewn along the area valleys. They
become desperate for decent housing and stability in their lives.
Folks in that situation are happy when anyone comes to help. But the people
in this desolate community were especially glad to see a few of their fellow
Hispanics working alongside their Anglo brethren. Now it's not just about one
race helping those less fortunate-it's people helping people, not "us" and
"them." And this opens the door even wider for the distraught people to hear
the message of salvation that comes with the aid.
Dick Johnson, missions worker at a church near San Diego had heard of the
overwhelming need in neighboring Baja, a town on the border of Southern
California and Mexico. He was gripped by this community's dilemma and set about
looking for a longer-term solution. These people needed sturdier homes.
Dick and his team decided on a project to provide one house to one family
during their visits to the area every year in spring and fall. Dick, along with
25 Anglo and Hispanic volunteers, made their way to the Mexican border town
where they saw for themselves the need Christ had called them to meet.
Some people were homeless because of rains. Other residences had been
destroyed by fire. The community with its flimsy shacks was like a tender
"That first year the weather was rainy and cold," Dick recalls. "The
Gonzalez family was destitute. They'd lost everything they owned. All they had
when we arrived were the clothes on their backs."
As if to remind the mission team of the ongoing need, rains poured during
the dedication ceremony for the Gonzalez family home at the end of the first
Alison Slomka, a college student and volunteer, recalls seeing a teenage
girl soaked in the T-shirt she was wearing. Alison removed her sweat shirt and
handed it to the shivering girl. It was her final expression of Christ's love
during that first trip, and the gesture seemed to symbolize what God had called
Alison to do: sacrifice her own comfort for the comfort of those in need.
That weekend was the start of a ministry that has continued for six years.
Dick Johnson has taken teams to Tijuana and Ensenada, Mexico, in May and in
October each year. They've built half a dozen houses. Volunteers on each trip
have the opportunity to do cross-cultural ministry in a practical way through
hands-on work in construction, clean up and other tasks involved in building a
house in so short a time. And the team has partnered with residents in the
areas they minister to, establishing long-term personal relationships to come
back to nourish year after year.
Whether or not they can speak the same language doesn't matter. They have
one thing in common-building a home for a family in need. But the gospel is
always presented in the native tongue of the listener.
It's a group effort, which opens hearts as well as ears, and people from
neighboring villages often join the work.
Everyone over eight years of age is welcome to jump in and help. Some people
build while others interact with the families. The purpose is twofold: to build
homes and to share Christ. The latest trip included opportunities to visit
orphanages and migrant worker camps to distribute clothes, toys and
Alison has been so touched by this ministry that she's gone on seven trips.
She's also discovered her life's purpose: to serve the underprivileged as a
nurse. Her understanding of God's call came out of being part of the
"I've learned that the poor are not only those without money or homes," she
says. "They are people without options. Only a relationship with God can
transform their lives. I can be a tool God uses to show them His love and
Alison spent most of her time with the boys and girls. "I can speak Spanish
pretty well," she admits. "But I get nervous in front of adults." The kids
didn't seem to mind if she made a mistake. "It was great just to chat with the
kids while they helped us paint." She struck up a conversation by asking their
names, their favorite colors, what sports they liked and where they went to
school. During the breaks she and the other young people played soccer with
An earlier trip focused on building a house for a single mother with two
small children. "The woman's mother had split her small lot in half, so we
could build a home for her daughter and her grandchildren," Dick recalls.
"The mother's best friend worked as hard as the mother did. She was
there the entire weekend, pounding nails, painting, doing whatever was
necessary. At first we weren't sure whose house we were building!"
During another weekend, the team built a house on a corner lot that was
exposed to the street. "The grandmother of the family was sick with a fever
during most of the weekend," says Dick. "We found out the last day the likely
cause. She'd been sleeping outside at night on a cement slab to protect the
building materials while the home was being built."
"At the end of the weekend," Dick adds, "we dedicate the homes, pray for the
families and give them and their neighbors an opportunity to accept the Lord or
to reaffirm their faith."
This is no happenstance event. Dick has encouraged team members to
spend time getting to know individuals, to share their faith through
conversation or street drama and to participate in question and answer
sessions. In fact, Johnson takes extra team members with him whose purpose is
to speak with the families, do crafts with the children and tell Bible stories
while the homes are being built. An interpreter helps translate when
"Everyone is grateful for the gift of a new home," he says, "and they're
open to our prayers and sharing, but not everyone accepts the Lord during the
time we're there." For those who do, the pastor of a local church is available
to welcome them into his fold.
"I don't know if everyone can understand the full extent of the message we
bring," adds Alison, "but they listen. Others are already followers of Jesus
Christ, and they know He's really the One who's providing their new home. Most
are in tears during our final time of testimony and prayer before we hand over
"There's no doubt in my mind," says Dick, "that many families are added to
the kingdom of God as they watch our workers-through the love of our Lord-build
them a home they never could afford in any other way."
Mrs. Antonio Delgado Martinez, for example, tells of praying for a long time
for a home for her family, knowing that "a home would not fall from heaven."
When she heard about the opportunity available to families like hers, she
submitted her name-not believing people would actually show up and build a
house. When they did she knew God had made it possible.
"It's amazing," Dick says, "how a person's life can change in just three
days, so close to home. And that's true for the people who go on the mission
trips as well as the people we help while we're there. Only time will reveal
the full impact on these families who now have sturdier homes. As for me, I'll
never be the same. I'm so thankful to be able to share the love of our Lord in
this tangible way."
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC