In the hills outside Juarez, Mexico, residents build their homes out of whatever they can find.
Shanties made of plywood, disassembled crates and scraps of metal dot the landscape. Doors often are nothing more than a blanket covering an opening, and many homes have dirt floors.
But in this harsh, poverty-stricken land, a symbol of hope was going up one two-by-four at a time. The two-room house would be home for a Juarez couple and their two children.
The structure was built by a team from Mount Pleasant Christian Church. Over the course of three days, they worked through 100-degree days to complete the house, pouring concrete, putting up walls and a roof, and insulating the interior.
When they finished, they got to witness the family come together in a home they never thought they would have.
“It’s a tear-jerker. To see the joy in their faces it makes it all worthwhile, to know they now don’t have to sleep on the ground or in the dirt,” said David Greiner, a Mount Pleasant member who went on the trip. “They have a nice home that’s insulated with electricity. It’s always thrilling to see.”
Mount Pleasant Christian Church and its relationship with the Juarez area dates to the 1990s. High school students in the church’s youth group teamed with Casas por Cristo, a housing ministry located in El Paso, Texas, to construct a house for a local family.
They started going back year after year, and eventually the effort grew into a churchwide mission. At one point, more than 150 members made the trip for a massive construction project.
Now, adult groups make Juarez an annual expedition.
Marcetta and Terry Helton had heard about the mission trips as members of Mount Pleasant in 2006. They both loved Mexico, and Terry Helton is a contractor, so he thought his expertise could help in the construction of a new home.
While they were pleased with their work, they were unsure at first if they’d make the effort again.
“I thought, ‘I could stay at home and do this kind of work.’ But then you get the dedication where the house you build is given to the family, and you realize why you’re there,” Terry Helton said. “It wasn’t about building a house; it was about serving and helping others out, that closeness they got with God.”
Since then, they’ve made return trips every year, even serving as group leaders.
This most recent trip consisted of 14 church members, ranging in age from 20 to 70-plus. All had experience with mission trips in the past, so they knew what to expect.
Adam Davis, a 20-year-old southside resident, started taking the Juarez trip with the church as a teenager. He was interested this time to transition from a youth group to a more adult setting, as well as the chance to meet some new people.
“I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and I’ve always had a heart for missions and the missions field,” he said. “The main difference this time was sitting down with older people, instead of with the youth. It was cool to work with them.”
‘Very, very primitive’
Greenwood native Rachel Weller had her first experience with Casas por Cristo as a freshman at Greenwood Community High School. From her first time seeing the conditions people lived in around Juarez and meeting the people that they helped, she became more and more interested in donating her time there.
“There’s something about the culture down here. What really stuck out to me, in America it’s common for one person to pray and everyone else to pray silently. Down here, it’s common for everyone to pray out loud together. It’s very cool and very powerful,” Weller said.
Weller continued to serve with Casas por Cristo through Mount Pleasant Christian Church. The experience led to her taking a full-time job with the organization last year, finishing her final semester at Purdue University by online correspondence courses.
She now lives in El Paso, leading groups such as the Mount Pleasant contingent into Juarez to continue Casas por Cristo’s mission.
“With our trips, there’s a very tangible aspect for it. You’re seeing the results of it right when you’re there,” she said. “That can be very powerful.”
The building site was on the outskirts of Juarez. Here, electricity and running water are luxuries, Terry Helton said.
Some cement block houses have been built, but most are constructed out of whatever the local residents can bring together.
“It’s all dirt roads, no trees, no grass. The houses out there consist of pallets nailed together, scraps of whatever, cardboard. It’s very, very primitive,” Terry Helton said.
On the first day of the build, they traveled across the U.S.-Mexican border with their cots, sleeping bags, food and other supplies. They would stay in Mexico until the build is completed.
‘A lot of tears’
To get ready, they arranged vans, prepared meals and purchased coolers full of ice and water for the workers to drink.
The Mount Pleasant group built the house from nothing. All that existed when they pulled up was a bare lot. They arranged for a concrete mixer to come out and pour a foundation.
They hung drywall, put up stucco on the outside and rolled out the roofing material. Some members put in electrical wiring, light switches and fans, so the family could hook up to Juarez’s electrical system.
The structure was small, measuring 11 feet wide and 22 feet long. But it was bigger than what most people in the area had, Marcetta Helton said.
Workers stayed out in the field until temperatures made it too unbearable.
After the work was done for the day, the group retreated to its temporary home, a local church called Rey de Gloria. They were able to talk about the meaning behind their efforts, had devotions and prayer, and were able to interact with the local residents.
The group also met the family they were building for. Being able to see their faces when the house was finished made all of the sweat and effort worth it, Terry Helton said.
“There were a lot of tears. The group was pretty moved, because it’s a day in their life they won’t ever forget,” he said. “It really leaves an impact on your life.”
They finished the house in three days. With some extra time until the group was supposed to fly back to Indiana, they visited a local orphanage to meet with the children there.
‘A joy to see them’
Mount Pleasant members had built the houses and the chapel for the orphanage and maintained support for the home. The 18 kids living in the orphanage were children of prison inmates who had nowhere else to go.
Members of the mission group tossed the ball around with the kids then took them to a local game center to play video games and enjoy pizza.
“It’s a joy to see them. These kids are so well behaved. They had a great time and were so appreciative, because they don’t get to do those kinds of things,” said David Grenier, a Martinsville resident who has been on five Juarez mission trips.
The group also brought 25 boxes of clothes from Mount Pleasant’s clothing ministry to pass out to people in need in Juarez. Local residents came to the church, where the Mount Pleasant team had cooked hot dogs, brought snacks and served lemonade.
The mission team returned to Indiana on June 15. Even though the group just finished their mission, members are looking forward to coming trips in the future.
An expedition is already planned for Guatemala next spring, and they’ll be coming to Juarez again as well.
“This definitely isn’t going to be my last trip to Mexico,” Davis said.