My Amor Story is a series of posts where we highlight some of the amazing stories our trip participants share with us about their Amor mission trip experience. If you have a story you would like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Amor Experience
By Amber Swartz, Amor Participant
When you’re a sophomore, the only thing on your mind is how you’re going to do in Drivers’ Ed, or if you’re going to get asked to the homecoming dance. In reality there isn’t anything wrong with that, but as a part of my youth group, we wanted to experience more than just what high school had to offer. We were going to step out of our comfort zone, abandon the everyday comforts of home, and start off on a journey that would change our lives forever. I was fifteen years old and had packed up my bag and was ready to head off to San Diego,CAto meet with Amor Ministries to begin our mission trip. Not a single one of the 34 teens and adults going knew what was waiting for us. After meeting up with a representative of Amor, they guided us across the Mexico border and in to Tijuana. The short distance from San Diego to our camp site in Tijuana was more like going to a different planet. From the moment we entered Mexico, every one of us was silent, we were shocked by the drastic difference in how the people of Mexico lived, compared to what we were used to.
We saw makeshift houses, made of anything from a scrap piece of metal to a door used as part of a roof, and this wasn’t just one or two houses here and there that were put together like this, but every house. They were stacked one on top of the other like building blocks. I can still see and smell everything, the sounds of the chaotic traffic, and the foul stench of human wastes in the street, where a barefoot child was only a few feet away. People coming up to the open windows of our bus trying to sell us anything from fruit and drinks, to homemade toy snakes, trying anything they could to make a few dollars, just to take home to their families so they could have food on the table that night.
We arrived at our campsite to find hundreds of other people there, other churches, youth groups, and even just people wanting to help. We slept in tents, where we had to shake out our blankets in fear of bugs or critters that may be hiding out. In place of the nice cozy bathrooms we were used to at home, we had a line of port-a-potties for facilities, and instead of a nice steamy hot bath, we used milk jugs full of water we couldn’t drink to shower with. I’m sure it sounds horrible, but I want you to understand that our time at camp would have been considered a luxury to the families we were there to build houses with. You can’t understand how much every one of us takes for granted, until you see for yourself what other cultures have to go through.
The family that my team got to build the house with consisted of a single mother, her three daughters and one older son. The son would get up extremely early so that he could cross the border to look for work, it meant for a hard day, but he did so to help provide for his family. They lived in a two room home, made of dirt and scrap pieces of wood, one room was the kitchen and dining room, the other was the mothers’ bedroom. On their property they also had an old camper that had broken out windows and was very tiny, this is where the girls slept. These girls were amazing, it didn’t matter that we had a language barrier, we could understand and connect with each other through our hearts. They continued to thank us hundreds of times for what we were there to do for them. We were building them another two room home on their property. It wasn’t anything fancy, it was concrete, wood, chicken wire, tarpaper and stucco. To an American, it wouldn’t have been good enough for a shed, but to this amazing family it was better than any mansion.
During our time there, we bonded with the family, we were able to share meals with them. We would bring PB&J sandwiches for our lunches and instead they would make us a homemade meal with whatever they had, as a way of saying thank you. The children in the neighborhood would come and help, and hang out with us, we would give them whatever snacks we had just to be able to see the joy light up on their face.
We worked so hard all week to build them a home, not because we were getting anything, but because this family had welcomed us into their lives, and into their heart. We grew so attached to the family that it was very hard to leave, there were a lot of tears and hugs, broken hearts and promises to stay in touch. It wasn’t easy to keep in touch, there were no phones, and sending a letter for them was like using a whole week’s check. The family was so grateful for what we had done and how we had helped to make their lives so much better, but looking back, even ten years later, I am thankful to the family for changing my life forever.
One of the older girls who was my age, became a good friend of mine, even without knowing each other’s language, we grew close. She was like a sister to me, we talked and shared the differences in our cultures with each other, and even bonded over our love of tweety bird. The day we were set out to leave, as we were all saying our good-byes through tears and sobs, she motioned for me to wait just a moment, as she ran back to her little room, in the tiny cramped camper. When she came out she was holding one of her favorite stuffed tweety birds, and she held it out for me to keep. She said it would always remind me of her and my time spent with her family. She was right, I still have tweety, tucked away in my memory box, and from time to time I take him out and hold him, I can still smell the scent of Mexico. The scent always take me back to the steep roads, dirt covered streets, the smell of the mother cooking fresh tortillas, and to the over whelming love and joy that was shared between two vastly different cultures. Tweety will always remind me of how blessed I am to live the life I do, to never take anything for granted, and how no language is more worldly understood than the language of God’s Love, and the amazing effect it can have on anyone’s life.