Today was our last day working and it was filled with plenty to do and not much time to do it in. We allowed ourselves to sleep in after being out for New Year’s Eve and that put the pressure on to complete as much as possible with a shorter work day.
The agenda at our second house was to complete putting up dry wall on the ceiling, do finishing work on the windows, and finish up the new front door. Jerry M., Chris S., Leah K., Piper C., and Pastor Kent made sure everything on their list was complete and they took wrap-up photos of their work as I unfortunately wasn’t able to make my way over there today. I may try to fill in the gaps later, should I get more information from this crew.
My time was spent hammering in base boards, sawing up wood, and documenting the day. Dave S. and Steve C. finished putting in the door on the first house with Pete S., Kelly M., and Trevor N. running the power tools. A group of Mennonite young men who Ohio Nate has been working with stopped by in the morning to take care of the hot water pipes and our projects were delayed on and on since, like yesterday, they could only be completed one at a time. While the work was slow, we actually had something for everyone to do at almost every moment and we completed our tasks. We did have one injury; Kelly finished putting on the new locks on the door and accidentally pinched the tip of Dave’s finger. It hurt, but the finger lives on in our memories. R.I.P. Dave’s Finger: 1958-2009. (The finger is still attached, by the way, so don’t panic, dear reader.)
Kristen H. oversaw the kitchen, leading the trio of Kelsey W. and the Mollys on a mission to finish up all of the primer and painting duties. Luckily for the girls, their washing of the paint rollers resulted in splattering all over their clothes and faces in a way that made them all laugh and have fun. Being covered in paint was the perfect way to run out to the ice cream man, too, who drove through the neighborhood and stopped in front of our house with his wife handing out treats. I picked up ice cream for everyone because hey, how often does one get to see an ice cream truck in the neighborhood? I was especially excited to enjoy a treat I’d not had since I was a little kid: the Choco Taco.
I spent the better part of an hour speaking with the Perez family this morning. A son a few years younger than me, Isias, is a church youth leader in Houston and was home visiting for Christmas. He explained the house we were working on had been in the family since 1989 and saw damage from both Hurricanes Rita and Ike. During Ike, a tree came through the roof and did plenty of damage, much of which was fixed by the young Mennonite boys who worked on the broken hot water pipe this morning a few weeks before we arrived. He was so grateful to have us there helping his parents in their time of need and introduced me to his mother, Alisia.
Alisia let me film her while Isias served as translator. She told me how much she loved us for what we were doing for her and told me much of her story of coming to America from the poverty of Mexico thirty years ago. She still has family in Mexico and while she is grateful for the help she and her family are receiving in Texas, she’s saddened that there is little or nothing like these social services in Mexico for her family who remain in Mexico, including her elderly mother. I also spoke with Hemi, Alisia’s husband, about his work as a delivery man for the oil refinery companies and what it was like to see the home he’s worked so hard for to be so devastated. Hemi had high spirits and even pitched in toward the end of the day.
Of all the things Alisia told me, the one that stod out the most was her answer when I asked her what was the one thing she looked forward to most when work on the house was completed. Isias translated my question and she laughed, immediately proclaiming she couldn’t wait until the kitchen was ready. She loves to cook for her family and hasn’t been able to do so in weeks. Their old stove / range was in the backyard, dirty, rusted, and ancient. A picnic table with dry goods serves as a pantry until new shelves can be built. The tears in Alisia’s eyes as she explained how important it was to her to be able to provide for her family in this way brought our work to a new level for me, and after speaking with a handful of the adults, we decided to pool our money together and buy her a new oven and range.
Steve C. and I drove to Lowe’s and picked up a brand-new gas range while everyone else finished their duties and converged on the Perez home. The large trailer was a perfect fit for the big cardboard box and the Lowe’s personnel were impressed by our idea. We returned to find the rest of our group, excited for what was about to happen. Steve called Alisia over and said we have a gift for you. He opened the trailer and she read the bilingual packaging, crying out “Thank you, thank you,” as her small, five-three frame clutched tall, towering Steve in a hug that came from deep in her heart. We all had a laugh at Steve’s blushing, and I was happy to know that broken-down range in the Perez’s backyard would never go back in that house again.
Kelly and I bought Alisia a vacuum cleaner, too, and she took it with more hugs. She and her family joined us on the front stoop where we’d had lunch the past three days and we all posed for several group photos taken by Ohio Nate. He asked why we couldn’t all just share digital photos instead of him having to take one with everyone’s camera and I told him that was the exact same question I always ask the group. We’ve turned saying “Cheese!” into “ABSOLUTELY!” by the way.
This small token we could grant someone was a wonderful capper to a week of doing God’s work. There are so many projects still left in the Perez house and the other home, and there is a plethora of homes damaged in the area which we could see and I’m sure many more we could not see. I think this is when one has to choose to not be overwhelmed and frustrated by what they’re leaving undone and instead be proud and encouraged by the work they did get done. We did so much for these families and in the end, for ourselves and each other. This will not be my last mission trip and I hope the rest of the group feels the same way.
I’m late for dinner so I need to bring this to a close. There are more details and I’ll fill in those gaps later. Thank you for reading, everyone. It’s likely this is my final blog post until we return home, as we’ll likely head out fairly early in the morning. If I get a chance to get back online I will, but otherwise parents should expect text message updates from cell phones to let you know where we are, at this point. Wrap-up posts and more to come when we arrive back home.
Some photos courtesy of Molly D.: