our day in mexico on saturday was fantastic.
we drove over in the morning, getting lost almost immediately in tijuana on our way to the market for supplies. after shopping, we drove out to a community that spectrum ministries does work in regularly. it was out in the hills surrounding tijuana. very dusty and remote, only dirt roads for miles. but a view of the ocean, and it was a gorgeous, sunny day. about 500 people were waiting for us. we set up games for the children (like carnival games, with tickets and a prize counter), bagged portions of rice and beans, wrote numbers on hands for the blanket raffle, set out the food and formed lines. then the adults worked their way through a couple lines: one to choose a couple clothing items, and one to choose some food items. i loved how spectrum had this set up. the fact that people got to choose what they took added an element of dignity to the whole thing: they knew what they and their family needed most, and were able to exercise care in choosing (rather than just being handed something).
actually, when we FIRST arrived, there was a bit of pandemonium. and it was hilarious to see lucas leys, our spanish director, kick into gear. he gathered the 200+ children around him in a mob and led them in some sort of distracting game or song (i couldn’t actually figure out what he was doing, but the kids were having fun!).
max and i worked one of the carnival games: kids lined up to try tossing three large metal washers through a hole in a board. they seemed to love it, and kept coming back for hours.
near the end, lucas and i oversaw the blanket raffle. we had about 100 blankets to give away, and there were about 150 people with numbers on their hands. the atmosphere was fun, and the mexican women were cheering each other on and giving lucas a hard time (and seriously flirting with him – he was standing on an open pick-up truck tailgate, and they started cheering, “shake your butt, shake your butt!” totally cracked me up.)
we loaded in our vans and stopped at a great baja taco stand (taco stands in baja california mexico are the way to eat. anyone who has taken kids here on a missions trip knows this).
then we were off to the orphanage. this orphanage was amazing. i’ve been to lots of mexican orphanages, but the kids at this one were so happy (and clean). they cared for each other and were helpful. it’s a smaller orphanage (about 20 boys, plus a few girls who are children of the two couples who run the place), and they run it like a family, rather than an institution. various ys staff broke up into groups to play games, face-paint, install a window, prep for dinner. it was so cool to see our team: a couple manly-men tending the grills, three people sitting on the ground patiently face-painting, five other playing some crazy circle game with a soccer ball that lucas taught us (with 10 of the boys), a few chopping food in the kitchen, and a few more playing a different game with the littlest kids. the kids were affectionate, but not in that way many orphanage kids are that shows they never have adult contact.
eventually we served them dinner (chicken enchiladas). then came the kicker. we’d gotten a christmas gift wish from each kid, as well as clothing sizes. we gave each ys staff person $50 and assigned them to buy a gift for one kid. our staff put wonderful care into this, and had multiple gifts — all beautifully wrapped — for each kid. and since we were working off these lists, the gifts were like a dream come true for the kids. a few of our staff had decorated a room for a party (tons of balloons and pinatas and streamers). and it really was a party. every kid was so excited for every other kid, as were the orphanage workers. i watched as one little guy (about 8, i’d guess) pulled some new socks out of a box, smelled them, grinned, then kissed them. but he really went balistic when he pulled out the first base-man’s mitt (perfectly his size) he’d been dreaming of. the orphanage leader (they all call him dad or daddy) is really into baseball, and got a bunch of free tickets this past year to take the kids to see the AAA team in tijuana. so now all the kids are really into baseball (normally soccer would be the sport of choice here). so we gave a lot of mitts and caps and bats and such. there was hilarious good-natured ribbing between the guys and the orphanage leader, as (somehow) different boys are into different major league teams (dodgers, mets, yankees), and got caps and shirts reflecting that.
after leaving the orphanage, we drove to a nice mexican restaurant. we had fun stuff planned (a white elephant gift exchange with a few really nice gifts mixed in, and a competition between the vans singing their own made-up versions of “12 days of christmas” that were more of a reflection of ys). but, to be honest, everyone was totally spent. after a small fender-bender involving one of the vans, and an hour wait at the border, two of the vans crossed the border at about 11pm. i, however, chose the murphy’s law lane, and crossed a half hour later. after returning the vans (yes, it totally felt like old youth ministry days!), i got home at about 12:45. long, wonderful, deeply satisfying day.