By Karen Schelhaas
It's a balmy 102 degrees in Juarez, Mexico this time of year, and the contrast to our home in Colorado is stark. Roads are foot-thick layers of dust and the homes dotting the landscape are colorful mosaics of scrap metal, cardboard, wood, and plastic. The only green splashes are a few sparse vegetables that hard-working families have had the vision to plant and nurture, adding color to their plates of rice and beans and tortillas.
I'm no expert on short-term missions trips. I know for sure that no one transforms an entire community in a few short days, and it quickly becomes clear that there's far more to learn than to teach or contribute. Our family of seven, including our five children ages 8-16, drove 10 hours straight south of Denver, and crossed the border in New Mexico.
Check out "How I Learned I Could Change the World" from our Nice Girls issue.
We brought a truckload of donated diapers and formula, the 43rd such load commissioned by my friend Quinn after she started Babies of Juarez. Pastors of local churches then distribute the gifts as needed, combining the spiritual with the physical. Quinn's vision was a visceral response to the excruciating 6-month waiting period during which families in Juarez choose not to name their babies due to lack of good nutrition. I got to hold a chubby one-month old boy during a food outreach we provided for the community, and when I asked his mother his name, she shook her finger at me and said quietly "no nombre, no nombre". Slowly but surely, though, Quinn's tireless efforts are kicking that miserable 6 months to the curb, hoping it will exist solely as a cultural norm rather than a necessary evil, and there's evidence to support the growing shift. Chubby babies bring joy, no matter where you live.
We also worked alongside a family building their home, viewing their long-prayed-over dreams slowly emerging out of the dirt and taking shape, a monument of sorts. We watched our teenager hang drywall and install windows while we helped our younger children bang nails in to the roof, covered in splotches of gooey tar and robin's egg blue paint. In the end, there were giant, beautiful words the father voiced at the house dedication, eyes moist and lips quivering as the keys dropped in to his hands. "Thank you to our great God, for He is a God who hears us," he said. Indeed. The family's house got built with boards and nails, but my guess is that as they lovingly turn it in to a home in the months ahead, they'll remember it being stitched together with a lot of joy, laughter, and answered prayers.
The whole trip was an effort to move toward people in love because God first loved us, which, to me, is the essence of missions. Playing soccer on a dusty road in scorching heat with dozens of local kids, holding a baby we hope will live more than 6 month, tears shed by thankful parents at the house dedication, and the dozens of caricatures my husband drew, morphing gorgeous people into funny keepsake cartoons - all of it has our kids begging to go back, the togetherness etched deeply in their bones.
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Karen Booker Schelhaas lives in Highlands Ranch, CO with her husband and five children ranging from ages 8 to 16. When she's not teaching, cooking, jogging, cleaning, gardening, entertaining, chauffeuring, volunteering or counseling, she can be found at her kitchen table with coffee in her veins, slowly putting her stories into words.