Tijuana Ministry Reflections
Joanna and Martin Thurmann
Valley Catholic Article
Monica Rising 2019
It’s been 15 years that I have travelled to TJ with groups of volunteers to encounter poverty and see the face of Christ in those we meet.
We held programs for teens, children and mothers. We built 6 houses that will turn into homes. We finished number 53. We dedicated #50 to Bobby Dartez who with his family helped make it all happen.
Each year has been different. I have tried to help others see poverty on another level from another perspective. So we all have a new understanding of living on $10 a day. This year I was able to see life from an even more dire state. I visited two families while we delivered meager supplies. Mauro lost his wife to breast cancer and left him with 11 children to raise. Only one child can go to school because its all he can afford. He had to have uniforms and school supplies for them to go.
The other was Josefina, a delightful 100 year old lady who lives with her son on the side of cliff. Her home was maybe 8X8. They were delighted to have company and hugged be at least a dozen times before we left. She was so joyous, but also had ran out of food that morning.
I met 3 men who walked in the immigrant caravan across Mexico with a little hope for a better life. Ernesto from El Salvador, Romero from Guatemala and Mauricio from Honduras. They stole my heart.
I have been working with the Auberge Los Memorias Aids Clinic with starting a new nonprofit to build a TB clinic. Sergio the sub director made me this cross. It symbolizes God’s hand reaching down. Our hands reaching up and friends hands on the same level joining together. This is the symbol of Christ’s love for us. This is the heart of the Tijuana Ministry, not to be heroes, but rather friends. To see Christ in all, while we hold the hand of God
Monica Rising 2018
In our 14" trip to TJ. We Built 6 houses for 6 desperate Families. The stories of the people and their miracles are what moves us to return and do more each year.
The people like:
Juan’s family on the railroad track who had just a shack with leaky roofs, no electricity or water. All 8 left Michohacan 2 years ago to get away from the drug cartels and death threats. They are working to survive on $10 a week for as they try to build a new life. Meanwhile they greeted us and offered us food and drink and the little ones lined up to shake our hands with huge smiles.
The family whose granddaughter, Dulce who woke up paralyzed when she was 2. They took her to the doctor and no one knew what was wrong. They prayed and prayed and she is now walking and starting school. They have absolute belief that God did provide a cure.
Maria was so shy but bravely took a leadership class at a local community center and realized she wanted to teachIn our 14th trip to TJ, We built 6 houses for 6 desperate families. The stories of the people and their miracles are what moves us to return and do more each year.
, so set about finishing grammar school, junior high and now is working on high school on the internet.
We see the children grow from the houses we built before like Mariana who graduated from grammar school proudly asking for us to celebrate with her family. Allyson, my goddaughter, who proudly shares she is a very good student in first grade. Cony has a scholarship for college from a TJ sponsor and acts as our translator and sometimes builds with her father who is a local contractor who works with us. She makes sure we understand the area and the families we work with. We cheer on their accomplishments
Then there was our group of teens who saw the elderly man struggle up a dirt path with a cart made from 2 wheels chairs who jumped off the truck to help him push it up the big hill. They get the joy of helping.
The faith to live with so little is humbling, but there is also so much joy and the families work so hard together to get ahead and share everything. It can’t help but move your soul.
In Ephesians today it said:
“He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
We preached and showed peace and love faraway in Tijuana and we return today to share peace with you for then ALL of God’s people will be part of the Miracle of Peace as the Spirit of the Father can spread through all the lands.
Thank you for your love and support.
By Monica Rising
Monica Rising 2017
Veronica and Ricardo’s house burned last winter. It only had a room left standing. There is no money for insurance, so a fire in TJ means a loss of everything. They had to make do with what was left. They cleaned out the debris and sealed the charred ceiling and wall timbers and then moved back into that remaining room because they had nowhere else to go. Their son had to sleep in the car because there was nowhere else for him to sleep. Others came by but said no to helping them. Veronica wondered how they were going to survive when the rains returned. We planted seeds of love, hope, caring.
Fernando was coming home from work on his bicycle and was hit by a car. His leg was permanently damaged and he has a pronounced limp, and no one will hire him. The reality is only the healthy and under 40-year olds are hired to work. Silvia, his wife is a janitor at a school. The school lets them stay in the corner of the lot in a storage area. Their 15-year old son Miguel works to help them have enough to eat. Fernando limped the mile and a half to his lot where we were building to let us in and helped in every way he could. He would take the big cooler with lunches and building supplies from me and limp into the yard with the load. I was so humbled, but so moved by his determination to care for his family. This home will give them a chance at safety and security.
The seeds of hope and dignity were given. It’s a refuge now that HE can improve and make his own and rebuild his pride. Although we build houses, the seeds of love turn them into homes.
The Las Memorias Aids hospice, perhaps stirred me the most as I heard more stories. We have been visiting the Clinic for many years. They provide their services for free to the residents.
We give them our extra food and supplies and know that they are often short. We heard the stories of the staff going out to the areas where they will find those with HIV or Aids. They find the drug addicts and the homeless who live under bridges, in the streets and with little shelter. Hospitals call them when they no longer can help those with AIDS and they are brought to the center, sometimes to die and sometimes the love that is shared plants enough hope and will to live that the dying end up thriving. The staff help them overcome addiction and psychological problems and go onto new lives. Some stay in the hospice to help others and share their struggles. We met Jesus, so aptly named, who once had AIDS, TB and was a drug addict. He overcame it all and now cares for the very ill. We learned that although he’s been offered a bed many times, he prefers to sleep on the floor between his patients in case they need him in the night. What an amazing life sowing the seeds of love and hope each day.
Chris, one of our lead contractors, has been going with us to Tijuana for the last 10 years. Last year Chris spent 7 months totally paralyzed and on a respirator with Guillain Barre syndrome. With many, many prayers, love and the seeds of hope, he has been healing. He returned to Tijuana and he passed on the seeds of hope and love to others who are fighting for their life by helping to build the new Aids Center Community building. He had every reason to stay home and continue to heal, but was eager to be there.
As part of the prayer of our house blessings we all gather and pray,
“We thank you Lord for the privilege of building this home on your behalf. We ask for your forgiveness. Forgive our arrogance in believing we were the ones who built it.
It is not us, but the Holy Spirit who works and grows within everyone who goes, everyone who donates and prays, within everyone we meet, with all who say “yes” when the Holy Spirit speaks and says, “Will you be my hands and sew my seeds.”
Larry Cargnoni 2016
Hello everyone, My name is Larry Cargnoni.
I traveled to Tijuana for the ministry’s second week. This was my 6th trip to Tijuana. I was one of 72 travelers. About 40% of us were teens. I served on what’s called the site team. We are the team that serves the construction crews, the teens and the other travelers. The team that helps the bigger team go. Our small team members were generally the first ones up in the morning and generally the last ones to hit the showers at night. We cooked breakfast and dinners, washed many pots and pans, made hundreds of sandwiches, shopped for ice, water, and food, made gallons of Gatorade and lemonade, shuttled kids and workers between work sites, and spent a few afternoons painting house walls and roof structures.
I got to interact with many of the Mexican children and mothers that came to site for the teen and mothers programs. Though I don’t speak Spanish, by using hand signs, pointing, smiles, and cell phone cameras as well as serving water and “lemonada” I able to communicate. I also get to drive around the neighborhoods of Tijuana and get a close view of the community.
During my week, 3 houses were constructed, by the end of the week well over 250 children and teens participated in the programs, and over 25 moms joined in the Mothers Program. The Tijuana youth group and our teens worked together and had many wonderful social interactions.
We stay and serve in the hills east of down town Tijuana. We travel about 21 kilometers from the border. There’s a distinct change from “developed’ portions of Tijuana to the hard scrabble neighborhoods where we serve.. These neighborhoods may or may not have paved roads. Homes may be shacks, or rectangle boxes made of plywood, cinder block, or other material. Roofs might be plywood, tarps, and tarpaper, whatever they the occupant can find. Sometimes, however, homes may look like a smaller version of a house here off of Cottle Road. Most buildings look like unfinished construction projects with rebar sticking out of cement walls and ceilings. You see the smoke and smell the smoke of people burning their garbage or of a small brush fire or a sometimes a home.
We serve in a neighborhood called La Morieta. Search for it on the web. Use the satellite feature and you’ll get a good idea of the environment There are corner markets, auto repair shops, schools, diners and pizza shops. It’s a high-density mix of single story homes, shacks, and 2-story buildings. There are paved and dirt road. Gray water often flows into the streets. As one travels into La Morita, you can see the community. People are getting on with their lives. Kids playing on the street. Teens hanging round the corner market. Women and men going to and fro, to work, to the market. Teams play soccer on dirt pitches – no grass to be seen.
The people of Tijuana want what you and I want and often what we take for granted: dignity, a safe place to raise kids, a secure, safe place to life, access to health care, a clean environment, the ability to educate our kids, an income, the ability to pay bills, food, and water. They want a future for their kids.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many. Some kids can’t go to school because their parents can’t afford the uniforms. Often teen agers drop out of school, especially girls to take care of the household while the parents work. We talked 1-2 moms who have type II diabetes and hadn’t seen a doctor in months. One family was $600 US dollars in arrears on their water payment. One family had no food and the husband couldn’t work. We met a family that has eleven children, I believe seven were at home. It’s tough to feed one. How do they feed seven? Young, pregnant girls were a common sighting. I saddens me to see many young girls pregnant or carrying around their young children. We met another young girl, she was about 14. We asked her what her dreams were. She said she had none. I was particularly struck because her younger siblings all had some dream. And her mom too. How many other young people don’t have dreams or can’t have dreams because they don’t have resources or have no idea how to remove themselves from their situation. Many still throw out and burn their garbage because either they can’t afford pick up or there is no service.
For some us, our biggest problem is our cell phone battery drains too fast or we can’t find parking at the mall. For some of these families, their biggest concern is how to feed the kids dinner and where to get water.
I learned many years ago that the families and children we serve don’t want our pity. The families want help. They want to know that we are in solidarity with them. These are proud, dignified people. They are very appreciative of the help they receive.
If the environment is so bad why do I go?
I go because I can help make difference for a few families and kids. We all know a story when someone’s life changed because of the intervention and influence of a teacher, a counselor, or a friend. I know this ministry changes and influences lives. I know that the lives of three families changed because they received new homes. I know that Moms who were strangers on a Monday, were friends by the end of the week because of the Mother’s Program. And I know that for 250+ kids, for at least a week they got to make arts and crafts and play games, breaking up their normal routine, laughing, playing, and singing. I go because a house blessing and the moment we give the keys to a family is a joyous, rewarding, and often an emotional event. Imagine giving house keys to a mom or dad for the first time in their lives? Imagine the excitement in the children’s eyes!
I go because I see hope and resolve in the peoples’ eyes. I go because kids are kids everywhere and I love watching them run around and play like all kids do.
I go because it puts a face on the immigration and undocumented discussion. It allows me to share stories with friends and co-workers so they too may be inspired to serve others. I go and serve because selfishly, I need to remind myself that by the grace of God I have my life. It’s more than humbling.
Make no mistake. The life changing differences that we made during these two were due to the support of St Julie. Your prayers, financial support, and words of encouragement make this ministry work. Several families and kids of Tijuana are better off today because of your support and help.
I thank you for listening.
What I saw:
Shacks and broken down building for homes.
Homes sided with wooden garage doors, cinder block, plywood.
Roofs made from plywood, tarps, tar paper.
People in the street: clean clothes.
People generally smiling.
Dirt, dust, fires.
People still burn garbage because either the services can’t get to the location or people can’t afford it.
Teen agers hanging around the corner market.
Teams of kids and young adults playing soccer.
Many young girls with children/babies.
Stories of families with 4-5 and even 11 children.
Stories of women with type II diabetes and they’ve not been to a doctor in months.
Monica Rising 2016
I have been taking people to Tijuana for 12 years. It’s always a loving challenge, but this year my heart was touched more than usual.
I have come to believe in Miracles. But, I also believe that God doesn’t just wave his hand and miracles happen. As disciples we are used by God to make those miracles happen. I have seen mothers in Tijuana who pray for their home to stop leaking and not make their family sick. I know parents who have to make decisions to not eat, so they can feed their children. I talked to the director of a local Tijuana Aids clinic who needed a van to take patients to the doctor. The director of the Casa Migrante men’s shelter, who usually houses deported men, is praying for an answer to the many, many refugees from Southern Mexico, Haiti, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia and 9 other countries who are now filling the shelters of Tijuana hoping the U.S. will grant them asylum. There are so many that the once all men’s shelter is now taking families to get the children off the streets.
Today in Luke it says: Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. But what if what you need seems impossible? What if what you’re asking for is a miracle?
Love builds miracles when we overcome fear and hate and propaganda and stereotypes and when we do what Christ commands. “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” Light pours into the darkness when those who love answer the doors of those who seek and knock on the doors of God.
I am part of the miracle of people who came from all the ends of the earth. We were born in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Poland, England, Malta, Trinadad, Guatemala, Mexico and all over the United States who all ended up in a little neighborhood in Tijuana and helped make miracles come true. Our 115 disciples from 18 south bay churches answered the knocks and prayers and helped those who were seeking to receive shelter. We fed the families who were hungry and set up ways for them to get help when we left. We were able to facilitate getting a van for the Aids clinic, because we talked about what we saw to friends. We were not afraid or too selfish to be Good Samaritans even when it was not convenient or thought it was expensive or thought it was for people who we mistakenly thought were not like us.
We were filled with love. We tried to be their light in the darkness and became part of God’s miracles. And we were changed by the love we received, by what we saw and learned. We answered the knock on our door to help others but are now challenged to fight fear and hate here at home. We need to be the light and love at home as well.
Thank you all who help each year with your prayers and donations. We are not just about helping those in our borders, but helping God’s people wherever he sends us and wherever we see a need. We’ve seen the miracles of making friends and family of people we had never met before. We have 4 godchildren in Tijuana now and our first Tijuana Ministry wedding will be in 3 weeks. Brian is from San Jose and Yamili is from Tijuana. It’s a love that would have not been possible without all of us saying yes for the last 12 years. Love begets love. Love builds miracles.
A FRANCISCAN BENEDICTION
May God Bless you with DISCOMFORT...
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God Bless you with ANGER...
at injustice, oppression, and the exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God Bless you with TEARS...
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God Bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS...
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.