Mexico Mission Trip - December 26-31, 2010
Our church, Bear Creek Bible Church, has a "sister" church in Reynosa, Mexico: La Iglesia Principe de Paz (Prince of Peace Bible Church) that we support in various ways to help their outreach to the local communities and their relationships with other churches in the area. Groups from Bear Creek go down to Reynosa a few times a year, primarily one as a summer mission trip with a few dozen people and another as a separate smaller trip in the winter. One of the projects each year is to build a house for a family -- the foundation is poured in the summer and the rest of the house is built on the week-long winter trip.
That's right: a house in a week. It's no luxury flat for sure -- just a 1-room cinder block house with a concrete foundation, measuring about 15x25 feet. It really takes about 4 days to form all the walls, run ceiling joists, nail on the corrugated metal roof, and install the door and windows and hook up the plumbing fixtures if any. My knee surgery made it pretty much impossible to go in 2009, but in 2010 the time was right so I headed out with a small group of 9 other people the week between Christmas and the end of the year.
The day after Christmas, we got up at dark:30 in the morning and met in the 28° BCBC parking lot a little after 6:00 to head down to Mexico in only two vehicles: an Explorer and an F-350 pickup towing a trailer with some tools, windows, doors, and other supplies. After a minimum of stops at Subway and Whataburger and to get gas (for the vehicles), we arrived at the church in McAllen where Prince of Peace's pastor's son met us to pass off one of their vans to us for use during the week. Crossing the border around dark, we arrived at the camp in Reynosa around 7:00.
On Monday, we headed out to the Prince of Peace church, about a 10-minute drive from the camp. After meeting up with Pastor Jesus and distributing the tools to the crew that would stay there and paint, we loaded up the small cement mixer and drove the short distance to the colonia where the house was to be built. We were met there by Juan (another local pastor), the family for whom the house was to be built, and three other experienced workers who would lead the construction. The 16x25-foot foundation had a stack of cinder blocks in the center, which we'd pull from as the construction progressed. There was also a pile of 'sand' (kind of like gravel), rocks which would be mixed into concrete for forms later on, and a couple begs of cement. It was cool enough for a jacket till mid-morning, but shortly after starting to work we were down to t-shirts.
Building the walls went fairly quickly -- 4-5 guys would grab blocks and cement them in place while a couple more guys would mix sand, cement, and water for batch after batch of cement. Each load was dumped into a wheelbarrow and rolled up onto the slab; then shovelfulls were distributed to pieces of plywood that served each of the block setters. Well, wheelbarrowfulls were rolled up until the front wall began to go up, at which point the cement had to be shoveled over the wall one scoop at a time. The 'maestros' would mostly cement the blocks in place while those of us who were learning the trade would pull blocks off the stack to get them set up.
After lunch, the building went a little more slowly since more specialized cuts had to be made to accommodate the empty spaces for the three windows... not to mention, we had power issues as the rickety breaker box would trip from time to time as the wires were moved and a we'd have too much of a load on one circuit with the saw and mixer both going at the same time. But we persevered, and by the end of the day the side walls were nearly done and the front and back walls weren't far behind.
Around 5:00 we packed up and headed back to the camp, meeting up with the other crew that had made great progress on painting Pastor Jesus' house. After showers and dinner, it was time to relax -- reading, playing cards and Scrabble, checking e-mail and Facebook and such. Bed time was voluntarily early, around 10:00 - 10:30.
On Tuesday, the crews split up upon leaving the camp, each taking its own vehicle. When we arrived at the house site, it was warmer than the day before, but looked like some rain was coming. We unloaded the cement mixer and got it cranked up to supply the mortar to finish up the walls. Indeed it rained, but lightly: there were only a few 5-minute periods of sprinkling in the morning -- rather than being an annoyance, though, the weather as a whole was overcast and kind of cool.
Finishing out the tops of the walls was probably the most detailed part. We used what are called "u-blocks", U-shaped cinder blocks laid end to end to create a trough around the entire perimeter. The roof is simple, a single slant all the way across, the wall on one side of the house being one block higher than the other... so it was necessary to slope the front and back walls. Cutting the cinder blocks and u-blocks and using small pieces of blocks and filling all the gaps with mortar was a pretty time-consuming process, as was running a row of cinder blocks across the top of the window openings, but late in the afternoon we were ready for the next step.
That next step was to solidify and strengthen the tops of the walls and prepare them for the ceiling joists. We ran rebar around the entire perimiter inside the trough, then filled it with concrete that rocks had been mixed into. Then we ran 2x6 boards down the length of the side walls in a particular way: nails were driven halfway into the boards all along one side, then the boards were turned upside down onto the concrete-filled trough so that the nails set into the concrete -- this had the effect of ataching smooth-surfaced 2x6s to the tops of the walls, as nailers for the joists that would follow the next day.
Meanwhile, the other crew launched into its other project: painting the inside of the Prince of Peace church. They also made plans to do some needed repairs on Pastor Jesus' house, replacing three doors on an outside storage area.
Wednesday was Roof Day at the house. 16-foot 2x6s were hoisted up onto the walls and nailed as joists to the running boards we'd set the previous day. Then we ran 1x4 nailers across the joists to reate a framework to which we'd nail the corrugated sheet metal roof pieces. Each piece was dragged up to the roof and nailed in place with special nails that has lead rings around the heads. That's right -- lead nails on the roof, something that would never fly here in the USA.
While the roof crew was working above, the other guys were busy finishing off the tops of the walls of the bathroom, the roof of which would go on the next day. In the afternoon, the windows went in, needing a fair amount of mortar around them to make a good seal. We installed most of the soffit and fascia around the roof line before quitting for the day, with just a little left to do the next day.
In other news, the other crew finished painting the inside of the Prince of Peace Church and doing some other projects around there, including rebuilding the storage building doors. Our pastor met with Pastor Jesus and some others to talk about their ministries and to do some planning.
Thursday was the last day of work -- we were in a great position, needing only about a half day to finish up except for some minor finishing that would be done after we left. We installed the front door, finished the patching where the top of the slanted walls meet the roof, and patched up around the windows as well. The small section of roof over the bathroom was finished in the morning, just having to put up a couple joists and nail two cut pieces of corrugated metal roofing.
After lunch, basically all there was to do was to clean up the site while a couple guys installed the toilet and built a separation between the shower and the rest of the floor. The only real snag we hit was the bathroom door: somehow the measurements were off when we'd started, and the door frame was about 1/2 inch too wide to fit in the opening. After trying our best to trim the door down, what was left of the hollow door wasn't able to hold the screws for the hinges, so we had to abandon that. The idea was for one or two guys to fix it by inserting a spacer into the hollow edge of the door, but that would have to be anoter day.
Pastor Jesus met all of us in the afternoon, including those who had been working at the other site, for a small ceremony where we dedicated the house and handed over the keys to the owners. We were able to finish early and headed back to the camp for showers and a little R&R before heading to bed.
Friday, New Year's eve, we got up e-a-r-l-y, a little after 5:00, so we could be packed up and on the road before 6:30. The short drive to the border was uneventful, as was the border crossing. After a couple meal and gas stops, we made it back home by about 4:30 in the afternoon.