Mexico Mission Trip - December 26-31, 2011

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 -- or in this case, two houses for two families, funded entirely by donations from church members. We had enough money in donations earlier in the year to cover the cost of two houses, so we made plans and procured materials and labor for a double project in 2011. In the past few years 10 houses had been built, so this trip was to build houses #11 and #12. The foundations are 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. They're no luxury flats for sure -- just 1-room cinder block houses with a concrete foundations, 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. I've been going on the house building trip every year .. since 2010 :).

On Monday, the day after Christmas, we met in the BCBC parking lot early to head down to Mexico in only two vehicles: a Sprinter and an F-350 pickup towing a trailer with some tools, windows, doors, and other supplies. After a minimum of stops at Dairy Queen and Subway and to get gas (for the vehicles), we acrossed the border and arrived at the camp in Reynosa just before dark.

On Tuesday, we headed out to the Prince of Peace church, about a 10-minute drive from the camp. After meeting up with Pastor Jesus, we drove the short distance to the colonia where the houses were to be built, on the banks of a canal, which I understand to be a swage canal that smells prety bad in the warmer months. We were greeted by a welcome sight: a couple experienced workers, who led the construction, had gotten a head start the previous day and had the cinder block walls a few blocks high already. Each house 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 long sleeves till mid-morning, but shortly after starting to work most everyone was down to t-shirts.

View photos from Tuesday morning (26 images)

The guys on house #12 were mixing the cement tho old-fashioned way, with a volcano-shaped pile of dry goods directly on the ground and some water in the middle, and shovels attacking the mixture from the outside. Since the electric mixer was going unused, we hauled it down the road (100 yards or so) for use at house #11. Building the walls in the large areas 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. Parts of ach load were distributed to pieces of plywood that served each of the block setters. For the most part, the 'maestros' would mostly cement the blocks in place while those of us who were in a support role would pull blocks off the stack to get them set up.

Accommodating the empty spaces for the doors and windows was a little trickier. We set the windows in 2x6 frames, then raised them onto the partial walls and began to blok up to the frames, obviously having to cut blocks to fit. A similar method was used for the door openings, but we measured and cut the 2x6 frames rather rhan settting the doors in place.

View photos from Tuesday afternoon (28 images)

Around 5:00, the walls were pretty much formed to the tops of the windows, which was a good stopping place for the day, so we packed up and headed back to the camp. After showers and dinner, it was time to relax -- reading, playing cards, checking e-mail and facebook and such. Bed time was voluntarily early, around 10:00 - 10:30.

On Wednesday, we finished out the tops of the walls, probably the most detailed part of the construction aside from the doors. 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. One house's roof sloped toard the front while the other house's roof sloped toward the back. So, all the way across, the one wall is one block higher than the other... so it was necessary to slope the side 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 and door openings, but by late morning we were ready for the next step on house #11.

View photos from Wednesday morning (15 images)

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 attaching smooth-surfaced 2x6s to the tops of the walls, as nailers for the joists that would follow the next day.

View photos from Wednesday afternoon (25 images)

After lunch, there wasn't anything to do on house #11 since the concrete had to set till the next day. So the troughs and nailers were built on house #12... the amount of cement that was needed required the mixer to be hauled back down there. By the end of the day, the walls (with embedded windows) and joist nailers were all set. It was kind of an early day, so we had a little extra hanging out time at the camp that evening.

Two of our church's pastors, along with a translator, held a pastors' conference at the Price of Peace Church in the evenings on Wednesday-Friday, so in the afternoon they headed over there and did their thing and then met up with us for dinner.

Thursday was Roof Day. We hoisted 16-foot 2x8s up onto the walls and nailed as joists to the running boards, of course after we'd measured and marked where each would go. Then we ran 1x4 nailers across the joists to create 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 have lead rings around the heads. That's right -- lead nails on the roof, something that would never fly here in the USA.

View photos from Thursday morning (27 images)

The entire roof on house #11 was completed in the morning; meanwhile at house #12, work was being done on the doors and bathroom walls. Just after lunch, we started in on the roof at #12 and had that completed by late in the afternoon. All that was left to do was to install the soffit and fascia around the roof line. Each required a special cut due to the fact that the overhanging roof joists were curved and twisted -- the lumber there in Mexico is quite substandard. So a crew worked on getting this done on house #12, leaving only this project to finish up on house #11 for the next day.

View photos from Thursday afternoon (18 images)

Friday was the last day of work -- a couple hours in the morning was all it took to install the soffit and fascia at house #11 and finish the doors at house #12. Pastor Jesus met all of us in the late morning at house #11 where we had a small ceremony to dedicate the house and hend over the keys to the new owners, Ana and her teenage son. Then it was off to house #12 to dedicate that one and leave it to its new owners, the Sandovals, a husband and wife with two daughters and two sons.

View photos from Friday at the work site (16 images)

After some great tamales and awesome spicy cheese sauce for lunch, we headed back to the camp for showers and a little R&R. Friday was the last day of the pastors' conference, and on this day I went with them for another special project: Ginger and I had donated a desk (much assembly required), so I volunteered to put it together there at the church with another guy while the conference was going on.

View photos from Friday afternoon (10 images)

Saturday, New Year's eve, we got up early, a little after 6:00, so we could be packed up and on the road by 6:30 or so. The short drive to the border was uneventful, as was the border crossing shortly after 7:00. After a couple meal and gas stops, we made it back home by about 4:30 in the afternoon.

I'm pretty sure you're interested in just where the building sites were, so here you go:

Click on the image to go to Google Maps where you can zoom in and out and such.