When CERI led a fact-finding mission to assess the humanitarian needs of the children and families in Chiapas – one of the poorest states in Mexico – team members expected to encounter scenes of poverty similar to other countries served by the organization. Yet when the team ventured to the rural Mexican countryside, what they found was indescribable.
On the outskirts of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, Señor Salomon, a 50-year-old widower, and his two young daughters were living a difficult life in their 10’ x 10’ makeshift home. Inside the tattered and tilted walls were dirt floors, cluttered with trash and rotting food. Old street signs and leftover scrap metal from local construction projects were laid overhead to block out the hot Mexican sun. Yet the mismatched materials left holes in the roof where even the mildest rain would quickly turn the living space into a slough of mud. The girls, who, lacking birth certificates, have never attended school, suffered routine bouts with lice and were constantly exposed to other health ills due to their home’s unclean environment.
In an instant, the priority of CERI’s fact finding effort was established. God had presented the organization with its mission: to build the Salomon family a new home and find a way to document the girls in their home country so they might have access to education.
The drawing (and re-drawing) table
CERI Project Director Russ Massey had prior experience in construction and was able to reach out to former architect associates for help designing a new home for the Salomon family. According to Massey, the planning stage was easy. The team even built a “practice house” on the site of a Montgomery, TX church in order to fine-tune the material list. It wasn’t until the construction team returned to Chiapas that the real challenges began to arise.
The first task for the construction team, comprised of volunteers from Houston, was to remove the Salomons’ old, dilapidated home and pick up the trash that was scattered over the small property. After hours of clean-up, the space was finally cleared and a wooden floor was assembled on the property, which had a considerable slope. There was one catch moving forward, however. Most homes in Mexico are built with cinder blocks, yet CERI’s building plans called for wooden construction in order to get a house built in the time the team had. “Casa de madera?,” the locals asked.
The longest material available at the local merchants was 8 feet, but 12 foot and 16 foot material was needed to follow the design. “We were able to find a lumber mill that actually cut the material we needed from rough stock. God always provides,” said Massey.
Support beams were custom-cut by the local lumber mill and pre-made windows were able to be retrofitted specially for the home. The team worked from daylight to dark under the hot sun in order to finish the home. Once the walls were lifted to form four corners, the roof was constructed, with the rafters forming a natural ventilation system. Unable to find a pre-hung door, the team designed and built a custom door for the residence.
“This trip was on the extreme end of physically demanding,” said Chuck Abernathy, a CERI volunteer. “But without a doubt, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
A house becomes a home
When the project was complete, Señor Salomon and his two young daughters, Adriana, 8, and, Norma, 5, stood in awe outside their new 12’ x 20’ house. No longer were there holes torn in the walls. No longer would the struggling family, who had mourned the loss of a wife and a mother, have to live amid filth and garbage.
The completion of the home was the climax of several “firsts” in the family’s lives. Only a week before, the CERI Mexico staff was able to secure birth certificates for the little girls. Mexico requires documentation to attend public school, a criteria that, to this point, has excluded them from receiving an education. For the first time in their lives, Adriana and Norma had the opportunity to attend school.
After a moment, Massey gestured to the door, inviting the Salomon family inside for a closer look. As the girls and their father stepped up into the entryway, their mesmerized eyes swelled with tears.
Thanks to the generosity of CERI supporters, the girls not only received their first mattresses to sleep on, but were blessed with toothbrushes, combs, new clothes, and little girl toys.
“It’s quite possible that these girls had never been given a gift before. So, when they saw all the presents in front of them, they didn’t know quite how to react,” said Massey. “What a humbling sight that was to experience.
“These two little girls finally had a home.”
For the Salomon family, their new home has physically elevated them several feet off the ground. Yet, CERI’s true impact on this mission trip could be seen in the lifted spirits, confidence and faith of the entire community. The final affirmation came as Don Salomon came forward to Pastor Carlos and said, “If this is what Jesus does through people who love him, I want to know who he is.”
It Takes a Team Effort
A wonderful combination of people and programs made this project possible. The work and effort supplied by the volunteers from Conroe, Willis and Kingwood, Texas was monumental. The building materials for the house were purchased through the Reeder Global Emergency Fund, a CERI fund established to address just such critical needs around the world. Construction tools were purchased locally through the generous donations of CERI supporters who have a special heart for this kind of project in Mexico. The tools remained in Mexico awaiting the next team.