Cook column: Dolly helps Flexico live up to its name
REYNOSA, Mexico ó We feel secure in Mexico as Hurricane Dolly bears down on the coast of Texas, more than 100 miles away.
Then the man in charge of the church complex where we are staying brings us candles, matches and a flashlight.
Hmmm. This might be cause for anxiety. But we know better, thanks to weather reports on the Internet and via cell phone. Dolly brings us only high winds, rattling windows, heavy rain and leaky ceilings. We miss a day of work, but we complete four walls and a floor for our house.
So goes another chapter in the ongoing story of the Flexico trip.
A great deal of planning goes into each journey First Presbyterian’s Teens With A Mission takes to Mexico ó plane tickets, van reservations, first aid kits, grocery lists, vaccinations, work schedules, you name it. But we know we mere humans are not in control. Things change. We have to be flexible.
Hence the name, Flexico.
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It starts even before we head south.
It’s spring. Jody Blackwell, one of the adult advisors in the group, struggles in silence over whether he should go. He really wants to; this would be his third trip. But he’s done his figuring, and the plane ticket is out of reach.
He calls wife Maggie from work to tell her he’s decided not to go. Before he can get the words out, Maggie asks if she can call him back. She is on another call.
Then comes Jody’s miracle. Maggie calls back to say she’s been on the phone with our youth minister, Whitney Bayer, who said someone had donated air fare to Mexico ó Jody’s voice gets a little shaky when he tells this ó specifically for him.
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You might think a mission group like this is made up of self-sacrificing do-gooders. That doesn’t fit the Flexico trip. The 26 of us are here to build a house for a poor family through Faith Ministry. But those of us who have been before know we’re the ones who come out ahead. The gratitude of the new homeowner trumps aching muscles, hot sun and anything else Flexico throws at us. The house we put together block by block is a metaphor for our faith, strong and visible.
Over the years, we’ve made friends on the Mexican side of the border among Faith Ministry’s people. And at a dedication ceremony at the end of the week, the new homeowners express thanks to God and the crews that have come from U.S. churches to build their homes.
This year our group has not gotten to know our homeowner well. She drops by each morning and shyly looks over the construction site, but then she heads off to work.
Still, when we wish her well at the dedication ceremony, she hugs and hangs on to us like long-lost friends. We cannot understand most of what she is saying in Spanish. But the English phrases are unmistakable.
“Thank you, thank you,” she says, tears rolling down her face. “God bless.”
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A handful of us hold Bible school in the afternoons. I go each year with clear plans: Divide the children by age. Read stories. Sing songs. Make crafts. Have snacks.
But that sense of order soon unravels. The initial crowd of 25 children grows to 40 and more. Mothers sit down and color alongside their children. Fifty sets of “Los Diez Mandamientos” (The 10 Commandments) run out, and we pull out other pictures to color. The children chatter away in a language I do not understand well. And they laugh when we sing “Jesus Loves Me” to them in Spanish.
But the story goes well, thanks to members John Nicholson and Devereaux Swaim and their Spanish skills. Other TWAM members help.
A universal understanding comes over the group at snack time. We give, they enjoy. Someone later asks how many children spilled their juice. None, not one drop, I realize. To them, it was too precious.
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We ask two senoras who cook for visiting groups to prepare tamales for us. When the scheduled day arrives, though, so does Dolly. Work and Bible school are called off. We sit inside all day, playing cards and Scrabble and writing notes. With heavy rain falling and the wind whipping the trees, we resign ourselves to planning sandwiches for dinner.
Then one of the kids comes in with surprising news. The women are in the downstairs kitchen making tamales, storm or no storm.
It’s the best meal we have all week.
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We usually end the trip with a day at the beach, but Dolly hits South Padre Island hard and knocks out that plan.
Everyone is forced inland. The nearest motel our travel agent can find with seven rooms is in a little border town called Zapata, about two hours west of where we want to be.
“We are not going to Zapata,” one of our leaders says.
We go to Zapata and like it.
And at the end of a long day of travel the next evening, we wait in a concourse of the Charlotte airport while a couple of members head for the restrooms. We’re sticking together without thinking about it, even though we’re home. It’s habit.
That’s Flexico ó togetherness, hard work, gratitude and lots of surprises. Dolly gave us new material, but the basic story is the same year after year. We go to help and come back feeling helped. You can never get too much of that.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.