HCHC- Jason Oneida, Holy Cross Class of 2017
During spring break this year, I participated in my first mission experience through Project Mexico. This fantastic ministry is based out of St. Innocent’s Orphanage near Rosarito, Mexico, and seeks to build homes for impoverished families that live in the area. My fellow missionaries and I went there to take up the challenge of building a 12’x15’ home for a family in one week. In addition, we had the blessing of spending time with the fifteen wonderful boys who live at the orphanage in an environment of love, learning, faith, and service.
Our Hellenic College Holy Cross team of 13 students, which the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity helped to organize, was the first one ever to participate in a home-building mission over spring break, and we soon found out why. During the time many colleges are on spring break, Mexico is still in its wet season. The sudden downpours of the wet season transform the earth into a clay-like mud that makes transportation, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, extremely difficult! Thankfully, we had clear skies on the first day of construction when we leveled the ground the house would rest upon and poured the foundation. However, we had to contend with very muddy conditions as we worked on framing the house and completing the roof on construction day two, as well as wrapping the home in chicken wire on construction day three.
In spite of the difficulty, I was impressed by our team’s ability to work with purpose, humor, and dedication! I can’t remember anyone complaining about doing difficult manual tasks that are commonly done by machines back home, like mixing cement. Instead, we laughed and made up inside jokes while we worked the days away. It was amazing to see how we were able to accomplish the home-building through our teamwork!
However, it wasn’t simply our work that made the construction possible. The family we were working for helped us in many ways and demonstrated true hospitality. Marco and Teresa are the parents of the family we served, and they were living with six other people in a small trailer that had a leaky, damaged roof. Marco used his skills as a carpenter to work alongside us and help complete the foundation of the house. Teresa provided delicious meals for us and Mexican Coca Cola while we worked. She and her daughter humbly served us lunch each day, even though they were under no obligation to do so and likely needed the food more than our team did. The food and service Teresa and Marco offered us were gracious gifts. Furthermore, when we finished construction of the home on our last day, Teresa insisted that the home is really ours, and that we are welcome to stay there anytime we return. The example she and Marco provided made me realize that we were not coming to the aid of a needy family, but rather forming a relationship of mutual love that transcended cultural boundaries.
This realization that mission work is about communion with others was the most important thing I learned at Project Mexico. It was a theme that also came to mind as our team got to spend time worshiping, dining, and playing with the boys at St. Innocent’s Orphanage. Many of the boys live at the orphanage because they come from situations where they encountered abuse, abandonment, and more. However, one could never tell if this was the case on account of the love the boys have for each other and the orphanage staff. They treated us like family as we played capture the flag, did piggyback races, and climbed trees with them. The boys made us feel welcome and even worked with us doing construction when they had school off for a ‘mud day.’ The more time we got to spend with the boys over the course of the week, the more their youthful energy grew and became infectious for our team. In this I saw how each group offered something meaningful to the other: our fellowship provided excitement for the kids, and their energy inspired us. The result was a lot of new friendships and fun.
I reflect fondly on the memories that I made as a missionary for Project Mexico. There were some struggles that challenged me, like the unbelievable mud, trying to piece together my broken Spanish, and going without conveniences like electricity and running water. Nevertheless, these challenges were eclipsed by the relationships that were formed with my fellow missionaries, Teresa’s family, and the boys and staff of St. Innocent Orphanage. It was an unforgettable experience that altered our entire team’s understanding of the meaning of missionary work and gave me perspective on another culture. We all were inspired by Teresa and Marco’s hospitality, the boys’ tenacity for life, and the commitment of the staff of St. Innocent Orphanage to serving Christ. Through God, we all served and offered each other a unique, life-sustaining gift.