Ensenada, Mexico might be over 2,000 miles away from Becker, but the distance seems much shorter for a group of local residents who made the trip south at the end of September.
Led by Matt and Lindsay Marquette, a total of 37 people ventured to the impoverished town with a simple goal: build two houses in two days. And while that may seem like a tall task, the determined group made it happen.
The Marquettes have been making a missions trip to this part of Mexico for seven years with a larger group of nearly 200 missionaries through Homes of Hope, an organization committed to providing housing for underprivileged families. When they last went in February, Matt heard a heartbreaking story of a family who was fearful they would lose their son because of the unlivable conditions of their current home. That was all Matt needed to hear to make a pledge: if the family would get approval to build the home, Marquette and a crew would return and be sure that the man, his wife and child could remain a family.
“There’s a lengthy approval process to get a home built in Mexico,” Matt said, noting that in some cases it can take 10 years of work for people to get a piece of land suitable for building. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are not going to be able to get a mortgage loan there and I told the man if he was approved, I would bring a team to build a home for the family.”
It was late summer when Marquette received a phone call that the man had secured the necessary permission, therefore Matt put out the word, hoping for 15 to 20 commitments to make the trek. Instead, 37 wonderful souls answered his call and soon plans were being made.
Matt called the crew an “eclectic” bunch, driven by their Christian faith, but not all from the same church. At the end of September, they took a flight to San Diego, CA, and then traveled by bus to the city on the Mexican Baja.
2 in 2?
The two houses in two days formula sounds nearly impossible, but Matt explains that the process starts a month before the missionaries’ arrival.
The old structure is demolished and retaining walls are constructed, as many of the homes are built on a steep incline in a rural area outside of the city. A week before the mission team’s arrival, the concrete slab is poured.
The finished product will not have running water, plumbing or sanitary sewer, but it is a huge upgrade over the current living conditions. Most are 20 foot by 20 foot structures with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a combined dining/living area.
“Our group pays for all the materials and they are gathered and delivered to the site ahead of our arrival,” Matt says. “We build the trusses on site and do everything from the sheetrock and framing to the painting.”
Marquette explains that Americans might find the finished product primitive, but to the residents, it is a life-changing event.
“Just having a concrete floor and a roof over their head changes everything,” says Matt. “The statistics are amazing in what it does for the kids in terms of their education, improved health and in addressing respiratory issues.”
Lindsay notes that last February, she learned some information that really puts the team’s efforts into perspective.
“I learned that when we help to provide a stable home, we are giving these families a seven year jumpstart on life,” Lindsay says. “Because of the way the culture is family orientated, it changes the trajectory of these families for generations.”
There are a set of criteria for the Mexican families to be eligible, such as having a job and a family. Many of them work 12 hour days, sometimes picking vegetables or other physical labor and most earn between $250 and $500 a month.
“When you see how hard they work, it really changes your perspective,” Matt says.
“They can’t do this on their own with their income and circumstances, and this allows them to keep their children in school and to live a healthier life,” Lindsay adds. “Some of the land we build on is so beautiful that if a person were two hours north in San Diego, it would be worth a million dollars.”
Matt says that by noon of the first day, the walls of the home are put up and usually half the roof is finished as well. The next day, the final touches are put on the outside and the sheetrock and painting is done as well. The houses are wired in case electricity comes to the area in the future, although most don’t currently have power.
A group of four or five people then take the family to Walmart to pick up supplies such as cooking materials, diapers and other necessities. Many of the families have never been to a Walmart.
“While that group goes to Walmart, we have a truck that is loaded with things like bunk beds, kitchen tables and chairs and a kitchen countertop,” Matt says. “The family doesn’t know they are getting those things as well, so by the time they get back, we have it all decked out with furnishings.”
Lindsay says that buying those necessities is very difficult for many families, as they are forced to purchase their water each week from a truck that comes through the neighborhood.
“When I first when to a grocery store in Ensenada, I noticed that water cost four times as much as it does in America,” says Lindsay. “It is very difficult for many families to meet their basic needs.”
Finally, with construction complete, a key ceremony happens where the family and volunteers stand in a circle and talk about what the experience has meant to them.
“The last person says to the family that we are giving you the keys and then the family goes inside before inviting us in as their first guests,” Matt says.
While the recipient family surely experiences a life changing event, the Marquettes and the other volunteers are also touched by the deed.
“Part of the reason we did this trip the first time was because we could do it as an entire family, and we knew the positive impact it would have on our kids,” Lindsay says. “It is such an awesome experience and at first we didn’t know how impactful it was for these families to have this firm foundation, a dry roof and a place where they can be warm and safe at night. Now, we have formed a special connection with the missionaries and the people there. We will always do this trip for as long as we can.”
While the Marquettes plan to travel again to the area to continue providing the blessings to the residents, it is their hope that others will answer their open invitation to join in the experience.
Not only do the residents of Ensenada need the housing, but the personal satisfaction for the volunteers continues to change lives for the better right here in Central Minnesota. It makes that 2,000 plus mile trip seem shorter every time.