Written By Mike Boettge
Reynosa is a border city in the northern state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. It is located on the southern bank of the Rio Grande, directly across from Hidalgo and McAllen, Texas, about 75 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately one million people live in this city. Every year around Christmas time, Grace Church sends an outreach team to Reynosa to build homes. Since Grace’s first trip in 1998, teams have come to small town 25 times and built a total of 112 homes for those in need.
In Reynosa, many families live in cramped, dirt-floor dwellings made of scrap boards, pallets, cardboard, plastic sheeting, and anything else that can be scavenged from the dump. Grace Church members Tammy and John Buse made the trip last year. “We talk about poverty in the United States,” John said, “but it’s nothing compared to the poverty there.” Tammy recalled seeing families go to their trash pile looking for a bowl. “For me, it was just massive amounts of trash everywhere, and the children running around barefoot.”
Jeff DeGraff, who has led trips to Reynosa with his wife, Jan, since 2005, said nothing prepares someone for their first time visiting. The homes they build are basic: a concrete slab, two windows, a tin roof, and a door with a lock—a very important and rare feature in this neighborhood with no running water or electricity. It may seem small, but it offers a solid, permanent shelter and a place to call home. “The Bible tells us that this is part of what we’re to do is help the widows and feed the orphans,” said Jan. “It’s an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a very practical way.”
It takes about three days to assemble the walls and roof onto the 12 x 20-foot slab and install the windows and door. “You don’t have to be skilled,” said Jan, “because everybody can paint.” “You have to have a servant’s heart and love people, and we will find something for you to do,” said Steve Hartley, a Mexico Missions volunteer for 20 years. He and wife Sue were on the most recent mission trip. Steve remarked that, “You expect that you’re going to bless these people unimaginably and, in turn, we’re the ones that get the blessing.” Jeff DeGraff agrees. Not only do volunteers find themselves touched and inspired by the people of Reynosa, they also grow closer to each other as well. “There have been many small groups and lifelong friends that have been built out of building a home together,” said Jeff.
Certainly, Reynosa has proven an amazing experience for any who long to make a real difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Travel to Reynosa by highway is about 20 hours each way. Flights to the area are also available. Accommodations and local transportation are coordinated through Strategic Alliance. Each volunteer must cover the cost of meals, lodging, and transportation in and out of Mexico– usually a minimum of $600, though it can cost up to $1200. The $4500 per unit cost of building supplies and furnishings is covered by the generous giving of many Grace Church members.
If you’d like join the Grace team, now is the time to do it. To get started, go to: https://www,gracestl.org/missions or contact Jeff and Jan for more information. Phone: (314) 292-8300 x 3110 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations to Strategic Allegiance can also be made anytime through the Grace Church website. Go to “Donate Online” and under “Select Gift Fund” click on “STRATEGIC ALLIANCE-MEXICO SUPPORT MINISTRY.” The three options there are: Homes for Homeless, described in this article, Mercy at the Border—a fund to help migrants living in a temporary tent camp in Reynosa—and Escuela Viva!, which is a fund that provides school supplies, clothes and uniforms to keep kids in school. A few dollars a day can provide the resources to educate, counsel and influence these youth in a positive way. Your donations and ongoing sponsorship can provide a way for children to rise above their harsh circumstances.