MY TRIP ACROSS THE BORDER
(CORAZON PROJECT: JUNE 1, 2019) 

I’d like to share the most incredible one day journey I took to Tijuana, Mexico this month with my Pastor, Fr. Justin Cannon of All Saints Episcopal Church and six members of our parish community. We flew to San Diego on Friday afternoon in preparation for our 7 am border crossing on Saturday.  We boarded our bus in Chula Vista, CA accompanied by several members of four other Episcopal Churches from within the Bay Area. The Episcopal Church deanery has been doing a June build for well over a decade. We were part of the team of the Corazon Home Building organization based in Tijuana.  Corazon is a loving and caring organization dedicated to serving the poor within its reach.  In Spanish, Corazon means heart, love and courage and this organization certainly embraces those words.

The $10,000 needed to build the house had been raised by the five participating churches.  Corazon then gets the needed materials to the building site.  Corazon volunteer workers from Tijuana help on the project, earning credits toward an eventual home for their own family.  They believe by strengthening individuals and families it helps the entire community to achieve its potential.

We crossed the border into Mexico without any problems and arrived at the building site at 9 am. The 16’ X 20’ concrete slab for the house had been poured the week before our arrival.  The material and necessary tools were on site when we arrived. I could see the surrounding area was quite poor with many humble and crudely assembled living structures, some made from tarps, wooden pallets, and cardboard.  The concert slab was located on a small area at the top of 20 rather precarious stairs  (17 wooden and 3 dirt). Getting the material up to the site would not be an easy task.  A human chain was formed along the stairs and the 2 x 4 studs were passed hand to hand till all had reached the top.  The crew assigned to building the shell of the house got to work.

Meanwhile, in the street, a team started laying out more 2 x 4 studs to prepare building the two roof rafters, while the painting crew started painting the many 4’ x 8’ plywood sheets needed for the house exterior.

In another area, a team was working on a small counter that would be installed, as well as stairs that would be used to ascend into the loft area.  The area was buzzing with work, laughter, multicultural conversations, music and energy. Fifty people from many different walks of life, working together for one purpose, to build a house for a family.

As the work continued the smells of delicious food drifted through the air.  Eight women from the community were preparing lunch at the site in huge pots using camping stoves.  The plan was that the walls and roof be assembled before lunch at noon. A call for help came from the slab site and several people ascended the stairs to help raise the walls.  All four walls were raised and joined together and then bolted to the concrete.  Shortly thereafter a call came from the street and the roof rafters were lifted and carried up the stairs and put onto the top of the wall structure.  It was a joyous feeling to see this house come together. It reminded me of the “barn raisings” I had read about as a child in school!  People working together as a community to help the individual succeed. It was a loving and rewarding moment.

 

Lunch was served promptly at noon! Rice, beans, tortillas, shredded pork, and salsa. Everything was absolutely delicious and everyone found a shady spot to sit, relax and enjoy lunch. When we had all eaten more than we needed, we were all hoping for a siesta, but there was still work to do!

As the loft was being built inside the structure, the paper and asphalt shingles were being carried up to the roof.  Inside, the finished counter and the three windows were being installed, while touch up painting was being done all around.

 

The soon to be new homeowners had stayed at the bottom of the hill area through-out most of the day. It was wonderful to see the anticipation in their eyes as they gazed up the hill at the wooden structure appearing before them.  They were a family of five, but this new house would be the residence of the parents and their 16-year-old son. It may be hard to imagine how a family can live without electricity or plumbing, in one room with a concrete floor, but what they saw was a watertight roof, glass windows and a solid door with a lock.  They saw safety and security.

Just before 4 pm, the house was complete, area cleaned up, floor swept and time for the key ceremony. Fr. Justin blessed the home and the Corazon project director turned over the keys to the family.  Several of us had brought little housewarming gifts and presented them to the family.  Words weren’t necessary, the smiles, tears, and hugs said it all.  Love and genuine appreciation had crossed all language barriers. In just 7 hours a pile of lumber had become a house, and in the days ahead, a true HOME to this loving and deserving family.

-Janet Gebhardt