Writing the December update midway through January when December is a blur of activity hopefully means that only the highlights are remembered, but it also means that things may have happened in a slightly different order than described. There is a serious shortage of people in the world who care about that detail, namely nobody, so I’ll plunge right in.
The two outside bathrooms continued to take a bit of attention to cover the old dark paint with new shiny white paint, replace mirrors and light fixtures and dig out the old caulking in the showers so new, tidy, not-so-scary caulking could be injected into the corners and smoothed. This work carried over into December.
Then it was move inside to start patching ceilings in a few places where the leaking roof had caused the sheetrock to fall or the old joints to bulge. None of these areas were particularly large – maybe 3 sheets total, but it was fussy work. The old sheetrock had to be pulled down and cut back to solid sheetrock and some 2x’s added for something to screw the patch to and the old, loose seams had to be pulled back to a solid seam without getting carried away. Then it was a matter of filling and taping and matching surface texture of the old finish using the tools at hand – a putty knife, a paint roller and a sponge. The matches weren’t perfect, but were good enough that they are not obvious when you walk into the room. Eleven or so foot ceilings help. The ceilings in the conference room, two dorm rooms, the men’s restroom and a corner of the chapel all needed help.
Owls in the Attic
The chapel ceiling was of particular note. During Big Feed a number of bunk beds are set up in the chapel. A mother owl had taken up residence in the attic of the chapel and the noise of her arrivals in the middle of the night and the babies feeding would ensure that nobody sleeping in that room would get any sleep. Some brave souls climbed a ladder and beat a hole through the ceiling and were showered by a dead bird, a large, dead rat and a whole pile of noxious smelling debris that had accumulated in the owl nest. Two nasty, biting, screeching, probably scared baby owls were also retrieved from the nest and taken to the zoo in neighboring Brownsville.
After the wreckage was cleared away John, another volunteer, pulled down the loose pieces of the ceiling and he and Paul re-boarded it with new sheetrock. Paul then carried on taping, filling, texturing and painting it. Juanita and Paul took down the scaffold and gave the carpet one last shot of Lysol the day before the room was needed. Just in time!
Outreaches to Aldama and Soto la Marina
Harlingen to Aldama Map
Harlingen to Aldama Route Map
Just before Christmas, a van load of staff headed about 250 miles South to base camp near Aldama, Tamaulipas, Mexico for a break from all the preparations for Big Feed. After about five hours of driving from Harlingen we turned off the paved highway and drove the nine miles of gravel road through the village of Piedras Negras (means "Black Rocks" - prime farmland if you could plow through the volcanic boulders scattered over the countryside) to Rancho Tranquilo (Tranquil Ranch), the missionary base camp of Way of the Cross. After unloading luggage, and a very quick lunch, stuff for the outreach started getting loaded in the van.
I had hoped to join the group for the outreach, but would only go if the electrical problem causing sparks to come out of the panel box in the kitchen was either easy to fix and the repair could be done around going to the outreach or was too difficult to fix in the window available. So while the van was getting loaded I pulled off the panel cover and took a quick look. It was soon obvious that the problem was outside the box and probably a simple one, but one that I couldn’t work on alone. You just can’t be at both ends of a bundle of wire both pulling and seeing which wire is being pulled. Since Armando, the camp custodian, was going to town too there was no point in me staying and I cheerfully hopped on the van.
The van from the States and the van from the camp hurried back down the gravel road to the main road and headed further south to the town of Aldama, arriving on time at the appointed location of the outreach. It was a concrete dome used for indoor basketball games. We were met by el presidente (mayor of the district) and his wife, and a clown that had come up from Tampico. He was in full costume and was making elaborate balloon animals (we could have used him the following week, but more of that later).
We had a sound truck, but for some reason we didn’t drive around to raise interest in the outreach. This probably contributed to the smallish crowd of about 75 to 80 people showing up. After the program and before the candy and gifts were handed out, el presidente presented a few certificates honoring the relief and other work done in that area by Way of the Cross. Despite the smallish crowd the singing and message and gifts and clown and piñata were well received, and about 90% put up their hands to express an interest in receiving salvation.
After the outreach our group stopped at an upscale restaurant for dinner hosted by el presidente and his wife. His term was over at the end of December. January is the start of the term of office of the new man in that position. Hopefully he is as supportive as the old one has been over the years. The retiring el presidente speaks well of him so that is encouraging. Then it was back to camp to do a tad of electrical troubleshooting and go to bed after vigorously shaking the covers to make sure that we had no unwanted companions of the four, six or eight legged variety.
Next morning we were up early for breakfast followed by group devotions and singing. I managed to get some help in shaking wires and traced the problem to a six foot piece of three conductor cable in a conduit in a concrete wall. I at least knew what had to be sent down to fix the problem. The cable was pretty solidly ensconced in the conduit so maybe there was something through it, but it was a red conductor that was shorted to ground and fire ants seem to prefer red insulation to other colors so it could be that, but no matter what the problem inside the wall was, it could be bypassed with a new piece of BX.
Then we loaded up the van with our luggage and boxes of outreach gift bags and headed back to the main highway and turned north to Soto La Marina. We had been to three outreaches here a year ago in a one day down and back trip of two vans. With that and passing through it a couple of times down and back to Aldama the town is starting to seem a little familiar.
Some local supporter invited the group to their house and served barbequed chicken and thin slices of barbequed beef. Very tasty! Unfortunately the butchers slice the bone thin as well and I accidentally bit down on a piece of bone. I think I managed to hide the event so nobody felt bad and the following weekend the dentist in Neuvo Progreso ground the broken tooth down and made an impression for a porcelain cap. Only $160 – we’ll see how it stands up.
We drove around the area where our first outreach would be. As we drove around the speakers on top of our van blared with music and loud announcements of the meeting to happen shortly at a spot where two streets came together. It brought back memories of the 1950’s when Dirty Don Carter drove his panel wagon sound car around the PowellRiver district to announce upcoming events at TimberlanePark and other locations. Effective advertising at its best – a crowd of several hundred gathered to hear the singing and preaching and to receive gifts of both a temporal and eternal nature.
Similarly we drove around the area of our next stop - a local park and bandstand that we had used the previous year. Another couple of hundred people came out of the neighborhood and the outreach was well received and effective. Afterwards a few people with special needs gathered to be prayed for. Then the group went and prayed for a building that somebody was building for a tortilla factory (they are called that but are small, two or three person operations more like a small bakery) with living quarters above. Then it was back on the road home.
Both down and back we took a highway that left the main road between Matamoros and Victoria further south than the most direct road. This kept us away from the one lane traffic in the construction zone and gave a different experience than our past trips. As we got close to the border the van started acting up like the fuel filter was plugging. We stopped once on the road and then pulled into a Pemex station and tried removing the fuel filter, but couldn’t do it without the special $2 plastic tool. After some serious beating on the filter and praying the van started running okay. The dash lights failed, but I think that was maybe to keep the passengers calm as they couldn’t see how fast we were going. While we were stopped at the Pemex, I am told that four bystanders were witnessed to and received the Lord. I didn’t see that, since I was the designated beater and Dennis was the designated flashlight holder so I could see what I was beating. After seeing the filter tool the next day I think I would try to make one out of a ballpoint pen case if in a pinch again and also would carry one and a spare filter if I owned a Ford. But PTL we made it home without being towed this time.
Christmas was one additional lull before the storm of Big Feed. Our trailer was decorated with some gold garlands (a buck at Big Lots), a red poinsettia and the Christmas cards we had received. The previous Christmas we had been on the road taking our rig for repairs so we had not put up our tree. This past summer I had removed the box with the tree from the storage compartment using the “if you haven’t used it in a year stop carrying it around” rule. Juanita recovered fairly well when I told her this in response to her “where’s the Christmas tree?” question this month.
Christmas morning we called everyone back in Canada by phone and in the afternoon went over to John and Teresa’s house on the property for a marvelous traditional Christmas dinner. They had invited all the people with nowhere to go and so there was quite a crowd and a good time was had by all. Rebekah sent an Appleby’s gift card to use for Christmas dinner so that will become a birthday dinner in January.
The Big Feed
The Big Feedis an event held between Christmas and New Year’s each year. Hundreds of volunteers show up at Way of the Cross.
Including the account would make this page way too long. But you can read about our experiences and see some pictureshere.
One Sunday afternoon Juanita and I spent a few hours wandering through the displays, grounds and building of the HarlingenArts & HeritageMuseum. In addition to the displays telling about Harlingen’s history, there were some historic buildings that had been moved or built on the museum grounds. The original hospital had been moved there, as had the home of Lon C. Hill, the town’s founder. As well, a replica of the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn had been constructed on the museum grounds.
The hospital was not open for walking through, but it was interesting to peer through the windows to the interior and to realize we were following the practice of the townspeople who would gather outside to watch surgeries taking place.
The home of Lon C. Hill was built in 1904. It reminded me of the town site houses in Powell River, BC, except for the very deep fireplace between the living and dining rooms. Apparently when bandits would come by to raid the town, the family children would be placed in the middle of the brick fireplace with the openings protected by mattresses. Almost to the 1920’s bandits were a problem in the area.
The stagecoach inn was interesting to walk through to check out the post office and the rooms which would rent for 50 cents a night. There were stage coach schedules posted for area trips that took several days to cover distances we have traveled in a couple of hours, even pulling our fifth wheel trailer.
Hope and Encouragement for Humanity is a trucking ministry that delivers food and materials to food banks and ministries across the States. The owner, Gary, has made several deliveries of material donated to WOTC over the past year. He normally parks at the training center for a day or two when he comes to Harlingen.
New Year's Eve
A number of staff gathered in one of the tents set up at the WOTC training center for a chili cook-off judging followed by a meal of hamburgers, hot-dogs and chili. Then after some fireworks and some visiting we all headed to our homes. Our chili entry did not have the caloric intensity favored by the judges to place in the first three of the nine entries, but it had a nice enough flavor if I do say so myself and so did a few other kind people whose taste buds still functioned. :-)