We are at our November SOWER project at Way of the Cross in Harlingen, Texas. We have been here a number of times since first volunteering here as SOWERS in December 2006. We also have joined with them a number of times to help with their Medfest medical outreach in Mexico and for the last few years, in Nicaragua. It is like coming home for us. The staff seem like family.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived was all the work they have done on the grounds at the training center. They have planted hundreds of palm trees and Norfolk pines. The RV parking sites now have concrete pads and upgraded electrical services of 50 Amps at each site. The week after we arrived there were torrential rains and even so we stepped out of our rig onto concrete. Not a bit like the old days of wading through the mud and puddles to one's rig after a storm.
Way of the Cross does extensive outreach work in Nicaragua, the Rio Grande Valley and across the border into Mexico. Their big event for the month of November is a Celebrate Jesus Festival. We helped with the event when we were in the valley two years ago. Then it was at the Mercedes Rodeo Grounds. The shuttle pictures above with people around it are from that time. This page of upcoming events will show the Celebrate Jesus Festival until shortly after it has happened so check it out before the 15th.
This year the event is planned for Saturday, November 15th in a field next to the flea market in Brownsville. A number of churches will have booths to hand out stuff and to reach out to people with the Gospel message.
After a day to get our rig situated and to install some electrical components I had ordered for delivery in Harlingen, Juanita and I got down to work helping with the preparation for the Festival. She has been packing bags of candy and cereal to be handed out. The first day I worked with Byron to fix the roof on the shuttle trailer. After that he went with Matt to mow the field which looks to me to be about fifteen acres. While they did that I carried on with the shuttle, replacing some of the flooring which had been installed using fiber board. That didn't seem to like the road moisture kicked up. There is probably less risk of falling through the floor now that it is plywood. Other tasks included fixing a few broken fittings on the shuttle trailer and replacing a kitchen faucet in a staff house.
Byron and I spent most of a day laying out the field for booths by driving stakes at the corners of the rows of booths. This involved reconciling several alternate realities: the one on the drawing, what we thought was on the drawing and the obstacles and water hazards on the actual field and then respond to feedback and corrections from the original planner of the drawings. We'll see how much the water hazards have grown by the time we go back to lay down lime lines next week and make adjustments for that reality.
Byron and I spent a day checking out a travel trailer that had been loaned to the ministry for the couple providing security at the Celebrate Jesus Festival site. We washed the outside and checked out the heating and air conditioning. Around here you could need either depending on the day. Often both. There was a leak in the roof and some broken vent covers. Hopefully I managed to repair them all successfully on the sunny day that appeared after the last cold front had rained itself out. I guess we will know when the next set of squalls rolls through next week. Must be some FEMA tarps somewhere if needed.
Preparations continued throughout the week. For our part, Juanita helped fill bags and boxes and keep other volunteers supplied with bags and materials to put in them. Byron Kroger and I worked laying out the booths. Measuring carefully and marking the main corners with paint running a string between them and connecting the corners with lime. Then we went back and marked the corners of the booths.
On Thursday morning before dawn, Brother Ben, director of Way of the Cross went to the site next to the Brownsville flea market and decided the layout would not work with the effects of the rain this week. The layout had been all along in the shape of a cross with arms extending a couple of hundred feet to the sides. The reality of the mud on the ground meant the layout became four rows of booths. There was a double row of booths back to back in the middle and then forty foot aisles to a row of single deep booths on each side.
After morning chapel, Byron and I scurried to Brownsville and pulled up the steel fence posts marking booth mainlines and started over to one side of the field avoiding most of the muddy spots. Dispensing with the accurate, but slow method using a hundred foot tape measure we picked a corner and drove a steel fence post, drove another stake in an about-right spot measured between them with a wheel measure (a one foot diameter rubber wheel with a counter that shows how far it has travelled) and finalized the two corners for distance and squareness to a parking lot line. Then we measured away from them to drive posts at the main points, strung strings between those posts and marked the lines with fluorescent layout paint. We had the main lines in a couple of hours and took a late lunch break at a nearby Chik-fil-a and used their wi-fi to send a crude sketch of the final booth layout and numbers to Phillip. Then it took us until dark to mark all the booths.
Meanwhile others were ferrying supplies from Harlingen to the site and erecting tents.
Friday we all met at the WOTC warehouse in Harlingen. We loaded Byron’s tiny Japanese truck and he headed for the Brownsville grounds and I went back to the training center and took off the hitch and picked up a few things I had forgotten. Byron’s truck is a bit scary over 45 mph so he travelled on the frontage road most of the way and even with my detour we arrived at about the same time. Juanita travelled with Martha and once at the grounds they and John Grandy used landscape staples to attach laminated signs showing the booth number, the name of the group running the booth and the type of booth (Food, Drinks, Clothing, Books, etc.).
Semis are arriving with stuff from Harlingen and they are being offloaded in a staging area. I am one of a couple of trucks and trailers ferrying stuff from the staging area to the booths that will distribute it to the public tomorrow. The last minute change to the booth has created some confusion with booth numbering but we prevail by using the booth labels to determine where to drop stuff.
My truck gets used as a tractor a few times either to pull stuck vehicles out of the mud or to pull Gaylord boxes of books from a trailer into a booth handing out books. Late in the day while doing this the truck dash displays a message that the exhaust filter is 80% plugged and needs regeneration. I abandon site for a while to drive at high speed a few interchanges up the freeway and back. The message centre announces the filter is regenerated. When we got back the containers of books were off the trailer. Plan B whatever it was must have worked.
Byron spent the afternoon drilling holes and installing a flag pole in each booth or each group of booths operated by the same organization. The flags have the church’s or organization’s name on them. Toward dark we realize that we are about 20 flag poles short and Andy makes a list and he and Lavonne head for Home Depot. I arrange the pieces we have in order and do what cutting I can do with what is there. When Andy and Lavonne return a lot of people pitch in and we have assembled 20 more flag poles in short order. We ferry a few people to their homes and a few of us meet at Chapitas to eat and compare aches and pains.
The Celebrate Jesus Festival was a big success. Here is the text of the post event newsletter. It was headed by the logo above and followed by four pictures which are (will be) included in the thumbnails of the day of the event.
Greetings in the name of the Lord!
We want to share with you all the victory that was had with the Celebrate Jesus Festival which was held in Brownsville, TX this past Saturday. Despite the rain and cold weather in the days before the event, we continued with the preparations on the open air field. We had to totally redesign the layout of all the church booths to try to get everyone on dry ground. Even through the adversity and the physical difficulty, the event was very successful.
On the day of the 15th, I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was 43º and rainy. We had 153 different ministries involved in this event and had been planning it for months and all I could think was that there is nothing worse than to have to fight the weather after having put all the work into preparing for the event. We're not fair-weather Christians and there was no way a little discomfort was going to stop us. We arrived on the field at 6:30 AM and began getting things rolling. By 9:00 AM, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining and we were able to start everything around 10:00 AM.
The majority of the day was 70º and sunny! Only the Lord can bless us with such miracles.
We estimate that close to 15,000 people came out to the event and that there were around 2,000 decisions to accept Christ as Savior. It blessed my heart to see that the discipling tent (where the new believers were taken) was standing room only after each Gospel presentation. At the end of the day, every one of us had a great feeling of joy in our hearts. Over the course of the event we gave away one semi load of yogurt, 6,500 boxes of food (about 200,000 lbs.), 20,000 lbs. of candy, and 83,000 toys. What a blessed day; all honor and glory to the Lord!
We're moving on to what the Lord has in store for us in the coming months. Our next event is the Big Feed, which is December 27th - 29th in Matamoros, Mexico. Then we fly south to Nicaragua for MedFest, which is January 14th - 20th, 2015. If you would like to be a part of either of these events, let us know. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (956) 536-1739.
That was the post event newsletter, now back to the gumboots on the grounds narrative.
Saturday dawned after we had arrived at the Celebrate Jesus Festival grounds. We were up early and on the road to Brownsville early enough for Juanita and I to go one exit past the grounds to a Whataburger for cinnamon buns and one last pitstop to tide us over until the flea market's restrooms open. I parked the truck next to Martha's van. It wasn't long before it was trapped for the day by cars belonging to booth attendants and, later, festival goers.
Groups with booths finished setting up. There were booths that offered free clothes, free food, free drinks, free medical testing, face painting and so on. There were four stages set up for music and performances. At ten or so there was a parade of flags and shofars following a white horse and the event was opened in prayer. Every so often during the day the shofars would blow and the activities on the stages and at the booths would cease and the Gospel would be presented with the use of Evangecubes.
Generally we helped out where needed during the day, whether it was helping supply booths as they ran out or handing out strip tickets for the free draws. The prizes for the children's draw were bicycles. Prizes for the adult draw were sewing machines with a grand prize of a car. The winner was a young woman who had been meeting with friends every morning and praying for a car. She had, during the CJF, cornered Brother Ben and asked him to pray for her winning.
When it looked like there were enough helpers for any tasks I used the breaks to hand out curved illusion tracts. Around a hundred for the day. Somewhere in the rush, Juanita managed to get her first face painting ever. I have pictures, but have been advised not to post them. When the festival was over we helped pull up flag poles and fence stakes and load leftover things for return to Harlingen.
Late yesterday I had noticed a white truck with a tripod set-up and a couple of men standing there. My first thoughts were that it was a couple of city workers with a transit and they were going to make us move our boundaries. When deliveries took me closer it became clear that it was a TV camera man and announcer making video of the set-up. They returned today and took more footage and interviewed Ben at the end of the event.
The Sunday church service in the training center chapel had a lot of testimonies from people about the CJ the previous day. After service a number of the younger people headed back to the CJ grounds to start the clean-up. Juanita and I went to the Crazy Buffet.
After Chapel on Monday morning at the WOTC warehouse in Harlingen a number of us proceeded to the Celebrate Jesus grounds next to the Brownsville flea market and helped load the cardboard and trash (seperately) to be hauled away. Once that was done it was close to noon and Juanita and I went to Harbor Freight in Brownsville and then back to the Crazy Buffet in Harlingen. Tuesday and Wednesday were days off. Wednesday I washed the mud off the front of the loaner security trailer. Thursday was the last official day of the November SOWER project. I did a little further clean-up on the loaner trailer borrowing the sewer hose from our rig to do that. Juanita worked with Martha a bit at the warehouse and then they came out to the training center and cleaned the inside of the loaner trailer.
We have a week between the end of the November SOWER project and the beginning of the December project. There is a list of stuff that needs doing on the rig and the truck. I expect that the list I made is probably more ambitious than the person who will execute the list (me).
So far I have managed to replace one fender skirt and do a bit of tidying and catch up on some keyboarding. The e-mail in-box is low enough to see over. This will make a good stab at catching the web site up. Half the roof has been cleaned and the other half will need cleaning and some caulk replaced before the Lquid Roof is brushed, squeegeed and rolled onto the original rubber roof on the fifth wheel.