Monday, May 19, 2008

A Sunday with Orphans

Sunday I went down with some friends to La Tribu de Jesus, an orphanage in Tijuana we have been working at. About three weeks ago, they were evicted from their property by the police, and were living at a church near Centro. They've been very tight on money recently and we wanted to make sure the kids' immediate needs were taken care of.

We departed at 8AM from Los Angeles with Abe Serrano, Pat Schumacher, Rochelle Nesbit and myself. On the drive down, we picked up two of my friends, Michelle Dodson and Andrew Wessbecher, in San Diego. We fit rather snugly in my Expedition. Using the directions that Emily gave me the night before, we were able to drive, more or less, right to the church where the kids are staying.

The church had two levels and three rooms, in addition to a structure that was being used as a kitchen. The kitchen was about 15'x30' with a table in the middle, food along one one and several appliances around the edge of the room. The first room in the main structure was roughly 12'x12' but had a lot of things piled up to the left and some of the children were watching TV there. It was somewhat tight getting between the line of TV watchers and the TV. The other downstairs room was also about 12'x12' and was where the girls stayed (~25 of them). The upstairs (sanctuary) was where the boys slept and was somewhat more spacious. It was very tight living, as 50 children were sleeping there at night. Edith said that an additional 38 are staying with their grandparents and being driven to the church during the day to eat, play and go to school each day.

We walked in and Abe and I started talking with Edith. The others played with the kids and took pictures of the conditions. We talked about quite a bit about a lot of things, from her finances to her plans about rental properties. Abe was really rusty to start with but by the end was back to being fluent. I surprised myself a few times with spurts of fluency, but for the most part, was fairly confused. We were able to communicate enough (especially tag-teaming phrases; he knew most of the phrases I didn't and vice-versa).

Edith is hoping to be able to move back into the place they were evicted from. I asked her about rental properties and she said that she was still looking. There were two properties that she knew of that she was going to visit on Tuesday. I asked if we could drive and see them. She agreed and we headed out in the Expedition.

When we got to the first one, near the Ranch, the owner said that it was not for rent; whoever had told her it was must have been crazy (pointing at his temple with his forefinger and drawing a circle and saying "loco"). We drove past their old property and saw all of their things, thrown out in a big pile like garbage. Bunk beds, most of them broken and shivered, mattresses, clothing, bike and toys were piled scornfully along the road. We took some pictures of this, and greeted Alejandra, one of the Tribu worker, who was camping out to guard their things, unable to spend her time with the children.

Finding the second property was an adventure, one that took us past San Pablo (the church of Dave's uncle and Dr. Tamez; they're actually building a pretty sizable building there to replace the circus tent). We continued into the boonies for about half an hour in rather beautiful Tijuana back-country, past a huge Yonke (junkyard). After a grueling test of my shocks, we found the property. It was a naked concrete structure directly across the street from a prison/rehab center. Edith decided that this was not a good idea and I agreed. We repeated the unpaved challenge and navigated our way back to civilization.

We then headed for Costco. As Pat indicated, we gave Edith what was one of his top-five fantasies: a no-holds-barred shopping spree at Costco. It was great having Rochelle (a registered Dietitian) go through Edith's meal ideas and comment on them. As I would later comment, it's rare that you could say, "Phew! I sure am glad we had a Dietitian with us!" She was able to make healthier recommendations on what to buy and how Edith could cook. We ended up spending ~$500 that was put on Pat's card. Shoreline had mentioned supporting the children with these immediate needs, but we agreed to split the cost (among the six of us) if Shoreline didn't pick it up.

Edith was very grateful, crying as we loaded the car and quietly singing Psalms as we drove home.

We dropped her off and started to unload the car. We were able to unload $500 of Costco in a single trip because 40 children ran out to help. Many (many, many) hands make for light work. We said we were leaving, so Edith prayed for us; she prayed a line and the children repeated it. We had a chorus of little voices thanking God for our coming there to help them.

On the way home, we talked about not being able to understand Edith. What was she trying to get out of this? To our American minds, it made no sense that someone would live like she did. Who would give up a successful business and go to live in poverty? Who could live day after day not knowing where the food for tomorrow would come from? I suppose our faith is so weak that it's hard to believe that God could transform a life so mightily.

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