This Thanksgiving break, 27 Resonate attenders traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to work with Centro Shalom, a local church. Tijuana is the first place Resonate ever sent a mission team and its partnership with Centro Shalom has continued to be impactful for the church and the hundreds of Resonaters who have made the two day trek down south. This includes Resonate missionary Nichole Southwick, a former WSU student who is now a full-time missionary at Centro Shalom. This time around, the trip included Resonate staff, two families and their children, students on the very first mission trip, and others going on repeat trips. Here is the account of one of these students.

Tijuana opened my eyes. Before traveling to this city sitting just across the border to Mexico from California, I didn’t give much thought to helping the poor. Sure, I knew that the U.S. is one of the most affluent nations in the world. I knew that the poverty levels in many other countries are higher than those in the U.S. and that plenty of people around the world live without what we consider basic utilities. But I didn’t know what that poverty looked like. After being in Tijuana for a week, I knew.

In this city of stark class differences and subtle government domination, the needs of the Mexican people became extremely evident on the day we arrived. The Centro Shalom church complex is located in a poor area of the city, on a dirt road next to a recently-constructed highway. The compound, as it is called by the missionaries who live there, sits on an area the equivalent of half a city block and is surrounded by a tall, stiff fence. It contains a kitchen, living spaces, meeting spaces, a sanctuary, and multiple restrooms, all used year-round by the community and missionaries helping the people in the local church serve the city’s inhabitants.

Just seeing the people who live and work in the compound is enough to reveal the heart behind the church.

Centro Shalom is dedicated to serving the physical and spiritual needs of Tijuana’s poor residents. For our team from Resonate Church, this meant we spent the four days we had to work constructing two houses and hosting Vacation Bible School programs for local children. The neighborhood where these VBS programs were held is one of composed of makeshift houses, most of which are made of pieces of scrapped plywood, wood two-by-fours, cardboard, and heavy sheets, with electricity only available by illegally stringing wires from municipal power lines and hanging them over their houses. The knowledge that the majority of the people of Tijuana live in these tragic conditions broke my heart.

Urgency is needed in helping the people of this city combat the physical and spiritual poverty they face. The Resonate team was split into three every day, each group focusing on a different project, either VBS or one of the houses. My lot was to work on the house furthest from the compound, the “house on the hill” as it came to be known. This name reminded me of Matthew 5:14, where Jesus says that God’s church is to be a light to the world, and that the light of a city on a hill cannot be hidden. We labored in a way that I believe modeled such a way of living to the hundreds of families who lived on that hill. The house we built began as a simple concrete slab on the ground. From Monday to Thursday, eight of us Resonate team members, changing daily, labored to build a simple square house. We worked tirelessly, led by a Mexican man named Refugio who is a full-time laborer employed by Centro Shalom.

A privilege during the last two days of work was getting to hear Refugio talk about his story. During a 3:00 water break on Wednesday afternoon and our lunch break on Thursday, we heard how Refugio lived selfishly until Jesus rescued him in his mid-teens from his state of spiritual death, and now he wants to live his life dedicated to Christ and helping the people around him however he can. This determination to love the Lord with all his heart and to love his neighbors as himself has manifested itself in his decision to work full-time for Centro Shalom. Each weekday he and two other laborers travel to sites around Tijuana that the church has designated as places for houses to be built. This ministry has blessed countless people in Tijuana with dependable places to live, which is unquestionably one of the top needs of the city’s poor.

Not stopping at simply building houses and hosting VBS services, our mission team also planned and executed an elaborate Thanksgiving meal on Thursday evening. We invited the surrounding community and neighborhood where VBS was held and prepared food and space for about 250 people. And they came. Many adults and many more children arrived to the compound on Thursday evening, hungry for food and friends. The meal we gave these people was a delicacy compared to what they normally have to eat each day, and as such was an enormous blessing to them. This surprised me: all we did was feed the people steak, refried beans, tortillas and fried potatoes. This helped me realize the luxury I live with daily as a middle-class American citizen. I have so much more than I will use, the question now is what will I do with it.

All this made for an unforgettable week. It was fun, tiring, eye-opening, and, honestly, uncomfortable. Most of all, though, it was moving. God commands His people to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God” (Micah 6:8). My time in Tijuana this Thanksgiving is forcing me to make a decision regarding how I will live my life, and whether I will trust and obey God in these commands. I hope to move forward living generously toward other people and reflecting the heart of loving others behind God’s mission for the church.