Nogales, Mexico: Sowing on a Windy Day

 

100_2547I was so pleased to be invited to chaperone my school’s mission trip to Mexico. It was exciting to be going back to Mexico lindo y querido, but there was also an element of the unknown. This was my first time in the Mexican state of Sonora and I didn’t know very much about Cuirim House, the mission we were visiting. (If you are learning Spanish and wonder what “cuirim” means, …it’s Irish.)

As typical in Mexico, the trip started with a change in plans. There had been a miscommunication and we arrived in Nogales 24 hours earlier than the mission had expected. This gave us a little more time to settle in, but also put some strain on the staff and required flexibility on our part.  We had several projects to cover over the week. Some of our jobs included heavy labor, mixing and carrying concrete, assembling pallet boxes, and installing fences. Other tasks were lighter and involved more interaction with the community. One of the jobs I enjoyed doing was helping with the Kids Café. Twice a week, the neighborhood children are fed by volunteers from the local church. In the summer, when groups come, we are able to give the regular volunteers a break. We served the food, washed all the dishes, and played with the kids. This freed up the ladies to enjoy a relaxing art class and later a Zumba class led by one of our group.

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In the evenings, the local pastor organized a World Cup Tournament for 10-15-year-old boys which was held in the park close to the church. The boys all took it very seriously! Our team set up a few carnival games each night in the basketball court adjacent and served food to everyone. No one on our team spoke Spanish, other than what they had studied in a month or two of preparation. I was very pleased to see how they all worked out ways of communicating and were flexible in their assignment to make sure the kids were having an enjoyable time. I also liked translating when necessary and talked with some of the parents who had come to watch the game.

Traveling anywhere outside of your culture comes with challenges, but it had been a while since I had been in a place with so much material need. It is interesting that the more one sacrifices (even voluntarily), the more seed there is for discontentment. Without running water, I instantly became a little more selfish, seeking out comfort in any form. Frustration over Mexican locks (already experienced in Guadalajara) was heightened when I couldn’t get in the bathroom door in the middle of a thunderstorm at night and with no cover overhead. When I had already been in the hot and stuffy kitchen for an hour, I really wished someone else would take care of the rest of the dishes. When I finally put away the dirty shirt I had worn a few days in a row and was enjoying a fresh one, I really hoped someone else would volunteer for the job that involved going outside in the drizzle and moving more dirt. When I was completely worn out and siesta time had almost passed, I hoped the threatening rain clouds might mean a delay in the afternoon work project. It was humbling to recognize. We must daily turn to Christ to have his attitude that values others more highly than ourselves.

One of the verses we learned in chapel this week was from Ecclesiastes 11.  “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap…In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” This passage caught my attention. My personality looks ahead and plans everything out. If something is likely to go wrong, I try to problem solve beforehand. If something is completely out of my control, like the weather, I will probably cancel instead of trying. Rainy season was starting in Nogales and every day around 2 or 3 PM, the wind would pick up and the sky would blacken. Being on top of a hill, we could watch storms approaching from either side. Sometimes, it would blow over quickly, sometimes it would nearly blow you over, and sometimes it would rain steadily for a long time before stopping. We always had afternoon work projects planned and the World Cup Tournament in the early evening. I am the kind of person who would see the clouds and call it off. Mr. Donohue, the missionary, had learned to see the clouds and still plan to go out and work. It’s a good lesson.

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One on the neat projects we worked on was building garden boxes out of wood pallets and delivering them to homes in the neighborhoods with some good top soil and seedlings. The local pastor would then schedule visits to check up on the plants and be able to build stronger connections in the community. The missionary’s son said the passage from Ecclesiastes had been an encouragement and a challenge to him as he was trying to start this ministry. There were many challenges that would have seemed like a reason to turn aside, but they had kept working and trusting God. Who knows, but God, what the fruit will be.

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All photos are my own.

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Cultivating a Garden

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

— Francis Bacon

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring weeds. This month, I have been reminded of this as I enjoy the fresh beauty of the outdoors, both in my yard and in the gardens around my school. In March, I was giddy to see the trees were budding in purple Virginia fashion and daffodils were springing up. Later came black-eyed Susans, irises, peonies, and roses. I was frustrated to find that many dandelions (I cannot concede these be counted as a flowers), wild onions, crab grass, clover, some unidentified spiny thing, and a host of other undesirables also sprang up. The garden out my classroom window looked a little more like a wild jungle than a peaceful garden. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. One afternoon after school, I went out and pulled up as many weeds as I could. I had a huge pile of weeds when I was done, yet the garden still looked over run. I realized that part of its appearance was due to an overabundance of good things. Many of the flowers had not been thinned out recently, the ground cover had not been trimmed back, and the bushes and trees needed pruning. Meanwhile, at home I helped my mom pull out a patch of irises. We only did this because this was the second year in a row they had not bloomed. Why not? The previous owner of the garden had let them become too crowded and overgrown by weeds. The soil was also full of rocks that had worked their way up to the surface. A garden needs cultivation.

God makes all things perfect, but he has made things living, not static. Yes, there is much to enjoy in untouched nature, but in the beginning, God placed man in a garden and told him to tend it. I wonder what tending the Garden of Eden would have involved. Did Adam and Eve prune the fruit trees? Try to develop varieties of plants? Arrange the plants as they wished? Remember this was before the fall. They did not have to fear weeds or the toil that Adam was later cursed with, but they still had responsibility and work.

A garden is such a lovely metaphor. Even when we have planned something well (a schedule, a relationship, habit, etc.), we need to continually be working on it and cultivating it. Just because the garden is laid out well, does not mean that you can leave it alone forever. Because of the curse, you need to look out for the weeds that creep in and then multiply when they have an entrance. Even just preventing or removing the bad is often not enough. You also need to make sure the good, planned things in your life do not overrun the rest. A crowded garden is typically unhealthy.

Enjoy the spring in your garden! In your literal and figurative gardens, be willing to do the hard work of cultivating so that you can enjoy the flowers and the fruit in their appropriate seasons.