Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 2

Last week I talked about how in the West, when preparing to go do service abroad, we forget that long-term change does not happen by coming in and “fixing” problems in a week or two. I then talked about some of my experiences in Cameroon thus far and how this struggle between long-term and short-term change manifests within our ministry. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can check it out here. Today, I want to go into the second lesson I have learned regarding how to help in the long-term. The interesting part about this lesson is that it actually does touch on short-term service and how that can be effective.

Lesson #2: Short-term service is effective ONLY when relationships are already in place.

Short-term service can be effective when there are already people within the culture we are trying to help. If there are people there who have already established relationships and will continue those relationships way past the time we leave, change can take place. This point came up recently during an orientation talk with some field visitors that would be potentially taking up long-term positions in Cameroon. As our field director talked about how any of the work that could now be implemented was solely because of all the work of people serving before us, I was brought back to my mission’s trip to Mexico (LINK) in Summer 2017.

I had the opportunity to go to Mexico and work with an organization called Doxa to build houses for families in the slums of Tiajuana. I found this to be one of the most impactful short-term missions trips I have ever been on because it felt like we were making a difference. The way Doxa works is that people who want us to build a house for them have to apply. Within the application process, they have to prove that they have a plot of land that we can build on and they also have to show some sort of proof of employment. This shows that the family will be able to maintain the house moving forward. I thought this was so smart because it ensures that the house isn’t just going to fall apart again after we leave.

IMG_0792Beyond that, Doxa has also been working in the same community for almost its entire time. One day, I was working on the roof of the house and I looked out and saw other Doxa houses that had the same bright colors and build. We were impacting this community, not just giving a temporary solution to this one family. Our Doxa representative who was working with us knew so many people in the neighborhood. As we drove through to our worksites people would wave and ask him how he was doing. The specific teams that were coming to Mexico may have been changing, but the project and the presence was ongoing.

It was because of the relationships that had been built through past groups coming and the Doxa workers that we were welcomed into the community and able to be effective.

I want to encourage everyone to find ways to serve and hope that this series does not discourage you. It’s important to do your research when finding organizations to work with to make sure that you’re leaving a lasting impact. It’s about finding ways that your resources and talents will go the furthest. That could mean sponsoring a child through Compassion or partnering with an organization like Doxa for a short-term trip or even committing your life to long-term work with missions like World Team. It’s not just about doing something to help; it’s about being effective in the ways we help.

Mexico Missions: Back to Friendship

June 9th, 2017

This morning I once again woke up early, but this time it was sadly to pack, not journal. We had to be packed and ready to go before we went to the work site. Our breakfast was leftover casserole from the day before except they had added cheese to the top of it. Despite having spent A LOT of money on food at the beginning of the week, we didn’t end up with that many left-overs.

At the site, all we really had left to do was put up the trim and paint over it. My hammering skills had definitely gotten significantly better and I was becoming both less frustrated and more confident. I again spent quite a bit of time on top of the roof work. When I finished for the day, I had tar all over myself and nineteen bruises, and that was only on my legs, not my arms and foot. As Drew later said, “I bruise like a banana.”

IMG_6648The final thing we did for the front of our house was built a cross for the front, and not a small cross either, it was MASSIVE. It really put into perspective why were there. It’s not about us, it’s all about God and now He was visibly the focus of all we were doing on the house. When we were done, it was time to give the keys to the family. They were so excited and now we share a bond with this family that will never be broken as long as they live there.

For lunch, our family made us the most amazing enchiladas I’ve ever had in my life. The most surreal part about being in their home (the sister of our family’s mother) was how at home we felt there. The house was completely falling apart on the outside, but on the inside, you would have thought that we were in the United States. I am pretty sure Drew ate about six enchiladas and the family probably would have kept feeding us if we let them. As we left, they told us we were always welcome back and they would make us more amazing food.

We then drove back to the orphanage for the final time to pack our bags then headed to the border. In the van, I ended up sitting in between Dylan and Joe. We were told the drive to the border could potentially take three hours, so the three of us managed to rearrange ourselves in some sort of sleeping positions. It felt as though we were finally comfortable when we pulled over. There was shockingly no traffic, so in order to go to the souvenir shops, we had to stop on the side of the road.

I bought a blanket for myself and Joe and I got churros for our car to split. We made it across the border with no issues and I fell asleep using Dylan as my pillow until we reached the church we would be staying at for the night. We had two hours to explore La Jolla (the rich area of San Diego), eat dinner, and/or shower before our final chapel time.

Joe, Dylan, Drew, Adam, Katie, and I decided we would the couple blocks to the beach, then find someplace for dinner. I purposefully left my bathing suit in the room since we were supposed to just be dipping our feet in the water. I apparently made the wrong choice because I ended up completely drenched, coated in sand, and without two flip flops. We decided our best move would be to head back to the church and get changed.

Once we were dry (and I had Katie’s extra pair of flip flops on) we headed to a sub shop for dinner. When we walked in they informed us that they were out of bread!! Following that unexpected turn of events, we ended up at some healthy burger place that was decent. We rushed back in fear of being late and getting yelled at, but we ended up being early and everyone else was upwards of fifteen minutes late.

I decided to end my trip with the same word I began it with– friendship. The feeling of love that I felt at the very beginning of the trip had extended over the entire week. After the week I truly felt like a part of the family. I had met and gotten to know better a group of people that would probably be in my life for a very long time, if not forever.

After chapel, I called Peter (Wow! Haven’t said that in a while!), showered, then went to see what everyone was doing. They were all playing spades so I watched Sean and Dylan for a while. Slowly the number of people awake dwindled until I too gave up and went to sleep around two in the morning. Two and a half hours later, Suzie woke us up and our journey really came to an end. Joe had two empty seats next to him that Adam and I moved to sit in. Then, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we landed in Philly and this adventure had come to an end.

Mexico Missions: Life Full of Laughter

June 8th, 2017

This morning I was once again able to wake-up early to have time to journal before breakfast. I knew today was going to be a long day and I wanted to have some time to myself first. I was getting into a flow of words coming out onto the page when suddenly I head, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” followed by a high-pitched shriek. Today was Adam’s birthday and the guys in his room had made plans to wake him up bright and early to celebrate it. For breakfast, we had a breakfast casserole and, of course, coffee. After, we had our typical quiet time before loading the truck and heading to the worksite.

At the worksite, there was quite a bit of work that still had to be done. As everyone unloaded the truck, Dave had me climb the sides of the house to help get the last of the rafters up so we could begin on the roof. The beginning of the day felt a little slow especially since Drew spent it with the other team. Luckily, in the afternoon we got Drew back and Rachel came to help us from the kitchen staff. I spent basically all my day on the roof: first nailing down the wood, then the paper, and finally the tar. Although we met many roadblocks over the course of the day I feel like I was constantly laughing, whether that was messing around with Drew and Jason or dancing on the rooftop with Rachel. Today I also had to overcome my fear of ladders. I realized that heights and climbing do not bother me, but the thought of having to climb down a ladder absolutely terrifies me. Luckily, my team was incredibly patient and supportive.

By the time we left, I was covered with dirt, paint, tar, and bruises. Although the bruises would be around for a while a nice, hot shower could cure everything else. Today my foot was beginning to turn a really pretty blue color. It still hurt, but it had not gotten any worse. I was just grateful that I was still able to do any work at all.

For dinner, our families came over and the orphanage cooked us fish tacos. I am normally not one for fish, but these were actually pretty delicious! There was also a really good drink, but I honestly have no idea what it was. Before dinner was served, Joe, Dylan, Drew, and I played a really aggressive game of basketball that was probably a bad idea for my foot. During dinner, Joe and I were messing with one of the little girls from Joe’s site and despite the language barrier, communicating quite well. We ended the dinner portion of the night with cake, ice cream, and a piñata to celebrate Adam’s birthday.

Afterward, we had a little time before going to chapel so Adam, Drew, Dylan, and I went upstairs to play cards. We settled on playing Kemps. Adam and I were partners and our secret signal was licking our lips, something I was really bad a doing casually. It did not matter though because although Adam got Kemps round one, I missed the signal. Needless to say, for the next round we needed to re-evaluate. We settled on kicking Dylan or Drew—a signal I could totally get behind! This time I was ready and when Dylan yelled “OW!” I yelled “Kemps!” securing us the point.

My word for the day was “laughter.” This trip in its nature is very difficult both physically and mentally. It would be really easy to become exhausted and get inside of my own head, but by God’s grace, I was able to spend my whole day laughing.

After chapel, I went back to the room and talked to Katie for a while. It was one of those conversations that felt like only ten minutes but was actually closer to two hours. Needless to say, we fell asleep almost instantly once we shut our mouths!

Mexico Missions: Intentional Timing

June 7, 2017

This morning I decided to slightly alter my morning routine and wake-up earlier in hopes of getting in some morning journaling time. It was really refreshing to start my day off like that. Our breakfast was once again bacon and eggs. When I finished eating I grabbed my notebook and went out onto the balcony to keep writing.

The worksite today was slightly more cramped than it usually was since we already had most of our walls up. Once we unloaded the majority of our materials I got right to work with measurements. I had the manual with the information on what we were going to need, so I just got to work. The main material we needed was the wood for exterior and interior doors, as well as one more window. When that was done I hopped around, hammering some nails, and painting the home a vibrant green color. Everyone was ebbing and flowing around one another ensuring that everyone would get done.

Once we got the walls up, there was a lot of climbing around that had to be done. I felt like a child as we climbed all over the interior walls hammering various pieces of the home together. For painting, we had to climb to reach the top of the wall as well. At first, I tried climbing onto Drew, but since we so often had to re-fill paint we concluded that climbing on the rafters would be safer and more productive. The most climbing I had to do was at the end when I had to hold the outside of the rafters while Drew and his tall, lanky, self stood on a paint box in the middle of the house and hammered them in.

When we were done with the day’s work the final product was surreal. First off, we had an actual house—four walls, a floor, and even part of a roof. The second thing that was surreal to me was the idea that SEVEN people would be living in a house smaller than my bedroom at home. Chris was saying that even though there are seven family members, there would most likely be more relatives and community members that eventually more or less just moved in. They were so excited about this little box and it is something that we are able to give them through the power and grace of God. God has a very special plan for this family and by his grace, we get to be a part of it which is really, really amazing.

We got back to the orphanage later than usual and were all pretty hungry. While we waited for dinner to be served, Joe, Katie, Alex, and I began a game of Dutch Blitz. It ended until after dinner when all my brand new cards started blowing away. Dinner was empanadas—some with chicken, others with just cheese, and both delicious. As soon as we finished dinner we ran down the stairs to go get dessert round one at the ice cream store. I got one scoop of coconut and another scoop of cookies and cream. When we got back it was about time for chapel. Joe and I got everyone in the room to put their elbow on the arm of the person next to them. By the time we were ready to start worship everyone was doubled over in laughter.

Worship was really powerful. Everyone knew the words to the first two songs and I just really felt God’s presence within the group. We sang, “Indescribable” followed by “Lord I Need You.” Following worship, we had a chance to talk about how we saw God in each other, which was really cool and encouraging. My word of the day was intentional. I felt as though I had been more intentional today with my time. We were also at the point of the trip where the end was very much in sight. That meant that every moment we spent here, whether it be with each other or with the family at the worksite, had to be intentional and ultimately God-focused.

After we finished, Joe, Katie, Alex, and I finished up our Dutch Blitz game (which I won!). When the game was over I decided to go and take some quiet time before bed. I journaled a bit and then just let my mind wander under I drifted to sleep.

Mexico Missions: Precision Cutting

June 6th, 2017

This morning was a little different from the previous days, starting with the fact that we had to wake up earlier. Tuesdays in this town were market days. Our street and two adjacent ones were crowded with various stands selling everything from classical GameBoy and Nintendo 64 games to hats and clothes to various foods. I went out to the market with Jason, Adam, Drew, and Dylan. I didn’t buy anything, but Dylan bought a new Nike hat, and most of the guys got candy. On our way back we bought taquitos that Dylan, Jason, and I split (breakfast part 2!).

When we got back to the orphanage, we grabbed our stuff, loaded the vans, and were ready to go! I was determined to do more today because although my foot still hurt, there was a large purple/blue bruise that covered the entire right side, extending out to my middle toe. This may not sound encouraging, but it meant that the only thing going on with my foot was probably a bruise. I could handle the pain from a bruise.

Our goal at the worksite was to get as many walls as possible up and begin to paint our first coat. I was actually decent at hammering, but my noodle arms made it slightly harder to keep it going for a while. A skill I did have was the precision to measure and cut all the different sized boards with the chop saw. I’m pretty sure Alex, Drew, and I measured and cut every single board that was part of the house.

For lunch, Alex, Sean, and I visited the other site. While we were there the family for their site brought everyone rice pudding with cinnamon and vanilla. It was delicious. It is also kind of crazy to think about how little these families have and they are still just trying to find things to do for US or ways to serve US.

All of the frames we made today had to be nailed down overnight so they didn’t “grow legs and walk away.” When we were done we were essentially out of material and had three-sided walls up and two frames. This meant that we only had two more frames to put up tomorrow. It was really encouraging to see actual walls and really made it feel like a house!

When we got back to the orphanage I got changed then headed upstairs for dinner. We had lasagna, but it was kind of hard to eat because Joe and I were huddled together under one of Katie’s blankets. About halfway through dinner I hit a wall and felt the urge to leave, so I did. I decided to try taking a shower, which kind of helped, but I still felt off. When I finished showering it was just about time for chapel.

I really struggled to find a word of the day and see where God was. I ended up settling with precision. I was the board measurer on my site today, which required precision because otherwise, the whole house would be off. Also, although my foot was improving, if I wasn’t careful and precise with where I was stepping, I’d feel a sharp pain.

After we finished chapel, Katie asked if I was feeling okay. I said not entirely, so we went out to one of the right-side balconies– a view we had not really seen before. It was really nice to catch up with Katie. I really missed her and it was hard not being on the same work team as her, although I definitely saw the benefits of us being split up. I was still feeling off, but more relaxed when we finished talking. Katie opted to stay and hang out upstairs, but I decided I should just go to sleep. I wrote for a little while and then passed out before 9:30 PM.

Mexico Missions: Photographic Perspectives

June 5th, 2017

This morning we were woken up (AGAIN) by Suzie singing. Although I’m sure it was meant well, it did not necessarily have the desired effect. What did wake me up though was the warm oatmeal and fruit that was for breakfast… and maybe the coffee helped a bit too. I had my quiet time out on the patio, but again it consisted of mostly just journaling. I was ready to go a little before 8:30 AM– our designated time to leave, but since my room wasn’t I decided to wait. Looking back on it, this may have been the wrong decision because a couple of minutes later Suzie came upstairs saying our van had already left. That was not entirely true, but they HAD already pulled out of the orphanage.

At the site, it was cement day– Joe’s favorite day. Because I wanted to be very careful of my foot, I brought my journal with me to the site and began my day by writing. Soon I was able to be of slight use and tie the wire around the metal rod pieces that were in our foundation. The rest of the morning was a continuation of odd jobs and picture taking. I had said I wanted to work on my photography this summer… I guess this was God giving me my chance in an unlikely way. Cement day required a lot of physical labor, so I got the job of reminding everyone to drink water.


The process of cement day went something like this: (1) carry buckets of sand and gravel to our site, (2) dump them into a pile,(3) dump two cement bags onto the pile, (4) create a volcano looking structure, (5) add water to the cement and mix, (6) continue adding water and mixing until the cement has the correct consistency, (7) add to the plot. This is basically what we did ALL day until our plot was full.

When there was a lull in the action, Jason, Krista, and I wandered over to the other site. Since their site was slightly smaller than ours, they were mixing the concrete directly IN their plot. Instead of going back with the other two, I opted to stay for a while and take pictures of the other group. IMG_6499.JPGTheir family had consistently been at their site and there were two little girls and a baby boy that I got to play with and talk to. One of the girls had a flat slab with dirt on it so I drew a smiley face in it. This got her excited and we continued drawing pictures until she drew a picture of a house. I pointed to where the team was cementing and she got the biggest smile her face like, “Yeah, that’s going to be MY house.”

Around lunch time the kitchen crew came to visit us, so when they went to the other site (my site!), I went with them. Rachel had brought me ice so when we got back I iced my foot for a while. I was actually able to do some work, especially with simple tasks like filling water and whenever it got to be too much I just grabbed my journal and climbed onto the roof of a neighboring house.

Being up above everything that was going on really gave me a new perspective. I could see over the community and see the other Doxa homes that other groups had built. It showed that even though this is only a one week trip helping two families, we are part of a picture mission that is helping the entire community.


During my roof-top writing session, I was ambushed by three local children– Omar, Maria, and Joe. They were adorable, but they were also trouble-makers. They thought it would be funny to start calling me “Jenna loca” or “Jenna crazy.” Once I finished playing and attempting to talk with them, I decided to try to make myself more useful.

We were getting towards the end of the day and I knew everyone was tired so I wanted to make clean-up as easy as possible. I asked Dave what we were going to do with all of the empty cement bags and he said we should see if we could burn them. I went over to the “burn pile” area with Alex and we found a flame still going that we were able to build up. Once we finished our bags, we went to the other site to grab and burn those. They were further behind us so Jerry asked if we could possibly send some help over when we were finished.

When we got back to our site, Suzie and Rachel were still helping so I headed to the other site to help them. I felt as though I fit right in and they didn’t see me as injured. We powered through two more volcanoes and get the entire foundation cemented just in time.

Back at the orphanage, it was going to be one of my three shower days, but I found out that the water was currently not working. It all worked out though because Nikki and Alex had a couple hundred baby wipes our room was able to use. By the time we felt at least slightly cleaner, it was dinner-time. Dinner was beef tacos with the orphanage. We sat with a little boy who enjoyed dabbing and calling me “poop.” His name was Diego and he kept us entertained for the entirety of the meal.

After dinner, we went upstairs to the main balcony area and waiting for chapel time to start. It was freezing cold, but luckily Dylan had a fuzzy blanket that he reluctantly shared with me. Chapel was similar to the previous evening and my word of the day was “perspective.” Being injured allowed me to gain many new perspectives, whether that was through working at the other site, seeing the bigger picture on the roof, or the various angles photography brings.

The day ended after I crushed Katie and Joe in a game of Dutch Blitz. Back in the room, we stayed up WAY too late talking and I ended up falling asleep in Katie’s bed and only switching to my own somewhere in the middle of the night.

Mexico Missions: Being Humbled

June 4th, 2017

This morning we had our first breakfast from the Kitchen Crew. They made us scrambled eggs, bacon, and fruit. It was a great way to start off what was going to be a long day. After breakfast we had our quiet time. I wanted to do my bible study because I was almost done Exodus, but I really did not want to fall behind on my journaling. Towards the end of quiet time I loaded my backpack with mine and Alex’s work gear and then we were in the vans and on our way to the site.


When we arrived it was a very humbling sight to see. It was literally a dump. There was trash all around us and other than a small concrete patio (hence us being the “patio site”) there were piles of broken wood, plastic, and concrete. Despite not really knowing what to do, we got right in there breaking things apart and clearing them. Our goal for the day was to clear and level the site as well as lay wooden 2x4s to create a frame for concrete day tomorrow. The beginning of the day was a lot of pulling, breaking, and sorting through materials we could and could not use.

While clearing we found a toilet broken down, but still full of poop. Drew picked up the toilet without hesitation and threw it to where the other trash was laying. It was impressive that he just went and did something no one else wanted to do without a second thought.

As we got closer and closer to lunch time, some of the leaders on our team began laying the wooden frame and tying rope between stakes to figure how much fill we would need to get our site level. Right around 11:30 we encountered a problem (our first of many on the trip). With where our strings currently were we would need a bunch of fill that we did not have. In order to fix the problem we would need to go deeper and break through a decent amount of concrete. Lucky for us, the other team was ahead of schedule so they sent some guys over to help us tear up our concrete.

My highlight of the work day was when everyone was gone filling up wheelbarrows and there was a random sledge-hammer lying around. I had been eying it and I guess Chris and Dave noticed because they looked at me and said, “See that concrete slab over there… go for it.” There’s about a thirty-second video of me just taking out any frustration  I could have had on the slab. It was probably one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.

On the car ride back, Alex and I had an enjoyable time holding Drew’s head down on the speed bumps so he did not go through the ceiling. I think we may have enjoyed it more than he did. When we got back to the orphanage a group went downstairs to play basketball. We decided to play 21. I was slightly intimidated playing with the guys but I actually held my own and was winning for quite a while until “the accident.”

I had been walking around with socks on and I was going to run up the five flights of stairs to grab shoes before we started playing, but I was told that I’d probably be fine, so I decided to conserve energy for the game. It was working pretty well until I jumped up to grab a rebound and came down fully on the right side of my right foot. My first instinct was to say that I was fine (clearly my pride coming out), but when I went to walk off the court I realized I was in more pain than expected. Dylan carried me upstairs and we quickly had my foot iced and propped up.

Dinner was beans, chicken tenders, fruit, and salad– a hit with the entire team. Katie grabbed me food and Drew got me a drink, but the whole not being able to do things for myself thing was very frustrating. In between dinner and chapel Nikki looked at my foot and gave me her opinion that it was just badly bruised. This helped because it is a lot easier to power through a bruise than a sprain or a break.

During chapel the groups had a chance to share parts of their day, with the focus being on where we could see God. When it god to the word of the day, I chose “humbling” as mine. Obviously the site was humbling, this family is literally living directly next to a dump and get they are so excited to just have a nice place to call their own. Even beyond that, my injured foot was humbling. When Katie offered to get me food, or Rachel offered to carry me, my initial reaction was to say no, but I had to push my pride aside and accept help.

The end of the day once again consisted of first playing cards, tonight Exploding Kittens, and then talking to the girls downstairs until we finally went to sleep.