Pastor Terry and Diana Pollard of United Methodist Church in Alta and Schaller, were among some 23 youth and adults who stepped onto the Spirit Lake UM church-owned bus that departed June 15 for a week-long mission trip in Reynosa, Mexico where they would be changing the lives of children and their families forever. Any mission trip is a learning experience but they were unaware of just what God had planned for them on the bus trip which would add to that learning experience.
The purpose of the trip to the Rio Grand boarder town was to help with the completion of a much needed new United Methodist-run school for some 100 students.
They were only 300 miles down the road when their first test came. Traveling down I-80, one of the dual wheels on the rear axle came off. Not good.
Everyone but the three men on the trip hiked down the exit ramp and to a convenience store while help was secured and the bus was towed into town and repaired. It was an expense they were not counting on and they were bracing themselves for the bill. But the owner handed them his business card and commented, "You are on a mission for God and I have been blessed this week with a lot of work." He told them there was no charge.
Four hours after the breakdown, the group was on the road again.
They traveled another 150 miles when they had transmission problems. The group gave up for the day and checked into a hotel while their bus was being checked over. They hadn't planned for this either; they had planned on being in Dallas, Texas for the night where they were to stay at a church. The group questioned the problems but knew there must be a reason.
It was determined that there was a small leak in the transmission and they decided to continue to keep a close eye on the transmission fluid and continue on.
They arrived at McAllen, Texas, the boarder town, 10 hours later than they had planned but they were ready to begin the work they had promised they would do - despite lack of sleep.
The group was transported over the border in vans, leaving their bus in Texas.
The work, Pastor Pollard described, "was intense."
Their job was to stucco all the walls and ceilings in the classrooms; other groups had come to volunteer their time to construct the building made of concrete, replacing the wood-frame building, and poured concrete for the floors of the rooms.
"None of us had ever done this type of work," Pastor Pollard said. "We learned on the job." He added that they were short on supplies so with money the congregations had donated they were able to purchase needed tools.
The working conditions were far from ideal - the temps were in the 100s and due to lack of a concrete truck, it was necessary to mix the concrete by hand using a power mixer and rakes and shoveling it into wheelbarrows where it was transported to the rooms that needed it.
The building was designed so that a second story can be added to it when funds become available. Tuition is $40 per month, Pastor Pollard said, and many people have a difficult time paying the cost, indicating that the school is located in a poverty-stricken area.
Several members of the group, including Diana who is a school teacher for the Schaller-Crestland School and gets excited at every chance she gets to teach, had the awesome opportunity to work with the kids who were anxiously awaiting their new school. A shortened version of Vacation Bible School was held and an exchange of vocabulary words was completed between the English speakers and Spanish speakers; each learned.
The groups worked eight-hour days. It was a relief - from the hot conditions - to get into the air conditioned retreat where they stayed. Each evening they took part in a two-hour worship service to allow them to talk about the day and share any concerns or joys.
"What really stood out to us was not only were the United Methodist (we were working with) very wonderful people but we saw how quickly you can move from the U.S. and cross the river and see the poverty," said Pastor Pollard. "We did a lot of brainstorming and debriefing and talked about immigration. We heard a lot of stories. When you see the poverty level you understand why they (the Hispanics) are doing what they're doing and what they're doing. Two miles out of the U.S. there is a cesspool of poverty."
Most of the adults on the trip had been on mission trip before but for the youth, it was an awakening period.
"The youth saw that even though these people are living in poverty, they are very thankful for what we were doing for them but also thankful for the things they have. The youth gathered as different perspective (from the stories they have heard of the Hispanics making their way into our country.) They can see these people are not bad people. They are people looking for a better life. They changed their attitudes."
After a week of hard but satisfying work, the Iowa group was treated to worship in the Reynosa church where they shared Holy Communion with some 40 church members. When completed, the Mexican members encircled the group and said a prayer for them.
"That was moving," said Pastor Pollard adding that though the prayer was in Spanish the spiritual meaning was very much understood. "We are all ultimately brothers and sisters."
Pastor Pollard formed a solid relationship with the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reynosa. Pollard has been invited back to see the school in full working order and he expects he will take him up on that.
When the Iowa group left, the windows and the doors were ready to be put in place.
"It was very satisfying. We put in 500-600 man hours - something that would have taken their two full-time people months to do."
Thanks to their help, it is expected the school will be in use by September.
After a long, hot week, the adults decided to treat the youth to a short trip to Padre Island after they got back to their bus. They loaded up prepared for the trip home. The bus did not make it out of the lot when more problems occurred - major ones.
Once again, the group was stranded while repairs were made.
They were finally able to leave at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 21; they had expected to be home by midnight before the problems arose. Pastor Terry had planned on preaching at his two congregations Sunday morning so had to quick cover for those services. the group finally arrived home at 2 a.m. Monday, after another night's stay in a Waco, Texas church.
Pastor Pollard laughs about the problems now.
"We had a lot of blessings even in those problems," he said adding after the first problem they wondered if they should even be going "but when we saw the work, we did, we knew it was meant to be."