Originally published Feb. 19, 2018.
Members of the Huntington University softball and women’s soccer teams recently traveled to Mexico for mission trips.
During their stays there, the team members helped construct a community center in an impoverished town.
The most important thing they built, though, didn’t require a single brick.
“People in the past week have said, ‘So, what’d you do down there? What’d you build?’,” says Amanda Burge, head coach of the women’s soccer team. “And my answer is, ‘We built relationships.’”
Going to Mexico was Burge’s idea. The town that both teams stayed in, La Misión, in Baja California, was a place she had visited twice the year before on mission trips. She was excited to share the experience of going there.
“God’s doing some really cool things there,” she says.
The mission trip was the first one the softball team had ever been on. And while the soccer team had been on mission trips previously, this one was the program’s first with Burge as head coach.
The first Huntington group to travel to La Misión included seven softball players; their trip ran from Jan. 6 to 13. The second contingent from the school featured 17 soccer players; their trip lasted from Jan. 13 to 20.
Burge, who went on both trips, accompanied by her husband and sons, describes La Misión as “a sleepy little town.” It is situated in a valley, not far from another town, Santa Anita, where the Huntington groups also spent time. Burge estimates the combined population of the towns to be just under 2,000 people.
While many people in La Misión have found a way to make wages, it is still an impoverished community, as is Santa Anita, notes Burge. Humanitarians interested in lending a helping hand to those people have started a number of ministries in the area. Burge admires their collaborative sprit.
“It’s really cool to see how all the ministries in the community work together to make the greatest impact and the greatest good,” she observes.
La Misión is where the Huntington groups helped build the community center, which is attached to a medical clinic.
“They’re already functional in the medical clinic,” says Burge. “It’s the community center side of it they’re still working on.”
Thanks to the efforts of the Huntington groups, the community center is on track to open this summer.
Beyond La Misión, both Huntington groups spent a day at a defunct trash dump in Tijuana. People live at the dump – “Which we lovingly called a ‘canyon’ instead of a ‘trash dump,’” comments Burge – as rummaging through its contents, selling metal and plastic, was a way for them to make money.
“It became inactive 10 years ago,” says Burge. “That’s been tough. So, everybody would think, ‘Oh, that’d be so much better!’
“Well, they just lost their source of income.”
Now, those people have to catch buses over to an active dump in Tecate.
“So, they’re doing the same thing there, not getting as good of prices for recycling and then hoping they have enough fare to get the bus back,” explains Burge.
Bailey O’Dell, a sophomore on the soccer team, was shaken when she saw how little the people at the canyon had.
“That’s the worst poverty I’ve ever seen,” she says. “I think I couldn’t even fully understand while I was there that, these people, this is their every day. They don’t get to fly back home somewhere. They live here.”
Kennedy Krull, a freshman on the softball team, purchased soccer balls before the trip and intended to hand them out to children in La Misión. Mindy Steiner, however, the co-founder of Be2Live, the organization that set up both Huntington trips, encouraged her to wait and do it at the canyon instead.
“The one time she just said, ‘Kennedy, I don’t think you realize, these kids have probably never seen a soccer ball,” relates Krull. “These kids are living in such extreme poverty that they’ve probably never seen a soccer ball … This is going to be their first soccer ball. And possibly even their only soccer ball ever.’
“That hit me like a brick wall.”
Krull is glad she waited, as the experience of handing them out is one she won’t soon forget.
“There was one little boy who, he was with a group of his friends, they just got out of school,” she shares. “When I gave it to him, he turned to them and he stuck the ball above his head and all of his friends cheered.
“It was unreal. It was awesome.”
When the soccer players visited the canyon, they helped repair missionary homes in the vicinity that had been damaged in a storm.
When the repairs were completed, the missionaries had the players pay a visit to a nearby family and brighten their day.
“At the very end of that, they had us go to the last house and they said, ‘We have somebody special inside to meet,’” recollects O’Dell.
“And there was a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy in that house and they were just so overjoyed to have us there, because they said he doesn’t get many visitors.
“He just was smiling the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life.”
In addition to the canyon, both Huntington groups traveled to a walled section of the border between Mexico and the United States. The wall was comprised of tall, triangular posts, spaced far enough apart that the other side was just visible. Members of the groups witnessed people separated by the barrier.
“If I had to only see my family through a fence and if I just couldn’t, like, even hug them … like, it brought me to tears at some points in time,” recalls O’Dell.
The visit to the wall, though, ended on a positive note, with both groups participating in an uplifting church service.
“They had us, at the end, come up to the fence and lift our hands and, like, look at heaven and just talk about how there won’t be borders or barriers like this up in Heaven,” shares O’Dell.
Looking back on the trip, Audra Klopfenstein, a senior on the softball and soccer teams, says it taught her she has a responsibility to give back to the world, having been privileged to be born in a first-world country like the U.S.
“God blesses us with so much, so much more is expected of us,” she says.
“God still wants them to glorify him,” she adds, referring to the destitute people she met on the trip. “But how much more does God expect us to use what we have?”
Burge believes mission trips every January will become a tradition.
And there’s a good chance that those trips will be to Mexico.
“I think there’s something about that place,” she muses, “that draws you back.”