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Putting their faith to work

Newhall church members build home for family in Mexico

Posted: May 31, 2008 1:39 a.m.
Updated: August 1, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Two members of Men at Work construct a home during their recent trip to Tijuana.

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It has been more than a month since Jeffrey Gilbert and the members of his men's group at First Presbyterian Church of Newhall have returned from building a home in Tijuana for a poor family, but Gilbert still can't find the words to describe his experience.

"Fun isn't quite the right word," the Canyon Country resident said. "But I can't think of the correct word. It felt right and good doing it."

Gilbert's inspirational trip was part of the Newhall church's regular visits to the Mexican city with Amor Ministries, an nonprofit ministry that builds homes throughout Mexico.

While previous years brought entire First Presbyterian families together to build homes, April's trip was just for the men's group, named Men at Work, as a way to reinstitute the annual men's trip, according to Art Moore, a longtime member who took part in the experience.

The idea for the trip was spearheaded by a men's group at Santa Clarita Presbyterian Church. However, when the church closed in the 90s, Moore, a Sand Canyon resident, said members arrived at First Presbyterian, bringing their annual Tijuana trip with them.

During the recent mission, Moore said the nine men, who range in careers from teacher to mechanical engineer and dentist, spent around three days turning a cement slab with four walls into a home for a big family.

During the long weekend, Moore said the home was built through manual labor and with minimal use of power tools and modern construction equipment.

While the interiors of the homes are not typically furnished, Moore said the home is now a water and earthquake proof habitat.

"It is a cut above what they would have before," he said.

The appreciation
While in Tijuana, the team was able to connect with the family who would soon call their construction project home.

The clan was a mix between generations, as Moore said a grandmother, her daughter and two young children, along with other family members and neighbors, offered their appreciation.

"They were very receptive," he said. "They are grateful people."

Men at Work member Jack Irwin of Valencia agreed.

"The question they ask is, ‘Why did Americans come down here and do this?'"

While Irwin said there is a language barrier for the Men at Work members who do not speak Spanish, the people are visibly appreciative of the help.

"They are really warm," he said. "They just figure it's a blessing from God."

The passion to return
Regardless of the work Men at Work did in April and, even the previous years, the drive to return always remains.

"It's a very rewarding experience," said Irwin, who has been on the mission around 15 times. "You feel like you've helped somebody improve their living conditions."

Moore said the project is even more important because the families are not as fortunate as Americans.

"We learn to feel more grateful for what we have," he said.

Gilbert, who took part in the mission for the first time, is focused on returning again, maybe even with his junior high students one day.

As a music teacher at Rio Vista Junior High, Gilbert believes the experience could be give a new perspective for young teens.

"Whatever religious background they have aside, they get this sense of accomplishment," he said. "Hopefully they would see that not everything is all rosy."

Not just Tijuana
But taking part in a mission project is not just for one of Presbyterian's teams. The youth group also got a chance to roll up their sleeves and help out when they travelled to Jonesville, Virginia to construct a home.

By pairing up with Appalachian Service Project, a nonprofit that helps families in need, the six local high school students and two adult chaperones spent five days of April getting their hands dirty.

"The kids receive an eye-opener," said Sarah Bolin, children's ministry director at the church, of the trip and its goals.

Plus, the kids see that people "next door to us" are in need. Bolin said a lot of the families that were helped by the church and nonprofit make maybe $1,000 a month.

"That's what most parents of these kids make in a week," Bolin said of the youth group members.

A global connection
Regardless of the type of charity work, Moore believes missions are a way for church goers to "put our faith to work."

"It's a solid, tangible experience," he said.

The Rev. Bill Barnes of First Presbyterian Church of Newhall said that while the mass media offers constant attention to different parts of the world, a hands-on experience like a mission provides a different perspective.

"I believe that you'll really feel connected to the globe," he said.

As disciples of Christ, Barnes believes it is important to love the world as much as God while also being exposed to different environments.

"It's very important that Christians interact with people different than themselves," he said. "And that includes different beliefs."

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