From Twist Ties to Door Knobs
In my house, a pile of twist ties lay dormant in the dark corners of a junk drawer. These colorful ties hardly received a second glance until needed for keeping bagels fresh or trash intact. In a house many miles away, a beautiful woman, wife, and mother cared for her family. When God allowed our paths to cross, we discovered together the value of simple things like twisting ties and telling childhood stories.
On a sunny morning in San Diego, California, mission teams from Virginia and Idaho met at the famous In-N-Out Burger for a Double Double Burger and an order of Animal Fries. After lunch, Asher, our trip leader, gathered the two teams in the parking lot for introductions and travel instructions. Asher who lives in San Diego, volunteers in Mexico with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), an international and interdenominational organization dedicated to serving Jesus. On the streets of Mexico, Asher met his wife and his Savior. Over the past forty years, he has worked in various roles within the YWAM organization. He currently leads mission teams in Mexico to build houses during the day and participate in outreach events at night.
In the parking lot, two mission teams, easily identifiable by their shirts took up four parking spaces. The Idaho team wore matching purple shirts, and our Virginia team wore shirts without a color scheme. Although we were referred to as the Virginia Mission Team, volunteers from both Virginia and North Carolina, along with one brave Texan, and a dear couple from Hawaii made up our team. After Asher offered a few last-minute instructions and a prayer of blessing for the week, everyone packed into their designated vans for the seven-hour journey to Vicente Guerrero in Baja California, Mexico.
In my van, I sat in the front seat beside Ana from Hawaii who sat beside Laura from North Carolina. During the ride, we chatted about life. As we approached the international border, our lips closed, and our eyes widened. We watched as border control agents stopped some cars for further inspection and waved other cars through. The two Virginia vans crossed the border with a wave.
Crossing the border into Mexico evoked a mixture of emotions. As I felt relief, my seat mate Ana cried tears of joy. Although Ana lived in Hawaii, she had grown up in Mexico. She had not been in her home country for nearly five years. Ana’s tears sparked a discussion about her birthplace. She explained about her four Mexican names. She had a first and middle name followed by two last names. Since she was married, the word de, translated of in English, preceded her husband’s last name, indicating that she was of the McKnight family. Ana continued sharing about the people she loved and the place she called home. She recalled joyful stories and prepared our hearts for the coming week of building a house and building relationships with the kind people of Mexico.
Throughout the afternoon, we traveled down the Baja Peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. We drove through large cities like Tijuana and Encanta and rode past vast wineries and lush berry crops. As we peered out the van’s windows, we saw brown landscapes change from bumpy mountains to sweeping deserts filled with cacti. In the evening, we arrived at the YWAM mission base and set our suitcases down in our assigned rooms. Once all the luggage was unloaded, we headed to the famous Papa Reuben’s Restaurant for chicken and beef tacos and cheese quesadillas. Tacos had never tasted so great.
On Monday morning, several mission participants from the Virginia team stayed at the YWAM base to repair a roof while the rest of our team headed off to the build site. At the mission base, we slept and ate with the Idaho group, but the teams served at different sites during the day. Our group rode in the same two vans we had ridden in the day before; however, this time we followed the YWAM leader named Patrick whose white truck led us through dusty neighborhoods, down streets without road names, and past houses without numbers. On the mountaintop, we arrived at the home of Felipe and Angelica Ramos Bautista. On the right side of the property stood the family’s current home. On the left side of the property, we saw the beginnings of their future home with piles of lumber lying on top of a concrete slab.
We began the day greeting the family by sharing our names and shaking the hands of Felipe, Angelica, Diego (10), and Angel (8). Rev. Lee Thomas prayed a blessing over the day and had us repeat the week’s theme verse from Psalm 127:1a; "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who built it labor in vain."
Shortly after the prayer, our mission team and the family worked side-by-side organizing piles of lumber, building exterior walls, and painting plywood siding. As we worked, Ana kept us connected with language. She translated our English questions to the family members and helped us understand their Spanish responses. As the mission team built a 20' x 22' house, Ana helped us build relationships through the gifts of language, love, and faithfulness.
On the first day, everyone had a building task ranging from assembling exterior walls to painting plywood siding. While measuring and sawing, older and younger team members cut wood and learned about each other’s stories. Along the backside of the property, team members and family members painted and spoke in various languages. While painting, Ana overheard Angelica teaching Bible stories to her sons. Using a paintbrush and a piece of lumber rather than a Bible or felt board, she illustrated the story of Noah’s ark to Diego and Angel. She encouraged the boys to build their house for God’s glory, just as Noah in the story built his ark to fulfill God’s commands and for His glory. On the mountaintop, Angelica passed down stories of faith to the next generation. In doing so, she taught us all an important lesson. Too often, we reserve God’s love story for morning devotions, Sunday worship services, or evening prayers. Angelica reminded us to live out God’s love story in the stories of our lives.
Around midmorning, I poured grey paint from a five-gallon bucket into a tray. As I stood up, I glanced toward Angelica’s home, a home built with cardboard, plastic, and wood. One of her sons had asked his mom for something inside the house. I noticed Angelica open her front door not by turning a door knob, but by untwisting twine. As she had surely done a thousand times before, she quickly unwrapped the long, black twine from a nail located on an adjacent wood frame. The door opened and she disappeared inside. After a few minutes, she reappeared with the requested item for the boys. Later that morning, Angelica invited us inside her home for a tour. Clothes hung on the nails along the walls and children’s shoes lain scattered about on the dirt floors.
After the tour, my mind drifted back to our home in Virginia, built on a hill with many door knobs and dormant twist ties. In that moment, I paused and lifted a silent prayer of confession to God for a lifetime of wasteful complaints. Refreshed by mercy, I felt hopeful toward spending more time in gratitude for simple things like door knobs and spending time with beautiful people like Angelica.
Around noon, we took a break for lunch. The team circled around the skill saw table for prayer and distribution of sandwiches, apples, and an Oreo cookie or two. After lunch, people returned to building walls and painting siding, while a few team members took Angelica shopping for a kitchen countertop. At the third and final store, Angelica found the perfect grey and white countertop for her new kitchen. Later that day, it was delivered to the house. The following morning, Felipe told Ana with a smile that Angelica had hugged the countertop the night before more than she had hugged him. Over the next three days, we continued building, laughing, shopping, praying, eating, telling stories, and taking pictures.
Throughout the week, many of us took pictures at the house. Some of my favorite pictures captured two people serving together. One showed an older gentleman helping a teenager use a skill saw. Often, I asked the volunteers to pause from their work, lift their eyes toward the camera, and smile. After the picture, they returned to the task at hand.
On the last day, Angelica asked Ana for some of the pictures we had taken. She indicated that people had lost digital pictures when they purchased new phones and noted that printed pictures lasted longer than digital ones. She knew a store in walking distance of her boys’ school that printed pictures. We asked if we could walk with her to the store so she could choose the pictures she wanted as prints. Angelica agreed with excitement and led a small group of us to the store.
Once we arrived, Angelica looked through hundreds of photos on our phones. As she scanned through the photos, she selected thirty-six pictures for printing. Before leaving the store, we looked through the printed photographs, and to my surprise, Angelica had selected some of my favorite snapshots. Many of the pictures included her family and team members serving together who paused from their work to smile at the camera.
On the half-mile walk home, Angelica pointed out the boys’ school, a grocery store, and her new home on the mountaintop. While we walked, I asked Ana if Angelica would tell us a story from her childhood. Angelica declined because she said the stories from her childhood would make us sad.
Then I asked if she might tell us a story from her boys' childhood. Angelica's face lit up, and she began telling Ana a story about Diego. She said, "Diego was my first child. Being a new mother, I carried him all the time. One day, my mother told me to put him down and let him work out his problems alone. The next day, while Diego was sitting by himself on the ground, ants started crawling on his legs. Oh, I wanted to rescue him but resisted and watched what he would do next. Diego saw the ants and began picking them up with his fingers. The ants started biting him. He made a sad face and then curled his little lips up to exclaim, ‘Oweh! Oweh! Oweh!’” She laughed, and we laughed with her.
After telling Diego's childhood story, she told a story about her youngest son, Angel. She said, "One day Felipe and Angel went outside. Felipe placed Angel on the ground and began digging a hole. Felipe placed the extra dirt in a pile next to his youngest son. Angel wanted to help his dad, so he cupped his hands and scooped up the dirt. Then he leaned over the hole and started filling it back up with dirt." She smiled, and we smiled with her.
The childhood stories led us all the way home. As we walked toward the house, we noticed it was lunch time with folks eating near the saw table and others eating at a new dining room table. Angelica covered her mouth with her hands as she looked around, shocked with joy at the furnishings in the back yard. Rhonda, a team leader, invited her to sit down and enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at her new table. Angelica sat down in a chair, took the sandwich from Rhonda and tried to eat amidst all the excitement. The Virginia Mission Team enjoyed not only building a house but also filling it with furnishings too.
Throughout the afternoon, everyone felt the excitement brewing in the air as the mission team finished decorating inside the new home and Angelica and her two friends cooked a celebratory meal inside her home. Around six o’clock, the cooks invited everyone to dinner. People ate in every nook and cranny of the home. Some people ate at the six-foot folding table set up in the middle of the room, other people ate on the beds, and still others ate standing up along the walls. We enjoyed a love feast of beans, rice, and chicken prepared by three beautiful ladies who served the meal with great honor.
After dinner, everyone went outside and formed a circle between the two homes for a dedication service. The mission team and family exchanged words of encouragement and gratitude with one another. Then the family stepped inside the circle, and we came closer to them. We laid our hands upon their shoulders and prayed a blessing for the family and their new home.
Once all the words were prayed and eyes were open, Angelica and Felipe along with their two sons, walked toward the front door and received keys to their new home. Felipe let Angelica have the honors, and perhaps for the first time in her life, Angelica opened her front door by turning a key rather than untwisting a twine. She grasped the door knob with her hand and slowly opened the door. Speechless, She and the family stepped inside. They looked around with awe. They saw a black couch in the corner of their new living room and a table near the kitchen with the newly installed countertop. They saw windows draped with curtains, blankets and pillows on beds, and a pantry full of food and supplies. Outside of the home, minutes seemed like hours as everyone waited for the family to experience the inside of their house for the first time. Finally we received permission to go inside. Mission team members, friends, and neighbors rushed into the house, filling every nook and cranny with chaotic joy.
Most of the Baja Mission Team, if not all, would say their favorite part of the trip occurred when the family saw inside their home for the first time. This was my favorite moment as well; however, my favorite person from the week was Angelica. I am grateful God allowed our paths to cross. Her generous spirit and humble heart led me to see the world from a different perspective. She invited us into her home and trusted us with her story. And for this, our lives will never be the
2022 Baja Mission Team Photos