VBS at Templo Monte Calvario

During our week in Piedras Negras each evening we helped with Vacation Bible School at Templo Monte Calvario (Mount Calvary Church), a small Methodist church in a working class neighborhood.

Ramiro narrating with Jerry as Moses
Ramiro narrating with Jerry as Moses
This summer they are doing a Biblical Marathon to give the children a complete overview of the Bible from Creation to the Resurrection. Each mission trip team that comes through Hands and Feet Ministries helps with a week. Ramiro Yanez does an amazing job leading the songs and telling the stories. During our week he told them the stories of Joseph and Moses with an enthusiasm that had everyone there, even the often elusive tweens, engaged and participating. The children all sang and danced, and called out the answers to his questions with excitement. It was obvious the children were not only learning a lot but having tons of fun.
Cristo es mi Superheroe
Deanna, Hallie and I during one of the songs

Because of the way Templo Monte Calvario is located right in a residential neighborhood the children can walk from their homes to VBS. Some of the children’s families are members or regular attenders of the church, but many are making their own decision to spend their evenings at the church and are walking several blocks by themselves to attend. It was neat to see children waiting outside the gate to the church when we arrived. Over 40 kids took part each night we were there.
Moses puppet craft
The Moses puppets were a hit

Our team from Mountain Lake participated by joining the Hands and Feet interns in leading the songs, acting out the Bible stories as Ramiro narrated, helping with the crafts and handing out snacks. Part of the money we raised for our trip went to buying all the supplies needed for the week we were there. It cost between $100 and $150 US for a week’s supplies. This summer there are several weeks without teams coming and financial help is needed so that the Hands and Feet interns and staff members can keep the Biblical Marathon going. Even if it’s not possible for you to go on a mission trip, you can be a big part of helping children come to know Christ by helping a fund a week, or part of a week of VBS for the children of Templo Monte Calvario.
craft time
Craft Time

If you didn’t get a chance to buy one of my Light in Darkness prints to help me raise the money to go to Piedras Negras you can buy one now and all the proceeds will go to Hands and Feet Ministries work in Piedras Negras and Nava. Or you can donate directly to Hands and Feet. If you use their PayPal be sure to click on “Add special instructions to the seller” and let them know it is for VBS in Piedras Negras.

And of course even if you cannot give right now please pray for Pastor Julian, his wife Betty, the Hands and Feet team, and all the children whose lives they are touching.

More about Templo Monte Calvario and a message from Pastor Julian

Drawing as ministry

The main focus of our team’s week in Mexico was the Health and Beauty Clinic we held near the Escuela de Nogal in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood of Nava. Hands and Feet Ministries has built relationships with many families in this neighborhood through the school. Several times a year they reach out to the community through various events. A small kindergarten building and playground near the school that has recently been donated to Hands and Feet was the perfect place to hold the clinic.

beautyclinicMonday we divided into groups and walked around the neighborhood giving out fliers and inviting everyone to come for free manicures, pedicures and haircuts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We did some basic set up on Monday and discussed who would be filling what role in the clinic. Since my Spanish is pretty good I was asked if I wanted to be the one to share the Gospel with the ladies who were waiting their turn for beauty treatments. I said I would. I tend to be more outgoing in Spanish than I do in English. I find it easier to start a conversation with a stranger in Spanish in a foreign country than in English with the people who live in my own neighborhood. (I think it has to do with having the excuse of not being a native speaker and being expected to make mistakes that somehow takes the pressure off.) But when Ramiro suggested I make a circle of 7 or 8 chairs to sit and have my “platicas” with the ladies I got pretty nervous. He also reccomended that I have a page with applicable Bible verses to hand out. I liked that idea and when we got back to the hotel Deanna and I spent some time looking up verses on beauty and God’s love for us that might offer encouragement to the ladies attending the clinic. We decided on 1 Peter 3:3-4, which seemed the perfect choice to remind the women that though it is nice to feel pretty on the outside God sees and values the beauty we have on the inside.

PN_drawing2The message I wanted to most communicate to each person that came to the clinic was that God made them and God loves them, and I wanted to do so in a personal way. By washing their feet, painting their nails and cutting their hair we were helping to take care of their outside appearance, but I did not want anyone to think it was because we found them lacking. Instead I wanted to be sure that they left feeling loved and accepted by us and by God. To help make the personal connection, and also to help with my nervousness, I decided to combine my love of drawing faces with God’s message of love and acceptance. I used my trusty Sharpies to draw a picture of a hand holding a small mirror surrounded by my signature swirls. Leaving enough space to write a name at the top I wrote “eres hija de Dios, una creación admirable,” which translates to, “you are a child of God, a wonderful creation,” and then smaller added 1 Peter 3:3-4 at the bottom. We made plenty of copies that I took with me, ready to be personalized.

Over the next 3 days I drew portraits of over 40 women, children and even a few young men. As they waited their turn for the other stations they sat still in front of me as I drew their face in the mirror and then wrote their name across the top of the paper. Drawing someone’s portrait is a very intimate experience. You have to look closely at them, really see who they are. For some of the women looking me in the eyes was almost impossible, and one of the young men absolutely would not meet my gaze, but the children loved it. They unflinchingly looked right into my eyes and smiled at me, realizing that I was really looking at them, seeing them, and that I appreciated what I saw. When I finished each portrait and made sure I had their name spelled correctly I read to them what it said and told them it was true. The experience of carefully studying each of their faces, looking into their eyes and then being able to tell them with certainty that they indeed are the children of God, beautiful and wonderfully made was amazing. I would even go so far as to say it felt holy. I felt like I was making a connection, that they believed me, and that most of them would keep the paper with their portrait and the reminder that not only did I see them, but God continues to see them, accept them and love them.


Our week in Coahuila has given me so much to think about. I am still trying to process it all, but I think the power of eye contact and the human desire to be seen have been what I have pondered the most. I think all of us want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated. We think that this desire can be met by other people. As the drawing went well and I got positive feedback from the people of Nava as well as the people I was serving with I was pleased, but also wary. I was reminded of Galatians 1:10 and that while being seen and appreciated by other people is nice, it is to our Lord God in Heaven that we should be looking for approval. It is from Him that we should seek and find acceptance reassurance, and love. It is Him that really sees us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Mexico on the Skin

La Bandera de Mexico
Mexican flag above Piedra Negra's market
Our mission team flew into San Antonio on Saturday afternoon and then drove about 2 hours to the border town of Eagle Pass. It was a surprise to see a typical American strip after an hour of seeing nothing but scrubby bushes and cactus. It was getting dark by the time we crossed the bridge across the Rio Grande and into Mexico. The bridge was long but the river itself was much narrower than I had imagined it. When Mike pushed the button (a large version of what we pressed to go through “Aduanas” in the airport in Cancun) and we got the green light I started feeling the familiarity of the country I used to call home. It was a short drive through the dark streets of Piedras Negras to the Plaza Hotel, but by the time we arrived the song “México en la Piel” and its chorus of “Asi se siente México” (this is how Mexico feels) was repeating through my head.

I set out on this trip expecting to find the north of Mexico extremely different from the south. Piedras Negras and Cancun are 1736 miles apart, one as dry as the other is humid, but the sense of being in Mexico is the same. The food, the people and the architecture have more in common than I had imagined. From the Caribbean shore to the Bolsón de Mapimí desert there really is a certain feeling that is Mexico.

(Lyrics with translation in English)

Even now, back home with my very own Mexicanos, my eyes feel a bit damp when I listen to this song. I really do love Mexico. And I just want to let anyone who may read this know: there was not any moment that I was in Piedras Negras when I felt unsafe. We walked through a public park after dark, and went door to door in Nava inviting people to our Health and Beauty Clinic. (The only time I left even a little bit nervous was when a dog in in Nava didn’t want to stop barking at us. I crossed to the other side of the street to give him some space and we were both fine.) I know there are parts of Mexico where we gringos should not go. The area around Juarez is still not be a place I would like to visit, but I not only want to visit Piedras Negras again, but I would like to take my children with me next time.

The School in Nava

La Escuela de Nogal
Escuela de Nogal in Nava
The majority of our week’s work was not actually in Piedras Negras, but 30 miles away in the neighboring town of Nava. Hands and Feet Ministries has inherited and is running a primary school in the neighborhood of Lázaro Cárdenas. This private Christian school serves children in grades 1 through 5 in this low income neighborhood. Not only are the children taught reading, writing and arithmetic but by attending school the children are given the structure that is missing from so many of their lives.
La Escuela de Nogal
Escuela de Nogal in Nava

Unlike most private schools this school is completely free for the children who wish to attend. Not only the tuition, but uniforms, books, and 2 meals a day are offered to the children at no cost to them. When the school lost its funding a few years ago the teachers and staff tried to keep the school open themselves. Hands and Feet Ministries is now running the school but there is so much more they would like to do as funding is available. If you are interested in making a commitment to really making a difference in a child’s life I don’t think you could make a better choice than sponsoring a child that attends this school. Donation Info
Block layers
Our Albañiles: Hallie, Lety, Julio, Diego, Andrew, Deanna and Mike

The construction part of our week was helping to build a new cafeteria and pavilion for the school. Lunch is currently prepared and served in a room that is needed as a classroom. I did not personally lay any block, but several members of our team did. I enjoyed seeing how much progress our “albañiles” made over the course of the week.

Hands and Feet have put together the following video to share more about the work they are doing at the school.

Sunday at Templo Aleluya

The road to Templo Aleluya
The road to Templo Aleluya
Our first morning in Piedras Negras we got up and went to church at Templo Aleluya. The church is not far from where we were staying in the Centro of Piedras Negras, but it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere because of the desert landscape and the unpaved roads we traveled to reach it. When we arrived we found a vibrant congregation already praising God through song.
Praising Templo Aleluya

Praising Templo Aleluya
Worshipping at Templo Aleluya
A troupe of preteen girls in white dresses and blue sashes danced with tambourines as the pastor’s wife and daughter led us in song. After a time of prayer members of the congregation were invited to come forward and share testimonies, needs and praises. It was very moving.

The sermon was preached by a guest preacher, Pastor Eddie. He spoke clearly and paused often enough that I was able to translate what he was saying in a whisper to my team members around me. He stressed that though Christ’s sacrifice was for us all, and His free gift of salvation is open to every single person that it is only those who accept it who are called the children of God. It is difficult to explain how the Gospel message is both inclusive and exclusive at the same time but I think he did a marvelous job. Pastor Eddie also reminded us that we are not required to clean ourselves up before coming to Christ, that He accepts us just as we are, and then through His Holy Spirit the changes we need to make in our lives become possible. It was a great message to start our week with.

After the service was over we toured the grounds of Templo Aleluya. Adjoining the sanctuary is a kitchen and dining area where free hot meals are offered to the community. Over 60 children and mothers have lunch and devotions each week day. Previous groups (55including ones from Mountain Lake) have built what will soon be a school, and a carpentry workshop.

Templo Aleluya
Templo Aleluya
The carpentry workshop is run by Assistant Pastor Flavio Hernadez, who also lives on the property with his wife and daughter. Flavio is a master craftsman, an artist really, who creates beautiful wooden crosses that are sold in San Antonio and on the internet to help raise the money needed for the feeding program and other outreach projects. As the ministry grows Flavio is training people in the community to help him with the process.

I had the honor of being able to spend some time talking with Flavio about the creation process. As fellow artists we seemed to make an almost instant connection. We talked about creating something we think is our own design as opposed to starting with prayer and meditation and asking for the Holy Spirit to inspire a piece and then work through our hands to bring it to fruition.

Templo Aleluya
Flavio Hernandez in the Aleluya workshop
The designs of Flavio’s crosses are full of symbolism and meaning and I truly believe they are inspired work. I would have loved to bring home one of each. I ended up choosing “Solace” because of it’s beauty, symbolism and the captivating way it balances itself. Anyone familiar with my artwork will not be surprised that I chose a cross with a bird on it.

My team members and I gave up a week of our summer to serve God and others. The interns we met while we were there gave up their entire summer. Flavio and his wife, Sister Mari, have devoted their entire lives to serving the Kingdom. They have left the world and gone to live at their church and devote all their time and energy to serving. It was a blessing to be able to meet them and see the work they are doing for the Kingdom.

Solace - the cross I brought home

To see more examples of Flavio’s crosses and order one for yourself or to give as a very meaningful gift you can visit aleluyaministries.blogspot.com. They also have a facebook page where there are lots of pictures of the the church, people and buildings that make up Templo Aleluya.