We got up early on Friday morning with plenty of time to get to the DFW airport for the 7am flight down to El Paso.
Although many people believe my part of Dallas (Oak Cliff) is unsafe, I didn’t sense any danger — I almost never do. The comfortable car quickly warmed, and I felt a sense of excitement for the journey ahead as we picked up my friend, Chris.
Got your passport? Check.
After the quick flight, the full team of nineteen men was assembled for our weekend mission: cross the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, build three simple, cinder-block homes in two days with the help of local maestros (masons), then cross back to return home to Dallas by Sunday evening.
We did what we expected to do.
What I didn’t expect was learning a really, really important life lesson along the way.
As we dedicated each home, words were shared about how we hoped these would be safe places for the families. One grandmother spoke up about how she had been living in an unsafe, drafty plywood and tin shack, and how she had prayed for a better home. Then she shared about other hardships in her life, specifically a foot condition. She wasn’t asking for pity or money, but was simply stating the facts. She considered the new house to be a huge blessing in the middle of a really hard life.
Our group of volunteers spontaneously began to take up a collection, and within 90 seconds, $400 was in hand to give to her.
The average worker at a Juarez factory makes $1.60 a day. That’s twice what it was in December, when the minimum wage was doubled by the new Mexican President.
We placed a year’s salary in her hands.
The gift really didn’t make a dent in the lifestyles of the men who gave it, but it surely made a difference to the grandmother.
As we walked away, I said to my friend David, “That was amazing. I can’t believe the generosity of our team.”
David said, “Yes, but money isn’t the greatest asset we hold. It’s our passports. Freedom is the greatest gift.”
Up to that moment, I had totally taken for granted that I could come and go as I pleased in Dallas with relatively little fear, even coming down to Mexico to serve, knowing that I could always go back. I have options.
But those that we served in Juarez have very few options to better their lives.
It’s been called the most dangerous place in the world, with nearly 200 murders a month in 2018. There’s economic desperation and little money for medical care.
And yet, I couldn’t help but see that most people seemed happy, at least on the outside. There were lots of laughing children and joking on the job site with the locals. Kindness was everywhere. Only when we paused to dedicate the homes did we start to hear about the real struggles.
Perhaps the new house and money can allow the grandmother to experience a little more freedom — freedom from fear of robbers, freedom from anxiety about health.
In his last speech called “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — ‘We want to be free.’”
To live with freedom in your heart, in your community, and in your country — to be able to provide for your family — to dwell in peace and safety — to be free to love and receive love — such is the desire of every soul. And that has always, always been the vision of the prophets and the ultimate goal of Christ’s mission, a new heaven and a new earth, grounded in true freedom.
The truth is that I take my freedom for granted. Perhaps you do as well.
How will I use the freedom I have been given?
Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
So I’m trying to open my eyes on this side of the border.
Where are people not free? Where do shackles still weigh down the steps of the oppressed? How can I help to bring freedom to others?
I can choose. I can live with an open hand and a grateful heart. I can listen to the aggrieved and follow their lead. I can lend my voice to those who have no voice.
I believe we can all be free.