Five churches building hope together

August 06, 2013

From Saturday, July 27, to August 3, a 59-person team made up of members of five churches, Willow Glen, Cambrian Park, Almaden Hills, Sunnyhills, New Creation, and the Joint Youth Ministry, loaded into vans for an eight day mission trip to Mexico.  During the week, they camped outside Tijuana with Amor Ministries and spent four days building two houses from the ground up.  The trip has been the dream of Pastor Susan Smith for many years.  When she began working with children and families at Willow Glen UMC in 2000, she wanted to offer families an opportunity to serve in mission together.  Having led intergenerational Amor trips while on staff at Los Altos UMC, she had seen the power of families working together and witnessing poverty first-hand.  "I knew there were families at Willow Glen who were called to this kind of work with their families, but we had to wait until the time was right," said Smith.

Four years ago, all of the spring breaks in the area lined up and Smith proposed to Lisa Jacobs, the director of the Joint Youth Ministry, they should take a group from their churches on the trip with Los Altos UMC. They joined with the Los Altos team for a trip in April 2009 and have not looked back.  Smith said, "since then, we have been planning our own trip - taking the experience of Los Altos' many years of making this trip and making it our own."   

In the summer of 2011, 42 people from Willow Glen, Almaden Hills and Cambrian Park churches and the Joint Youth Ministry made the trip, and this summer, the trip has expanded to include other churches who expressed interest.  "Los Altos UMC continues to support our trip by lending us a lot of their camping equipment and tools for which we are grateful.  However, we are also building our own set of supplies over time, too.  We base much of our trip paperwork and itinerary on Los Altos' experience over the last fifteen or so years, but we have also had a good time building on their model to make it our own," said Smith.  

For example, two years ago, the planning team decided to lessen the amount of garbage created in camp by purchasing reusable plates for meals and asking people to bring a reusable lunch bag for lunch.  They set up dishwashing stations after breakfast and dinner and team members wash their own plates and silverware.  They also pack their reusable lunch bags each morning and load them into a group cooler before going to the work site.  "It requires a little more effort to wash own our dishes but it is shared evenly across the group, and makes a huge difference in the amount of waste we leave behind in Mexico.  It's great to see folks who have been on the trip get inspired to serve as leaders and put their mark on the way we operate as a mission team," said Smith.

After the 2011 team returned from Mexico, they determined they wanted to be in hands-on service, making a difference in their communities more consistently in the interim years before the next Mexico trip and the Building Hope mission team was born.  Members of three churches, Willow Glen, Almaden Hills, and Cambrian Park, along with the Joint Youth Ministry have been working together since that time to offer service opportunities for all members of their congregations on a regular basis.  

They have sponsored Change the World days two to three times a year, participating in a variety of service projects in their area and in their churches.  They have also brought The Open Table movement to San Jose and have trained over 30 people to serve on tables, or relational groups, that will work with individuals for a year at a time to help them make the life changes necessary to bring them out poverty.

"People go on the Mexico mission trip and their lives are changed.  Children and families return with a new world and economic view which gives them a very real way to discuss the realities of poverty and their own call to help others.  Individuals are touched by the people they meet and the work they are able to do to help others, and they each find their own way to answer God's call to serve.  It's amazing to see how uniquely each person is changed by their experience and how that opens them up to the opportunities they have to respond to God's call.  I am pleased that as a three-church (and now five-church) group we can continue to support and encourage our members into ongoing mission in our communities and as leaders in their churches.  The Building Hope team has been a great addition to the outreach movement at Willow Glen UMC.  I can't wait to see what is born out of our experience in Mexico this time around," added Smith.