The next morning, Saturday, April 14, we ate our final breakfast prepared by Lucy and Ajelet, delicious as always. It consisted of two or three small, meat-filled burritos. When questioned as to what type of burritos they were, Ajelet smiled and shrugged, answering in Spanish, “Mexican burritos”. OK.
After breakfast, Genie conducted a wrap-up team meeting. With the exception of Kathy, who was picked up by her brother who lives in Mexico, the team left the seminary in the van around 9:30. This time, the team crossed the border in the town of Tecate, (the crossing into Mexico had occurred at Otay Mesa, located a few miles east of Tijuana.) The route back to San Diego passed through a rugged mountainous region and for a time, it seemed the team was still in Mexico. But someone pointed out a large, building of modern design, cantilevered over a hill, commenting that here was clear evidence the team was back in the US; as the van drove by it became apparent this building housed a casino. Due to the remarkably short line at the border crossing in Tecate, the team reached San Diego early on this beautiful, sunny day. And so our mission ended. We were homeward bound but forever changed by our wonderful, multi-layered experience at Rancho Milagro.
The chicken coop was an ambitious project and although the roof was not installed and some work remains to be done, the mission team and FUMCB as a whole can be proud of this achievement. The chicken coop and enclosed yard can provide immediate protection to Rancho Milagro’s chickens from ground-based predation. A neat stack of corrugated metal roofing panels lies nearby. The FUMCB team left funds and made arrangements for carpenters to be at Rancho Milagro next weekend to install the roof, a wheel chair accessible ramp and extra wiring. Gretchen taught two of the older children how to construct nesting boxes. As Rancho Milagro’s population of laying hens increases, the children will be able to add to the original four nesting boxes that were installed. The care, maintenance, repair and expansion of the chicken coop will continue as long as it is in use.
As is true for any mission, the criteria for success of this project at Rancho Milagro are determined not by absolute completion according to our American standards, but by the strength of the relationships that were built and expanded. Cesar is unequivocally thankful for the work the FUMCB team has accomplished. As he told the mission team when everyone was seated around the campfire on Friday night, the chicken coop will be completed; we must trust him on that point - even if it is not done exactly the way that we [Americans] would do it.
A heartfelt thank you again to everyone who contributed to Mission Rancho Milagro 2, including the prayer buddies and everyone who donated funds and prayed for the mission’s success.
Tandy Hennings has been doing an excellent job of reporting on mission trip happenings. Today, she and every other able bodied person available helped to reach their goal: a completed chicken coop. Everyone worked until 8 pm when they finally had to stop short of their goal. A campfire and hot dogs with the kids ended the day, so there was no time for Tandy to write up all the events of the day.
Stay tuned though, for photos and stories to complete the trip (and be sure to be in worship on April 29th to hear the mission trip report!)
Some weather blew into the area during the night and this morning, for the first time since the FUMCB team arrived, there were scattered, dark clouds, a stronger breeze and cooler temperatures in the low 60s, though the sun still peeked through in places.
Breakfast was delicious as always. This day, Lucy and Ajelet had prepared a hearty meatball and vegetable soup for our breakfast, accompanied by rice, tortillas and again, sliced fresh melons and limes. The soup was delicious and also contained slices of carrots, onions and jícama. It seemed odd to the team members to eat such a breakfast, but hey, what rule states that meatball soup is forbidden for breakfast? Clara started to look up the word for meatballs in her Spanish-English pocket dictionary but Tandy quickly intervened with the answer: “albóndigas”. Tandy still recalled learning this word in her seventh grade Spanish class; the second dialogue lesson had been all about eating albóndigas.
Tandy asked Lucy and Ajelet about some vocabulary words for limes and lemons and then turned to those who remained eating breakfast to explain. In Spanish, limes are “limones” and lemons are “limas”, the opposite of what we English speakers would expect. Perhaps the difference is due to a, mix-up when these words originally came into English usage, but there are many such reversals between the two languages, Tandy explained. For example, we have the English language expression “black and white”, usually used metaphorically. Spanish has the same expression, but it is customary to say “white and black”, i.e., “blanco y negro”. There is no right way or wrong way when comparing the customary usage of a word or phrase between two languages, but this can be difficult for beginning students to grasp.
After breakfast, as the team clambered into the van at the seminary, Tandy noticed an exotic looking tree nearby, heavy with bunches of tiny, red berries. Gretchen informed her that it was a pepper tree and the red berries would darken and harden into the black peppercorns we use in our pepper shakers back home. Fun surprises are everywhere here.
The FUMCB team departed the seminary a little earlier than usual, at 9:30, because it was necessary to make another stop at the hardware store before leaving Tecate for Rancho Milagro. Yesterday’s work on the chicken coop had revealed some small mistakes and deficits in terms of the previous day’s shopping spree for building materials. Dave Edwards, Gary, Genie, Gretchen, Kathy and Tandy went into the hardware store while the remaining team members waited in the van. Another hammer was needed, as well as more nails, this time in two sizes. 40 joist hangars - of a slightly different type than those that were purchased yesterday - were added to the shopping basket. Gretchen and Tandy entered the adjacent warehouse to select a new PVC pipe to replace the one purchased yesterday, which had been slightly too large; the new pipe is ¾” in diameter instead of one inch. Fortunately, the one-inch pipe was returnable since this was a Thursday, ( a notice in the store states that returns are not accepted on Sundays, presumably due to reduced staffing). Gretchen also selected some wooden slats with which to create traction on ramps that will be built for the chickens so they can access their nesting boxes. Back in the hardware store, Dave Edwards looked for a ¾” coupler, but none could be found. Other materials purchased were six connectors for the ¾” diameter PVC pipe and wood glue.
Purchasing supplies at this store is a two-step process. First, everything is tabulated and priced and then the customer takes the items and walks to a cash register near the front entrance and pays. Genie paid the bill out of a separate cache of money reserved for the chicken coop construction costs; the bill came to about $61 US, or $1,080 pesos.
The drive from Tecate to Rancho Milagro now is familiar. As the van again passed through the little town of Valle de las Palmas, the team looked out the windows to observe the town more closely. Even though the streets are unpaved, the town clearly features the accoutrements of a real municipality: a health center, public library and fire station, Kathy observed. A little white dog was standing calmly in the middle of the main intersection where our van turned right towards Rancho Milagro; the dog was “directing traffic”, David VH observed dryly.
Beyond Valle de las Palmas, the van crosses a dry riverbed before reaching the main entrance to Rancho Milagro; the town and this riverbed now are familiar “mileposts”; Kathy braced herself for the rough ride.
On this fourth full day of work, the dynamics of a truly effective team have become apparent. There was significantly less confusion about who was doing what and where to start. The construction team today includes Genie, Gary, Dave Edwards, Gretchen, David VH, Mark, and Delaney; they immediately set to work on the chicken coop. Clara, Kathy and Betty set off for the baby house. Tandy, the de-facto journalist, was in both places, taking some pictures on her phone and helping a little as needed: holding boards to the chicken coop frame while Delaney pounded nails, and holding the hands of little ones at the baby house, helping Clara, Kathy and Betty give them a “sun bath” outside.
Kathy, Betty and Tandy took little hands and walked with the toddlers along the paved walkway from the baby house to the main building and that large, partially shaded patio that provides such an excellent play area. There, they helped these little ones play and ride on small, plastic toy cars and trucks, selected from a long row of such toys that were stored behind a low wall. By this time, the overcast was dissipating and the sun was stronger but the cloth awning provided cover and a slight breeze created pleasant conditions.
Someone brought a couple of used strollers and left them on the patio there; one was a dual stroller and one was a single. Tandy took the dual stroller back to the baby house where Clara was tending to two smaller children, a little girl and a little boy, sitting outside in their baby chairs. Now, these two could be placed together in the stroller and taken down the walkway to see the sights. Off they went, and Clara paused with them on the brick patio that is near the construction site so they could observe the action.
During the morning, a delivery truck arrived from the lumber yard carrying the supply of roofing material, sheets of corrugated metal. Good news, although a supply of nails of a specific size was missing.
Inside the long, low building that serves as the main dining hall, at the far end, farthest from the kitchen, is a small, general purpose area for gathering together and making music. Two upright pianos are situated side by side against one wall. Above them, seven acoustic guitars hang on the wall, suspended from nails. In the corner, two electric guitars sit on stands. Two small couches, upholstered in black vinyl, provide seating, and on the end wall there is a wood burning fireplace. Several of the older girls used this area today to practice a dance routine they will present at a community/school event on Saturday. One girl, who knew the routine well, led four others as they stood in a line in front of her. An older girl, seated on one of the couches and caring for an infant, held a cell phone on which played the musical accompaniment for the dancers; the accompanying cell phone video indicated that this dance may have been based, at least in part, on cheerleading routine.
Soon, it was time for lunch. Today, there was no segregation between the children and the FUMBC mission team; the children invited team members to join them at their tables and there was much happy talking and laughter. Everyone walked up to the kitchen window to retrieve their bowl of soup - again, a hearty lentil and vegetable mixture. Some team members thought this was to be our lunch and were perfectly satisfied. However, soon the cook motioned for everyone to enter the kitchen and serve themselves from a buffet set up on the kitchen island: corn or flour tortillas, carne asada (beef), an avocado cream sauce with plenty of chili spice it in, (too hot for some; just right for others). In addition, there were bowls of sliced red onion and cucumbers, shredded lettuce and a mixture of slaw containing little orange pepper slices that were reputed to be so extremely spicy that most or all mission team members avoided them. Sectioned oranges also accompanied the meal, as usual.
About 12:30 or so, the four men on the team, Mark, Dave Edwards, David VanHeynigan and Gary, took a break from their construction work and proceeded down the paved walkway to the baby house, to see for themselves what Clara, Kathy and Betty had been doing all week to help care for the toddlers and infants who are housed there. The three women noticed an immediate, positive response from the children to the presence of these men, with their deeper voices, which seemed to have a calming effect. The men also commented positively on the experience and marveled at the amount of work required to care for these children; they stayed at the baby house for perhaps half an hour.
In the kitchen, several large chilies were roasting on the grill, green in color and compressed into a flat shape. Later in the meal, Cesar invited FUMCB team members to try these roasted chilies; he presented them with melted cheese on top. The chilies were not spicy-hot, Cesar said. Gary accepted a serving and shared pieces with the other team members seated at his table: Tandy, David VH and Gretchen, (she commented their taste was reminiscent of asparagus).
The afternoon was packed with construction activity. By this time, the sun was out but the air remained cooler than in previous days and a pleasant, light breeze persisted. Genie called a quick meeting of the construction crew and Dave Edwards led a short discussion of the main tasks that might be completed that afternoon. Gretchen would build four nesting boxes for the hens while Gary and Delaney worked to complete the flooring in the chicken coop. Mark, Dave Edwards and David VH got going on the installation of the siding panels. Mark, Dave and Genie worked to mix concrete and shovel it into post holes in the chicken yard. Tandy offered up her services as a floater for unskilled labor and ended up hammering nails, hauling two-by-fours and plywood and even using the circular power saw, (supervised closely by Gary). Very quickly, children gathered to watch and to participate, a boy and a couple of girls. They all helped pound nails to secure the flooring. Gretchen got the two girls helping her to build the nesting boxes.
Near the developing chicken coop is the small, raised structure in which the sick hen still nests with her chicks, four in all. She is doing much better, cared for in part by Gretchen and in part by the children she has instructed. The hen opens her eyes more and seems more alert and more relaxed. She stretches her injured wing while a chick burrows under her good wing, seeking a cozy shelter. Dandelion leaves and vegetable food scraps line the floor of the cage and the chicks pick at it with enthusiasm.
Around 5:45 p.m., shortly before the FUMCB team left Rancho Milagro for the day, Cesar and the team gathered together in the general purpose/music area at the far end of the dining hall, at Cesar’s request. Everyone stood in a circle and held hands while David VH led them in a prayer for the little boy whose adoption was completed today, the boy Cesar has loved since his arrival at Rancho Milagro as an infant three years ago. It was an emotional moment for everyone but especially for Cesar.
Once on site at Rancho Milagro, construction of the chicken house continued apace. During the early morning, Gretchen and Dave had made huge progress in digging the trench, and the wire mesh soon was installed around the base perimeter of the coop. Genie began painting the foundation posts with wood preservative/termite repellant. Dave Edwards worked on placing the long posts in the enclosed chicken yard that will front the coop.
On the large patio fronting the dining hall, the first section of wall was pounded together: hammer and nails, carpenter square and two team members, Delaney and Gary. Pounding those nails proved difficult. Not easy, this construction work! One wall section was raised before lunch, and more will be raised later this afternoon. It may be a little rough, but an honest-to-goodness chicken coop is taking shape.
The trench around the perimeter of the chicken coop has been extremely difficult to excavate, due to the rocks and compacted dirt. Tandy helped Gretchen for a short while, shoveling dirt back into a portion of the finished trench into which wire mesh has been inserted. At another location, where the trench was incomplete, David VH poured water into the trench, attempting to soften the dirt and make it less resistant to the pick.
On the opposite side of the future chicken yard, David VH showed Tandy an exposed piece of PVC pipe; a water line had been broken by the trench digging, (so that was the reason for the PVC purchase at the hardware store this morning!) The pipe had to be repaired. Apparently, the team did not conduct an adequate “subsurface clearance” prior to digging the trench.
Around lunchtime, the DIF agent arrived in the same white compact as yesterday, to facilitate an introductory meeting between the little three-year-old, C----, mentioned above, and move towards completing the adoption. The prospective mother and son interacted under supervision, outside, near the kitchen, a short distance away from the main traffic area at the front entrance.
Lunch was served in the dining hall around 1:30. One of the little girls helped bring the plates of food from the kitchen: rice, cooked winter squash, a salad of chopped lettuce and cucumbers, and a slice of dry, whole wheat toast. Sectioned oranges, sliced jicama and sliced mangos appeared later. At one point, the cook came out and asked the team if anyone wanted more - of everything. Dave Edwards looked over at Clara who was sitting next to him and said, “How do you say ‘yes’”? When Clara responded, “si”, he laughed; he was so tired from all the trench digging, he said, that he had forgotten that simple Spanish-language response.
Work on the chicken coop and in the baby house continued after lunch. A couple from Camano Island, Jon and Elaine, founders of Gardens for Life Ministries, stopped by to observe and visit with Cesar. We were delighted to see them here today. They are staying at the seminary and came down with Jon’s brother Dan, for dental work. You may remember Jon and Elaine, who have come to FUMCB to present their ministry. They introduced us to Cesar on our first mission trip here in 2016 and encouraged us to return. For those of you who don’t know, this amazing couple started the ministry to teach the love of God through gardening. They have been active all over North Baja and have brought joy and vegetables to the lives of many Mexican children. The large vegetable garden that now exists at Rancho Milagro, is a result of their efforts. They were very pleased by what our team has accomplished so far, and we look forward to sharing Friday breakfast with them.
On the drive back to Tecate on Wednesday afternoon, the team encountered a stranded motorist on the side of the road in a rugged, unpopulated area. Fortunately, the car was stopped where there was a wide area beyond the paved shoulder of the highway. Mark pulled the van over and stopped to offer assistance. One of the FUMCB team members said the car must have a flat tire, but Dave Edwards commented that no, it looked more serious, like parts of the transmission were hanging down from the undercarriage. Genie, sitting in the front passenger seat, rolled down her window and offered a cell phone to the young Mexican man who approached the van, so he could call for help. Clara Poole was sitting directly behind Genie. With her excellent Spanish language skills, she could hear and understand the young man as he initiated his conversation. He called his grandfather (“abuelo”), and the first thing he said to him was not “Hey, grandpa, I need help”, but rather, “How are you?”. Clara commented on this as being a perfect example of one of the most beautiful aspects of Mexican culture, that is, the emphasis on personal connection as a precursor to all business, including even these types of individual, private tasks. The young man handed the phone back to Genie and thanked her and then turned away to walk back towards his vehicle. As Mark began pulling the van back onto the highway, Genie called out to the young Mexican, holding out a bottle of water. He returned and took the water, grateful for some refreshment while he waited.
Back at the seminary, everyone washed up and changed, donning their team T-shirts as instructed by Genie. This bright-blue brigade headed out in the van at about 7:00 looking for a taco restaurant. Mark headed along a street that seemed to take the group away from downtown; the few, small taco stands they passed were closed. Those who recalled a particular restaurant from the 2016 mission suggested that as the target. Gary recalled the route fairly well, based on visual cues and no doubt an innate sense of direction. As Mark doubled back and navigated the meandering streets in the dimming light, Gary helped direct him to their final destination on the other side of town: Tacos Mis Tíos, (My Uncle’s Tacos). As seems to be the case with most of these types of restaurants in Tecate, one side was open to the night air. The waitress pushed several tables together to accommodate our team and the ordering began. Genie, whose Spanish skills improve daily, ordered for herself and a couple of others at her end of the table. Tandy ended up ordering for everyone else. The menu, posted behind the counter, featured tacos, burritos, (“burros”), and quesadillas of course, with tortillas made of either maiz or wheat flour. However, beyond that, the resemblance to anything on an American menu ended. Exotic fillings to northwest palates included tripe, brain and tongue. Even the standard pork and beef fillings in Tecate are so deliciously spiced that they can’t compare. Truly, these were the best burritos that the team had ever tasted.
While ordering, there was some confusion about the beverage selection, bottled water, horchata and soft drinks in a nearby refrigerated case and a milky concoction in a large, glass jug. Genie had engaged a Mexican customer in conversation about the menu and the beverages; he spoke excellent English and was enthusiastic about helping the Americans place their orders before he left. Sitting next to Genie, Tandy was confused about what the man said concerning the beverages, for his Spanish was very rapid. Seeking the correct term for future reference, she held up her little bottle of plain water that had come from the refrigerated case and asked the man in Spanish, “What is this called?”. He immediately answered in English, “That’s water”. Tandy’s mouth dropped open in consternation and for a few seconds she was speechless, as her teammates looked at her perplexed expression and burst out laughing. Tandy’s Spanish is excellent, but in this case, she was trying too hard.
Tuesday morning dawned with the same, beautiful weather. Genie has become the team banker and she bought dollars for pesos from several team members in need of the local currency. The exchange rate, seen posted at a restaurant, is $17.50 pesos to the dollar.
Breakfast again was delicious, prepared by Lucy and Ajelet: huevos rancheros, frijoles, and hot dogs, artfully flayed lengthwise, to be placed in a tortilla. Chopped melon accompanied the meal, including that marvelous, deep orange papaya. Mexican cuisine encourages the liberal application of fresh squeezed lime juice onto both fruit and meats, and a dish of sectioned limes was available for those who wanted them.
The team headed out at 9:10, stopping first at a large, chain grocery store, “Calimax”, located just down the street and across an arterial, where Mark purchased two large jugs of drinking water for the team. Heading out of town, two gas stations, Arco and BP, displayed the current fuel prices, about $17.6 pesos per liter, (you do the math for dollars per gallon!)
The land just beyond the town of Tecate features scattered vineyards and olive orchards. Soon, however, the hills are barren of everything but those ubiquitous granite boulders and scrub. In the van, responding to numerous questions from the team, Dave Edwards provided a detailed explanation of how these granite outcroppings were formed over millions of years, and how the process of erosion that shapes them occurs, to a great extent, underground; the granite is “chemically weathered” by water intrusion between joints and cracks. At one point, Dave commented that we were driving along the path of a fault line that ran parallel to the highway.
Conversation in the van ranged from geology to the delicious food we have been eating here. David VH said he would be ordering only salad for meals from now on because, so far, he has broken two chairs and split one pair of pants. We’ll see if he adheres to this pledge.
As we neared Rancho Milagro, we drove through a small municipality named Valle de las Palmas, or Valley of Palms. A short distance beyond, Mark turned the van into the entrance of Rancho Milagro and our workday began.
Gretchen’s first order of business was to attend to the sick hen and her chicks. The hen was better; the day before, Gretchen had helped the children learn how to secure the hen’s broken wing so it will heal; perhaps the hen can be saved. The chicks gobbled up dandelion leaves, plucked from the seminary’s courtyard garden. Yesterday, we had seen a few more chickens appear – roosters, some hens and chicks. So, not so many chickens were killed by the coyotes; some chickens had scattered and hidden in the brush. Perhaps there will be enough chickens to restart the population in the coop we are building.
During the night, the foundation posts for the chicken coop had settled into their concrete supports and so work began on cutting the posts to the required height. First, though, a line had to be run around the perimeter of the chicken coop and leveled, so the correct height could be gauged visually. Delaney lay on the ground, completely splayed out on her stomach, so she could be at eye level to the carpenter’s level she was holding against the line - while someone adjusted the line’s position. Later, Gretchen was one of the team members who handled a circular power saw on some of the posts, trimming them down to ensure a uniform height and a flat upper surface.
The area where the chicken coop is being built, which is across the dirt entry drive and within view of the main building, features several types of plants that are exotic to our Pacific Northwest eyes: four large agaves, (the tallest is six feet high), some low growing cactus, and even a couple of orange trees, still holding fruit. Betty pointed out a large, low, woody bush with familiar leaves; it was an ancient geranium, grown way beyond what we would normally recognize as such. The entry drive itself is lined on one side with 14 mature date palms; fallen dates litter the ground.
Mark made the excellent suggestion that anyone who is not engaged in a specific task or is resting might take the opportunity to pick up the many pieces of trash that litter the grounds. He brought a box around to the side of the tool shed where garbage could be collected. Tandy immediately began collecting the ubiquitous trash, mostly small, broken pieces of plastic from toys, building materials, water bottles and food wrappers, plus scraps of paper and pieces of broken metal. At least our construction site will have been cleared of clutter.
Clara came walking down the paved path from the baby house holding hands with a toddler, V--------ia, a beautiful little girl with huge, dark eyes and long lashes. Clara was giving the child a “sun bath”, as it is called, a break from being indoors. Genie came and took the hand of another toddler, a little boy named D----, and walked for a bit with Clara towards the main building. There, several older children played on the patio. The older children came over to greet and hug the toddlers; all the children at Rancho Milagro seem to care greatly for one another; as Clara commented, there is a lot of love in this place.
During the morning, for perhaps an hour or less, a government car was parked in front of the main building; it was a modern compact driven by a uniformed young woman. On the door of the car was a colorful logo and the label, “DIF – Baja California - Avancemos Juntos”. Translation: “Department of Child Protective Services of Baja California - We Advance Together” Clara deduced an adoption was in progress.
Gary O’Neal was seen walking hand in hand with a little boy he had found, or who had found him, out in front of the main building and around the patio area near the construction site; what a charming sight these two made!
Later in the morning, Gretchen and Tandy joined Clara, Betty and Kathy in the baby house. Outside, in front of the house, Kathy kept a watch on a couple of babies sitting in baby chairs beneath the partial shade of a tree, (“having a sun bath”). Inside, the work was non-stop for the two staffers, even with the help of these five FUMCB women: bathing, dressing, feeding, washing clothes, putting things away, over and over again. There are a total of about 20 very young children living in this baby house; 11 are infants. Out in the front room, Genie kept an eye on little D---- for a while as he toddled across the floor. Betty and Clara, sitting in chairs, each held an infant. Tandy held little P-----, whom she had met her first day at Rancho Milagro; P----- is a darling, 9 month-old girl who probably is closer to 6 months, developmentally, because she was premature. Gretchen helped bathe some of the babies in the back of the house, and then came out to the front room to hold one in her arms.
Meanwhile, construction continued on the chicken coop. A base rectangle of two by fours was secured to the foundation posts. Over in the patio area by the dining hall, under an awning that filtered the hot sun, the framing of a wall was taking place.
Lunch was served in the dining hall as before, around 1:45. This time, Cesar insisted on serving the FUMCB team as guests while they sat at their tables. The delicious first course of soup was made with vegetables grown entirely in the Rancho Milagro garden: a winter harvest of zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, onions and celery and broccoli, (the garden has recently been replanted with seeds for the summer crop). Next was a serving of two taquitos (meat wrapped with tortillas, and fried), macaroni salad and fresh sliced cucumber. Then, a bowl of sectioned oranges was brought (purchased elsewhere; not from the orange trees outside), and a plate of sliced jicama.
At lunch, Mark explained a problem that Cesar has, which severely cuts into the time he can spend administering the programs at Rancho Milagro and completing projects. As official guardian of all the children here, Cesar must accompany them when they need to go to town. Nobody has POA authority and a supervisor, Mariana, won’t drive. Yesterday, four of the children had doctor’s appointments, scheduled two hours apart. Cesar had to make four, individual trips to and from town. That’s four hours of driving and an entire day gone to this task, (it’s not feasible to make the children and babies with the later appointments wait in town.)
After lunch, work continued outside and in the baby house but the goal today is to finish up around 4:00. Inside the dining hall, some older children help sweep and mop the floor. A table is spread with notebooks, crayons and color markers. Numerous young children, boys and girls in the two- and three-year age range, plus a girl age 6, a boy age 8 and a girl age 12, all play and work on art or school projects. In some cases, there are tantrums and yelling among the youngest. One or two women handle it all. Cesar appears briefly and intervenes in the worst case, sternly telling a child to calm down and listen to his “mama”.
At the conclusion of the workday, the team gathered together on the patio in front of the main building, (which houses the dining hall and kitchen). They discussed plans for the following day. Gretchen Frey and Dave Edwards would come early to Rancho Milagro to get a head start on the digging of the trenches around the perimeter of the chicken coop and yard so the galvanized steel wire mesh could be buried deeply enough to repel any predators who might try to dig their way in. An arrangement was made with Cesar’s brother to pick them up early the next morning at the seminary. The rest of the team would drive out in the van after breakfast, as usual.
Cesar approached the team and again offered his gratitude for their work and their presence. He was sorry he could not be with the team the previous day due to his commitments in town with the children who had doctor’s appointments. He emphasized that he trusts the FUMCB team completely, to do whatever work they have planned, without any supervision. Whether the work is absolutely correct or not, according to the plan, Cesar said he knows the effort comes from the heart and that’s what matters most. With great emotion, Cesar added that he is deeply touched when he sees us with the children.
A discussion ensued about an imminent adoption of a little boy whom Cesar loves deeply. The boy, now about three years old, had arrived at Rancho Milagro as an infant, relinquished by his young mother because of an abusive father. The prospective, adoptive parent is a single woman. The change will be difficult for everyone, Cesar said: for him, personally, because he loves this little boy, and for the boy because he loves Cesar and he is leaving what he currently knows to be his home. Moreover, the little boy does not know this new mother.
Out on the patio, before leaving for the day, the FUMCB posed for pictures with Cesar and a couple of the children. Then, it was time to return to Tecate and the Seminary. On a portion of the drive, the van followed closely behind a large truck, mimicking the truck’s position by driving on the paved shoulder to the maximum extent possible. Cars passed rapidly on the left, straddling the center line, seemingly unconcerned as oncoming traffic was forced to use the shoulder of their lane of this two-lane highway in order to avoid head-on collisions. Betty exclaimed, “They just make 3 or 4 lanes out of this, don’t they?!” Yes they do. This is Mexico.
Tonight was spent entirely at the seminary because our two cooks, Lucy and Ajelet, served the team dinner at 7 in the dining hall. The entrée was tacos, of course, but with a filling that is particularly popular in Baja California: fish, and in this case, fried Tilapia. Two cold beverages were offered as well, ladled out of two large glass jugs set on a corner table: a fruit juice concoction and a sweet, milky-looking drink that is based on rice milk; a classic favorite throughout Latin America, it is called Horchata.
Due to the late hour, all team members had brought their song books and devotional handouts to the dining hall. The day was concluded immediately after dinner with the daily team meeting: first, a discussion about noteworthy issues, followed by a thought-provoking question about spirituality posed by Genie, then singing and finally, “devotions”, led by David VH using his prepared remarks.
After arriving at Rancho Milagro a little after 10:00, we immediately got to work. Several of the women proceeded to the baby house, while the four men (Mark, Dave, David, Gary), and four of the women (Genie, Gretchen, Tandy and Delaney) headed over to the manure pile, grabbing shovels, a pic and two wheel barrows, (a third wheel barrow was found to replace the non-functional one from yesterday).
Gretchen tended to the sick hen, sitting with her chicks in a small henhouse near where the chicken coop will be built. She thinks the hen will not survive, but the chicks will.
The first order of business was to finish the job we started late yesterday afternoon, moving the manure from the site where the chicken coop will be built, and dumping it a few yards away near a fence, out of the way. As the pile was reduced, Mark and a couple of others diverted to measuring and marking out the perimeter of the chicken coop, using lines and stakes, and then locating post holes. Ultimately, the team used a motorized auger to drill the post holes. It was tough work; Dave VH’s hands were very sore from gripping the auger.
Mark insisted that everyone watch out for heat-related illness and take regular shade and water breaks under a nearby tree; he hauled over a couple of benches and placed them in the shade there.
The countryside here is arid and hilly. The land is characterized by granite outcroppings, boulders and low scrub. It’s rugged and inhospitable but beautiful in its way. The boulders are dramatic-looking, large and rounded into many odd shapes. They were not carried here by geologic forces, but were created in by processes of erosion of the granite mantel. This information came from the expert geologist on the team, Dave Edwards, who works as an environmental geologist.
Dave and Mark had discussed the need to do what they called an “electrical survey” before digging post holes and trenches for the chicken coop, a task that is called “subsurface clearance” in Dave’s line of work, he said. This simply means they don’t want to accidentally cut any buried lines: power, electrical, water; it probably was a general precaution rather than a specific plan of action.
Earlier, during the drive from the seminary, Dave had explained about the water situation at Rancho Milagro. A few months ago, FUMCB contributed funds to enable Cesar to drill a new water well, next to the old one which had run dry. Cesar had been worried that the dry well meant the water table was dropping but this is not the case. Dave explained that such wells become dry because minerals seeping into the shaft with the water create a seal that inhibits further water inflow. This is known as calcium carbonate scale formation, and is a well known problem for water-producing wells. Dave said you can see the process in white rings of scale that develop around the base of trees that grow in irrigated orchards. The dry well problem can be mitigated by washing the sides of the well down where the water inflow occurs, using acid, but this is difficult to do and doesn’t always work. The solution is to drill a new well next to the old one.
The team gathered for lunch, served in the dining hall with the older children. The lone cook in the kitchen served up a delicious and hearty meal of lentil –vegetable soup followed by a small enchilada covered in homemade mole sauce, (cooked over several hours or even days and composed of various chiles, chocolate and almonds), plus chopped cucumber and lettuce salad and rice.
Clara, Betty and Kathy had spent the morning in the baby house, helping the two or three staffers with the babies and toddlers, (there are 22 children under the age of three at Rancho Milagro). Betty said it was like a production line. Each baby was given a bath, then skin lotion, a diaper change, fresh clothes and finally a bottle of formula. The FUMCB women held some of the babies to feed them; other babies took their bottle while propped up in their cribs. One baby had a health issue that required eye drops and a call to the doctor. Betty commented that many of the babies they held were very active, hard to handle and hard to dress because they wiggled so much. It was like “lifting weights” in the gym all morning, Betty said. Looking at Betty, Clara lifted her arms to mimic the motion of lifting and said, “Thank you for the Aleve!” Betty commented, “thank goodness we had Clara” because Clara could understand a lot of the Spanish spoken by the older children, even though they spoke fast. Today, the FUMCB women did not care for the youngest babies, but tomorrow they will, according to Cesar, who is very careful to limit access to these most vulnerable members of the Rancho Milagro community.
After lunch, there was some discussion of when the building materials are likely to be delivered, because the next stage of the chicken coop building project requires them. They were supposed to be delivered around 1:00, but arrived at 3 pm.
It was important to set the foundation posts for the chicken coop into their post holes before leaving for the day. Therefore, construction work continued past the optimum quitting time, until about 5:00, though all were tired and the sun was hot. Twelve foundation posts were cut with a chain saw while the bottoms of the post holes were lined with gravel, (hauled in wheelbarrows from a large gravel pile just down the entry drive and to the side). The foundation posts were placed in the holes and plumbed as well as possible using a carpenter’s level. Then, concrete was mixed in a wheelbarrow and shoveled carefully into the holes, around the posts. One of the Rancho Milagro boys helped with the concrete work. There was some discussion about the need to treat the foundation posts in order to protect them against termites, (the necessary chemicals had not been available at the lumber yard; this issue remains to be resolved).
Meanwhile, Clara, Betty and Kathy continued working in the baby house. Tandy walked down to check on them and found them each sitting in a chair with an infant, (Cesar had let them care for the youngest ones in the afternoon instead of waiting another day). Betty was feeding her baby with a bottle of formula. All three women wore hair nets and face masks, a testament to the strict health procedures in place to protect the infants.
Finally, after all the concrete work was completed, the team could leave the site and head home. It had been a long day and everyone was tired. It was decided to return to the seminary first so all could shower and change before heading out for dinner – to the same, wonderful taco stand the team had patronized the night before. Kathy and Tandy decided to share the restaurant’s “special”: 4 pork tacos for $25 pesos. Four tacos seemed like a lot, but they were small. The cook was skeptical that two tacos apiece would be enough for two women, and sure enough, Kathy and Tandy returned for seconds; the cook had been right.
Back at the seminary on Monday night, devotions were conducted as usual in the dining hall, led by David VH and preceded by a discussion about the day and future logistics, initiated by our very capable and patient team leader, Genie.
interpreter provided simultaneous English translation to the sermon. At one point in the service, the team was asked to step to the front to be blessed. Congregants came and stood behind the team, placing their hands on shoulders of those standing in front of them and prayed with the pastor. It was a very moving moment of connection between the Mexicans and the Americans.
After church, the team returned to their van and followed Cesar and Cheryl and the children to a Chinese restaurant. The entire group of perhaps 25 people sat at a long line of tables and had a tasty lunch, complete with fortune cookies. Betty's fortune said that she has a new romance in her future, (Dave Edwards later informed Betty's husband, who asked him to keep an eye on her).
After lunch, the team said goodbye to Cheryl and followed Cesar to Rancho Milagro; this was a first-time look for new mission team members. The team spent the rest of the afternoon there with Cesar, discussing the design and location of the chicken coop, visiting the babies in the baby house, walking about the grounds, and touring the dining hall. Some older children stayed with the group. An incredibly patient and compassionate man, Cesar is obviously devoted to "his" children and they to him. Though he is fundamentally an agronomist, his passion is the many disadvantaged children who come his way.
The compound is surrounded by olive trees. Supplies and equipment related to the harvesting of olives can be seen. Personal belongings of staffers or agricultural workers are strewn about near a trailer. A large vegetable garden is surrounded by a fence. A small house that serves as the "baby house" and two similar structures that can house staff are connected to each other and to the main entrance area by a long, paved walkway. A beautiful, square, brick-paved patio, used for utilitarian purposes, is evidence of work completed by the FUMBC mission team in 2016. Donated toys and baby equipment are stacked on some porches, under awnings. A puppy named Popeye romps. The few surviving chickens and chicks scratch in the dirt. A woman pins clean laundry to a line to dry.
Pointing to two framed documents on the wall inside the dining hall, Cesar informs the group that Rancho Milagro earned federal certification recently, one of only (?) 4 in the country. Unfortunately, no federal funding comes with the certification but the hope is that more private benefactors will be encouraged to donate resources. The government conducts rigorous inspections, Cesar explained, including the building and facilities, the procedures and the health of the children.
The babies are cared for on this day, Sunday, by a volunteer high school student. All the babies were taken from drug addicted and/or neglectful parents. Each has his or her own set of clothes, (all the babies and children were nicely dressed; the facility receives plenty of clothing donations). Most of the babies will be adopted out, some to relatives of the parents; only a few are ever returned to their parents, Cesar informed the team. During this week-long FUMCB mission to Rancho Milagro, team members will spend considerable time holding and interacting with these babies.
Late in the afternoon, while waiting to leave, Dave suggested he would like to do some real, physical work, even for a short while. He, Mark, Gretchen and Tandy got shovels from a shed and two wheelbarrows and started moving a pile of manure to clear the area where the proposed chicken coop is to be built. One wheelbarrow had a flat tire so was quickly sidelined for repair. Dust from the digging was being blown towards the drying laundry, so work had to be stopped. It will resume tomorrow.
After a full day, the team drove back to the seminary in Tecate, stopping at one of many roadside taco stands for another delicious meal.
At 8 p.m., David and Genie led devotions in the dining hall, which included singing a few simple hymns and a discussion of the most inspiring moments of this memorable day.
Thanks to everyone who has donated to support us! We've raised almost $1000! It's not too late if you still want to help us build them a new chicken coop. Just write Rancho Milagro on your check or envelope. Thanks! Hasta luego!