NOTE: Easter Project is the name of our high school group’s annual mission experience in Tijuana, Mexico. This was our 22nd (or 23rd?) year of going down to our partner orphanage and using that as a home base to build houses. Like I mention below, this trip has become a TRADITION. Even my friends and co-workers only ask questions such as “did anyone get sick?” or “How was the weather?” For those of us on the trip- this was an experience that mattered and this was my attempt to convey that to our congregation.
Easter Project has been an important tradition of First Presbyterian Church for over 2 decades and many of the stories surrounding the trip are now familiar. Fundraisers will happen, friendships will deepen, Jesus will be followed and multiple (6 this year!) houses will be built for families who truly need them. Easter Project is truly a tradition. However, there is so much that happens each year that is based completely on contexts that change from year to year and from group to group. Here are just a few snapshots from our week that hopefully help create a fuller picture of just what EP looks like:
Saturday, 4pm: We’ve been in Tijuana for less than 45 minutes. I look down off the 6th floor balcony to see over 25 of our students already engaged in a soccer match with some of the kids at the orphanage.
Sunday, 9am: Our second day in Tijuana this year happened to be Easter Sunday. Inspired by an idea from N.T. Wright that we should be people who “celebrate (Easter) wildly, lavishly, gloriously… We should drink champagne at breakfast.” Though laws in Mexico are a bit different we still weren’t about to provide 58 high school students with champagne! However, we did provide sparkling cider and I watch as the kids have quiet time spread out around the orphanage with a Bible in one hand and a glass of “champagne” in the other.
Tuesday, 6:00pm: All 4 of the churches currently staying at the orphanage gather in the main floor dining hall for our community dinner of rice, beans and carne asada tacos prepared by the orphanage cooks. I get lost in a conversation with an old friend and later notice the line for food is very, very long. With over 200 people in the room the food line is understandably chaotic. I look around to find a table where I can wait out the line and notice that 95% of our kids are already seated, without food, choosing to go last.
Wednesday, 12:15pm: I am out all day visiting housing sites and happen to catch one group during lunch. On Wednesday we give the students their prayer partner letters from the folks back home. I walk up to the group to say hi and notice no one is really talking. There is a holy silence around their circle as they chew their PB&J while reading their letters. One girl is in tears as she reads while another sits quietly and turns hers back over to read it a second time.
Thursday, 6:30pm: I ask the seniors to meet me in the chapel during dinner. We brought along keys for everyone on the trip with the word hope stamped into them, but didn’t yet have a plan for handing them out to the students. I showed the seniors the keys and asked if they’d be interested in choosing 2-3 of their peers to present the keys to along with a verbal blessing of “how you’ve shown me Christ,” or “how you’ve given me hope.” They immediately agreed and within 20 minutes they each had a handful of intentionally chosen peers whom they were going to bless with “hope.”
Thursday 9:30pm: While worshipping together in the chapel I see beauty and hope everywhere I look. I see a senior guy walk up and sit across from a sophomore, look him in the eyes & tell him how he sees God in him and why that gives him hope. I see them embrace, pull apart and laugh and then embrace again. I see a see a senior lady give a key to a junior and speak truth into her life, walk away and then hustle back, grab her hands and pray for her. I see dozens of students holding onto a key stamped with hope and knowing, that through a Resurrected Christ, they are fully capable of creating beauty, fighting for justice and being love to the world around them. Now that is hope.