By Starrla Cray
MAYER, MN “Where’s Carla?”
When Mayer Lutheran High School senior Brittany Wilaby arrived in Anapra, Mexico the end of December, this question was weighing on her mind.
Wilaby had grown extremely close to Carla (a 4-year-old Anapra native) during her first mission trip the year before, and she couldn’t wait to see her again.
At church in El Paso that Sunday, Wilaby got her answer.
“One of my friends came in, holding Carla in her arms,” Wilaby said. “. . . I held [Carla] during the entire church service. That was definitely the highlight of my trip.”
One week might seem like a short time to develop lasting friendships, but the students at MLHS know that a lot can be accomplished in seven days.
“No matter what the language barrier, you end up having this connection that no one can take away,” said MLHS senior Grace Gassen.
Gassen, the daughter of Kirk and Jayn Gassen, has been to Anapra, Mexico three times.
“Every year, it still takes my breath away,” Gassen said. “It’s very humbling. People tell you it’s very poor there, and that there’s a lot of poverty, but I think it’s something you can’t really prepare for; you have to experience it firsthand.”
Ysleta Lutheran Mission
MLHS’s mission trips are run through a non-profit relief organization called Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care. During the trip, students spend their nights at one of Ysleta’s mission sites in El Paso.
The church they work with, San Lucas “St. Luke,” is located in Anapra one of the poorest communities in the Juarez area. According to Ysleta’s website, cardboard shacks and pallet houses are common forms of shelter.
In the past nine years, students at MLHS have constructed 26 homes for the people of this area. The homes are small (usually about 12-feet-by-24-feet) and have no plumbing, but they are a big improvement compared to residents’ previous homes.
“They’re so thankful,” said MLHS senior Katherine Mahlum, daughter of Dean and Jacquie Mahlum.
Although the recipients don’t have a lot of money, they show their gratitude in any way they can.
“The family I built for this year made us meals every day,” Gassen said.
This year, about 30 MLHS students (plus 15 to 20 chaperones) constructed four homes, each with two windows, one door with a lock, electrical outlets, and lighting. Each house features a slanted roof, and is split into two rooms. The past two years, the group has installed insulation, as well.
“Each house costs about $3,000,” said MLHS teacher Dave Lane, who coordinates the trip each year.
The construction cost for each building is paid for through student fundraising efforts. Including materials, travel, and other expenses, the trip costs about $1,000 per student.
As part of their fundraising efforts, students wash windows, rake leaves, bag groceries, and more.
“We fundraised all through the summer,” Mahlum said.
Once they’ve been on a mission trip, students find that the work is well worth the effort.
“They always want to go back,” Lane said. “. . . I love seeing kids get excited about their faith and excited about serving.”
“Once you go on it, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be,” Gassen said.
Each year, after the roughly 26-hour bus ride to Mexico, the group visits families that they built houses for in previous years.
“We’ve made some pretty good friends,” Lane said.
“You’re expecting to go down there and help them but you get so much out of it, too,” Wilaby said. “I definitely have a heart for missions”
This year, Wilaby’s parents, Kevin and Stephanie, and siblings, Tyler and Michaela (both freshmen in high school), also went on the trip.
Wilaby said the trip has reaffirmed her desire to become a Spanish teacher someday.
Gassen and Mahlum also hope to pursue careers in education.
“The kids [in Anapra] make me want to do it all the more,” Gassen said.
Throughout the year, the students are looking forward to keeping in touch with the friends they made in Mexico by sending letters and pictures. Through the church, some of the families are also able to access Facebook and Skype, and they can communicate via Google Translate.
To learn more about Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, follow the link at www.herald-journal.com.