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Unsung Heroes: An Interview with EP’s Cooks and Contractors

Each year over spring break, a group of high school students from our church travels to Tijuana, Mexico, to build 12’ x 24’ homes for families there. This you are probably well aware of from the many recent fundraisers! You’ve eaten the pancakes, bought exorbitantly-priced chocolate chip cookies, and donated to the auction. If you’ve been here for any length of time, you’ve heard from these students and, to a lesser extent, their leaders, who share stories both before and after the trip.AnneKarlaEP2011.jpg

Beyond these students and leaders, though, are others without whom Easter Project would not be possible: the contractors and cooks. Many of them return to serve year after year after year, growing relationships with our students and leaders, building connections with the families they build for and the staff and residents of the orphanage they stay in, and being challenged and strengthened in their own faith along the way. We asked several of our seasoned volunteers about their time served in Tijuana: Anne Grow, who is going into her seventh year as a cook; Mitch Swenson, who is heading into his 10th year as a contractor; Larry Yates, who’s headed into his 13th year as a contractor; and Karla Anderson, who first helped in the Tijuana kitchen in 1998.

What have you found rewarding about serving in this way?

Anne: I love having the opportunity to serve others.  The Mexican community that I have been privileged to get to know over the years are beautiful, hardworking and caring people. There is also a camaraderie amongst the leaders, contractors, and students. We are all there to serve not only the families who are getting homes, but each other as well.  It is an uplifting community to be there together with the families, children and staff at Hogar de los Ninos [the orphanage where our group stays each year].
Mitch: It’s a blessing to be a part of this journey to help local Spokane high school kids get closer to God by getting closer to each other, getting closer to the earth (digging foundations and hand-mixing cemento!), and ultimately giving of themselves to others. 
Larry: More than you can possibly imagine. Recognizing students with amazing leadership skills and then seeing them come back and be adult leaders in later years. Also seeing the large number of students who continue doing mission work or even full-time church work long after the high school trips they started on.  Then there’s the easy one: seeing a Mexican family, that has maybe never had a home, now have one.
Karla: I have loved working with the women of the orphanage in past years, and built long-time relationships with many people there, not only adults but some of the kids in the orphanage and our students who have grown up and gone on to working, college and the mission field. Most of all seeing the difference it makes in the lives of our kids, even if they only go one time! Their time there colors everything they do for the rest of their life.

How have your experiences as part of the EP team impacted your faith?MitchLarryEP2014.jpg

Anne: I am always encouraged by our high school students, listening to them sing praise songs, sharing with each other and caring for each other. In this society of “me me me,” it is so encouraging to serve with our students. Being in a community of Christians keeps me grounded in my faith. Spending time sharing a devotion with the cooks makes such a difference. I have learned so much from sharing and praying with others on this trip to Tijuana.
Mitch: It seems that every year a new growing opportunity presents itself. By giving just this little bit, it seems to make me want to give more. It shows me that if we believe in what God can do, we can take risks and beautiful things can happen.
Larry: When you hang with a bunch of students and adults who have amazing faith, it’s contagious, and it feels good! Then when you get to hear some of the testimonials from the students, it’s very humbling. Or when you see a non-believing student become receptive to God’s word, you realize  that what we are doing is important. And then the obvious one of being loved by the families that we build for, solidifies that what we are doing is God’s will.
Karla: My faith has grown as a result of my trips! Each trip is different and God is always faithful! I trust Him for all our needs. I’ve learned that each team is different and truly a gift! God picks each person specifically each year.

What sorts of relationships (intergenerational, international, or otherwise) have grown through your service as part of the EP team?

Anne: It’s fun to get to know the students and work alongside them, especially ones that I have seen grow up at FPC and those I have gotten to know on Westport mission trips, too.MitchDonEP2013.jpg
Mitch: I have been blessed to be associated with an amazing group of individuals who give of themselves year after year in this God-filled endeavor. The brotherhood of these men and women is so powerful. I love them all. It is so satisfying to instruct young people who may not have had opportunities to build projects in their past. Through the EP process, these young people get to learn valuable skills for the future, and hopefully to give of their talents to others, whatever those talents come to be.
Larry: There are the relationships with students, whether it’s just for the years you work with them, or the ones you remain friends with indefinitely. At the recent bake sale I bumped into two sisters who don’t live here anymore and we had a great conversation. Internationally, we are always welcome back at the homes we build, plus we also have great relationships with the staff at the orphanage, and also some of the merchants we deal with. Two of my favorite personal relationships are a junk collector I got to know several years ago who always remembers me, and also a mentally disadvantaged man who took me several years to even get a smile out of, and now we are friends.
Karla: It has enriched relationships I have from here and expanded my life in ways I never dreamed! The family we have in Tijuana continually blesses us and our kids. It is our home away from home!

—Sarah Hauge

Link to the Story


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