Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

On January 17th we headed south to visit and help out (donate our time) at a mission in Vicente Guerrero, Baja, Mexico. We got ourselves on the plane first thing in the morning, had a routine flight and bingo, were shortly on our way south of the border. We reached the border in about 20 minutes, and then spent the next nearly three hours figuring out how to get our visa's since we were going south of Encinada and staying longer than two days. It was one of those "so close and yet so far" experiences (finding parking and looking for the office) but at last we had the highly sought after little pieces of paper (that actually said we could stay for 180 days!) and off we went. No side trips now as the afternoon was waning and it was nearly dark when we reached out destination five hours south of the border. This was my husband's third trip and my second and it was fun to be back there again.

The week started off just as usual. Last year one of our daughters had stayed down there for nearly six months and had spent a great deal of time helping out in the prayer garden. I took some photos for her so she could see how nice it was looking. When I had free time I looked for unusual birds in the garden as well.
The area had had a drought for several years and while the mission has it's own wells and treated water supply, everyone was hoping and praying for rain. On Tuesday our second day there we had a nice rain and everyone was greatful. Wednesday was another beautiful day and we heard that we were to have more rain on Thursday. Thursday dawn overcast and chilly and a small group of us headed off to the kitchen to do breakfast set up duty. We were fortunate, because after set up began and before breakfast started, the rain started coming down. Really coming down. Sort of like standing in a shower kind of coming down! Wow! I'm used to rain, being a northwesterner, but this was RAIN. Fortunately it didn't last too long at that rate, but tapered off to a normal shower. All those people who got to sleep in an extra 30 minutes got wet (but not we who were so diligent! -- well at least not yet).

After breakfast and Sala we headed off to our respective activities of the morning. At break-time we noticed that there was a lot more water than usual running down the road, but didn't think too much about it. But as we arrived at break the news was spreading "Go, Pack!" "We are evacuating." We were throwing stuff into suitcases, rolling up sleeping bags and grabbing pillows and toiletries and then even bigger news came. "Never mind, we can't leave, the bridge is out." This was an interesting idea since there is only one bridge. How badly was it out? What did that mean exactly??? But then we realized that there was even more excitement coming and there was no time now to worry about the bridge. Our worrying was closer at hand! Not only had it rained hard where we were, it had rained hard in the hills. (We found out later there were three feet of snow in the moutains to the east.) And now we were dealing with flash flooding. All of a sudden we were getting organized to put some real effort out to keep the Casa's (orphanage homes) from getting flooded. The office was already flooded a bit and part of the elementary school. So we all started trying to help out. At first it was a bit comical as there was not a central leader stating what everyone should be doing, but slowly those who could lead did and got us fairly organized. For the next few hours we were racing the water. The mission staff took their responsibilities seriously and important things like making sure fresh water was sealed off from the run off was taken care of. They also found us supplies or sent us off to locate them in the warehouse.
There is an old SundaySchool song where "The rains came down and the floods came up" and that was what we were experiencing first hand. We got to fill and haul sandbags (I moved two and then realized a third would likely leave me never moving again!) and helped out in a variety of ways moving perishables up out of the way of the incoming water, etc.

By evening the water had started to recede and the worst news was that we could not take showers. In the grande scheme of things that's not really the worst thing that could happen, but since I had been planning an afternoon shower on Thursday, which would have been my second one since Sunday morning, that was a bit of a blow. And we were a mess, all of us. We had been walking around in nearly knee high water with who knows what all floating around in it for hours. When I pealed those socks off, they went straight into the trash. There was not even any point in attempting to get them clean.

That night a lot of the guys and a few hardy woman walked around the grounds to check out barriers and to be ready to notify everyone if the rain started up again. Fortunately, while it continued to rain the next few days, it was in moderation.
But the damage was long done. The bridge was out and the question was now long it would be before "someone" organized a repair or a replacement. We walked down to see what was going on and got to look across to where we wanted to go! Jeremy from our group had welded a "basket" and John from our group (a fireman by trade) and Jeremy helped the local officials to get two pregnant women with complicated deliveries across the river to the hospital. The next day it was used to bring blankets and supplies back and forth wherever the need was. Personally, I would really NEED to get to a hospital before I could be convinced to travel across in a basket like that (not that I don't trust Jeremy's welding). But this was being done with an aluminum cable rather than steel, so a little more risky (or exciting I suppose).

The local government (or maybe higher up, who knows) decided to "fix" the problem by diverting the river all to the side where the bridge remained up and to pile dirt and rocks up until the could drive off the end of the bridge onto the dirt and down to the river bed and across. It was an interesting idea and I'm not exactly sure how they plan to really replace the bridge if they have a temporary "fix" at the end when it would connect. But I guess I don't have to worry about it -- and next year we'll see if they've made any progress :-)!

Fortunately for us as well Discoll Strawberries was on the same side of the downed bridge as we were and they were EAGER to get their produce north (Yeah, you see them at Costco!). Saturday, our day to leave, came and went and we were still there. And Monday and Tuesday. But fortunately we we able to have a (one, only one) shower over the weekend so I got mine on Sunday afternoon.
Tuesday we went on an outreach to a worker camp playing with the kids and providing them with a few essentials. On the way back we could see semi trucks lined up two deep on both sides of the main road in town. This was a good sign!
And at 8 PM the trucks started rolling across the dirt ramp and when we got up at 6 and left at 7 AM there was hardly a vehicle to be seen anywhere. The road to Encinada was practically empty and we made it back to the border in record time. We even only had a 20 minute wait at the border.
Here we are heading for the end of the bridge ! A few days ago a drop off into empty space.

And here we are sloping down toward what would have been the river bed a few days before. We waved out the windows and called "Gracias!" as we finally started for home.

All in all it was a great trip. It was more of an adventure than we had anticipated. We were stretched in our faith to trust God for the outcome and we were all pleased that we got to help out our friends in Baja. It was actually perfect. We were there a total of 11 days instead of seven, we got to experience a dramatic event and help make a different and, yet, the whole time we had warm beds, clean water and even our usual morning coffee. A good time as had by all! Three of the group had to go home earlier for various important reasons and they got to experience flying on little private planes from Vicente Guerrero to Encinada and then taking a taxi to the border and a second from the border to the airport (or some variation on that). And we got to be on the news, American's stranded in Mexico.
Oh, and the prayer garden survived! A little muddy but not too much the worse for wear. The plants looked greener (probably because the dust was washed off) and they all got a long-awaited extra large drink!

We do praise God for His care and faithfulness and that we could help bring comfort to others in real need!
For more info on the mission/orphanage and all it's fabulous services and ministries to the community, see http://www.ffhm.org/. For our news report see http://www.king5.com/news/local/Local-Group-Stranded-in-Mexico-82571922.html