While thousands of teens are vacationing their Spring Break in Mexico, a record of nearly 10,000 American Christian youth will cross into the neighboring country to build houses for thousands of poverty-stricken families within the three-week period of Spring. Just yesterday, 2000 high school students entered Mexico.
Since 1980, over 200,000 people have built a home in a one-week period. In any one given year, around 23,000 people will build a home. Out of that figure, 19,000 are high school students.
The youth, who are from church groups across California, Texas, and Arizona, are mobilized by Amor Ministries, an organization founded in 1980 that builds simple homes for poor families in Mexico.
Amor's focus is on sustainable development and witnessing through love.
"We're not a true relief organization. One of the main goals that we have is partnership with the local church... The pastors talk to families, and promise them a home. This brings their credibility up in the community, which hopefully helps them witness to this family," said Alon Banks, Director of Development, Amor Ministries.
That's why "the students will do it without toilets, running water, or beds. They will do it without power tools or pre-mixed concrete. And they will do it without earning a dime," according to an Amor press release.
They will travel by caravan in busses, passenger vans, and trucks with trailers.
"This year's Spring Break building trips are amazing. God continues to show his love for the less fortunate through ordinary people - [students] with no "professional" skills, but with a heart willing to serve for a week. To see almost 10,000 people give their week off to serve gives us hope for the future - a future filled with compassionate people," said Banks.
Amor's teen volunteers work together for one week of hard labor. They will mix concrete, lay slab floors, raise wood frames, and measure doors and windows for each 11'x22' home, states Amor, and all without power tools.
But it's a week that is worth it, according to Melissa Erwin, a 17-year-old senior from Riverside, CA, who will travel for her third year with Amor Ministries this month.
"When you put up a house for someone who has been living in a car all their life," Erwin says, "or for a family of 15 people who've been crammed in a tiny house made of garage doors for years, it gives you so much joy. To see the expressions on their faces when it's all finished-the only way to describe it is priceless."
The materials are purchased in Mexico and delivered to the worksite before the students arrive.
The reponse ranges from shock to tears. The Gonzalez-Ramirez family said: "It is hard to imagine that there are people who we have never met from another country that have come to build us a new house. We thank God and pray blessings on the groups doing this for us."
It is an experience that has changed many youths' perspective on life, as they return year after year. Of the 20,000 people who participate in the Amor projects annually, over 75 percent returns.
"When we cross the border into Mexico each year," Gayla Congdon, Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Amor Ministries said. "The entire van is dead quiet. It's hard to believe that only two hours away from us, people are living in garage-door homes. And we're up here living in beautiful homes. We have cars everywhere in America, but down there people are living in cars that don't work.
"This year more than ever, we are heartened to see the courage of students and parents who are willing to cross into a foreign country and continue these selfless acts of kindness."