December 3, 2012 will not be remembered as significant for most, but for six Christians it was the start of something special. We were embarking on a volunteer service and learning trip to Dulce Refugio, an orphanage in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Our group consisted of 3 guys and 3 girls with ages ranging from 22 to 62. The group was very anxious to get started with the work projects and getting to know the children at the orphanage so the wait times at the layovers seemed like an eternity. However due to the size and number of flights flying into Aguascalientes airport, we were limited on choice flight times so as leader I chose a flight schedule that kept things simple and direct. Crossing the borders was a breeze and we were even given a break by the airline regarding our luggage as they waived the overweight charges on my suitcase full of donations saving the group a couple hundred dollars. This was not the only time my luggage would give us a little trouble. Upon entering Mexico I was taken aside at customs, but we were quickly on our way after handing over the letter of intent, from Jeremy Van beelen, both in English and Spanish. In Mexico we were chauffeured in a large van, which had lots of room for when we went on some of our sight-seeing excursions. We stayed at the orphanage with the children, just in a separate isolated building, to be more cost effective, which was greatly appreciated by the group and their financial supporters. Settling in was easy as the group was shown where the local emergency facilities were located and were also given an emergency contact sheet with important phone numbers and the orphanage`s address.
When it came to the work we came to do, we focused on remembering why we volunteered and who was really guiding our journey as well as keeping Him in our hearts as we worked on the tasks He had placed in front of us. On this trip the guys were responsible for constructing aluminum window frames and sashes for the new boy`s dormitory. While the ladies` tasks were more varied as they grouted tiles, sealed the outside concrete for future painting, and expertly painted the upstairs rec room. Even though our group was small in comparison to previous groups we were able to accomplish more than the coordinators Duane and Jeremy had expected. At days end and well at the beginning and in the middle to, we were all treated to prepared meals from Marce (the orphanage coordinator), and to some of our surprise it was the more authentic Mexican meals that delighted us the most. After meals our group did a lot of team bonding; playing cards and going for long walks around the neighbourhood, while enjoying some local frozen yogurt. Perusing the neighbourhood was a much looked forward to nightly activity that brought on some great team bonding as well walked and talked and took in the beauty of the trip and reflected on the day’s work. Safety was never a concern as there was often a strong police presence and the people in the community really embraced the orphanage and those working volunteering to help the children.
Worshipping in Aguascalientes was a new experience for us. It was a treat to join in on a couple of the children’s worship services. We tried singing along (mostly the English versions) and even led them in an impromptu worship session where we had one of the members play guitar. Attending an afternoon house service at a Presbyterian church was educational as we were able to be welcomed and share in their worship service. The group also felt it might have been beneficial to attend a service at one of the churches the coordinators visit more regularly, however I think the language barrier might have prevented us from absorbing much of the message, but the experience alone could have been rewarding. Our devotions were done every morning after a delicious breakfast, and were well participated in as we took turns reading and leading the discussion. One note though was that some were of a repetitive nature as the discussions seemed deja vue like. They did bring into light the feelings and concerns most were having and got the group talking about their experience, which was awesome to see how the LORD had used different circumstances in their lives and how that translated into what they noticed and focused on during the trip. Although the orphanage is very Christian it is not directly affiliated with a specific denomination, which was a little concerning for our group. The children didn`t have a trained minister, which could prove rewarding for their understanding. However, for us, there are strong Canadian Reformed ties as two of the coordinators were Canadian Reformed members in British Columbia, Canada, and there are a lot of Canadian Reformed volunteer groups that visit every year.
At trips end the group was experiencing mixed emotions as on one hand they wanted to stay and build on the connections they had made with the children and on the other returning home to our families and loved ones. It was stressed again how we could use this trip as a tool and really connect our donors and supporters by reaching out and telling of our experience, which is also a great personal spiritual tool. Some members in the group even took the pledge to sponsor one of the children in the orphanage, staying in contact and building on the relationships established there. One of the members was so drawn to the work and cause that he returned one and a half months later for a week to help with more of the building.
In November 2011, a team traveled to Aguascalientes, Mexico, to help out at Dulce Refugio. Dulce Refugio – a Sweet Refuge – is a Christian home for orphaned and foster children. Dulce Refugio has been operating since 2002; first in rented facilities and then in 2006, the municipality gave them land to build a home on. By February 2010, the children and managers could move to their new facilities and it is currently home to 46 children. Here the children discover God’s heart in the pages of His love letter – the Bible! They learn about unconditional love, mercy and justice, equality before God, redemption from their sins, building others up with a servant’s heart and hands, and the communion of saints in the body of Christ.
Dulce Refugio is well known in the community through the efforts of Marce. The local municipality places children in their care (despite earlier resistance because they were not Roman Catholic). Also, the children have been able to receive educational bursaries for underprivileged children. The majority of the food at the Home is donated by local businesses and restaurants and churches.
There are future plans for a school to be built on the property as well as a “transition home” for young adults where children over 18 could live for a few years with “mentor parents” who could prepare them to live on their own, teach personal finances, as well as guide post-secondary education choices and transitions into the working force.
Your support to this ministry can be given through their child sponsorship program which you can sign up for on www.childrenofhope.info. If you are interested in putting a team together from your church, Faithworks is willing to help you prepare the team with educational and orientation material and meeting preparation. You can also follow the work of this ministry via Jeremy’s blog site at www.childrenofhope.xanga.com