On an early morning in July before sunrise, we gathered at Palm Beach International Airport with a group of young people ready to fully offer themselves in an intense week of missions with the organization Project Mexico.
The team members were: Eleni Gibson, Alex Leondis, Juliana Leondis, Stefanos Mitchell, Alexia Pelekanos, Jojo Pores, and Christo Skoundridakis, led by Father Mark and Presbytera Anastasia.
We travelled 12 hours to our destination, the Saint Innocent Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. Upon arriving, many emotions were going through our minds. But our mission was clear: build a home for a family in need; grow closer to Christ; spend quality time with the other faithful (the largest group of the summer with 130 teenagers and advisors).
After setting up our tents and getting settled, we gathered in the outdoor chapel for evening prayers and orientation, led by the Project Mexico Staff. We were broken up into teams (Saint Mark and Saint Philip Church from Canada) and began a life-changing week. We learned about Saint Innocent, his life and mission in America, about the boys at the Orphanage, the family we would be building a home for and the “nuts and bolts” of building a home in one week. We went to bed early to begin our work before the sun would be up.
DAY ONE: We cleared rocks and debris and laid the foundation with concrete that we mixed by hand! By the time we left the worksite, smooth concrete was beginning to harden and by the next morning we would be ready to begin construction of the walls.
DAY TWO: We framed the walls and connected them together. The house was beginning to take form. We put chicken wire around the entire home and placed plywood on the roof with screws.
DAY THREE: We placed 2 coats of stucco on the entire home and continued to finalize the roofing.
DAY FOUR: We rested with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Spanish, played basketball and board games, and spent a few hours at the beach.
DAY FIVE: We arrived early, laid shingles on the roof and painted the entire house (two coats). After cleaning the entire area, we prepared for the highlight of the week.
Fr. Nicholas Andruchow, the Director of the Orphanage and Project Mexico, together with Fr. Mark, did a “Blessing of the Waters” Service with the family. We blessed the home, presented them with gifts and the Saint Mark of Boca Icon, which now hangs in their home.
While it was a difficult week for our “worldly cares” (sleeping in tents, sharing a bathhouse with 130 others, cold showers, frijoles [beans] at every meal, etc.), it was truly one of the most moving and rewarding experiences of our lives. Now, as we look to the icon of Saint Innocent in our beautiful Saint Mark sanctuary (directly to the right of the Icon screen), we will have the opportunity to be reminded of the great work being done in Mexico in Christ’s name, and ask Saint Innocent to intercede to Christ for us all.
It was truly amazing to see these young people offer their best to God, put aside their earthly cares, and spend a week doing something for someone else. Truly a gift from God!
We thank the Saint Mark Family for their generous donations to make this trip possible. We also thank our Saint Mark Philoptochos who sponsored our transportation and for the DOP who made a generous donation.
Quotes from the Young People
“I think that it was really amazing to be able to see how excited and overjoyed the family was during and after the construction of their house.”
“It was awesome to build a home for this family. It was a great opportunity to see God in all people, regardless of their nationality, social class or economic status.”
“This was a truly inspiring and powerful experience; giving of ourselves for those less fortunate. One week given affects them forever!”
“I feel good about helping a family have a home for the first time.”
“A truly amazing experience. It made me so incredibly thankful for all that I have and for my life. I will always have a special place in my heart for the beautiful family we built a home for.”
“The camaraderie of all the churches coming together to complete a house that will change someone’s life forever is something I will never forget.”
“As I just arrived, I was rethinking my decision to leave my home and comfort, travel miles away to another country. When the week was coming to an end, I was actually hoping it could’ve lasted longer because it turned out to be the greatest experience of my life.”