Ministry in Mexico WWU Graduates Reach Out Across the Border
"The walls are cardboard. They sleep on nail-studded 2x4s on top of buckets. Sticks hold up thin plastic—trash bags, basically—and people live under them. It's really dark. Light comes in from holes in the material."
This is how 2007 WWU graduate Cheryl Romans describes the living conditions at the labor camps she visited in Tejido, Uruapan, on the Baja peninsula of Mexico.
Both Romans and fellow 2007 WWU graduate Tiffany Penhallurick participated in a WWU-sponsored mission trip to the Mt. of Olives Children's Village in March 2006. The experience for both was so moving that they began talk of doing more mission work.
One after another, doors closed, and they became discouraged. They wanted something more isolated than Uruapan, but nothing was working out. Romans decided to take another look at Uruapan, and went on another mission trip with WWU in March 2007.
"The two e-mails she sent me from Mexico made me cry," says Penhallurick. "She said, ‘We have to come here.'"
Although both Romans and Penhallurick would no longer be students and therefore could not participate in the Student Missionary program offered by WWU, they were determined to go. They began preparing to cover the costs on their own.
Jeanne Vories, WWU Student Missions director, was ecstatic to hear of their determination. "Most graduates want to start careers and make money," she says. "These girls are amazing."
In efforts to raise funds, they organized yard sales, helped at the WWU International Food Fair, sent more than 90 letters, and gave sermons at churches. Everything had to come from donations or their own pockets.
"We took turns panicking about it," says Romans. "But we also took turns encouraging each other."
On Aug. 31, they left College Place and began the long drive to Mexico in a personal vehicle. They are relying on their savings and continuing donations for their work in Uruapan. They hope to stay at least through April.
Although the orphanage currently has only one completed building, there will eventually be 10 homes on the 12-acre complex, each home housing 12 to 13 children.
Nissa Ham, junior pre-occupational therapy student, chose to spend her summer serving at the orphanage. "When I first got here, I worried a lot about doing things exactly right," she says. "God has shown me that it isn't about doing things perfectly. It's about sharing the gifts He's given me with the kids."
The children have left a lasting impression on all three girls. "When you see the kids, something changes," says Romans. "When I look them in the eyes, I know this is definitely where God wants me to be."
Ham agrees. "At the end of the day, when I'm exhausted, a kid will come and give me a hug and kiss and say goodnight," she says. "That's when I know why I'm down here. God wants me to continue His work. This ministry is just getting started."