The Perkins Perspective | The Glo(cal) Outlook | Spring 2012
Down, But Not Out, in Tijuana
By Jerrell Davis, SPU Sophomore
As a 19-year-old African-American male in Tijuana, Mexico, speaking Spanish with the locals, I was nothing short of an unusual sight. But that was the reality while I was in Tijuana this past fall with a group of men on a mission’s trip. These men, usually associated with Urban Impact or D.A.D.S., have been going to Tijuana every year for about 12 years. This was my second time joining them, and my third time going to Mexico.
I grew up in a neighborhood considered "poor." And growing up in that community, I saw the necessity for leaders to step up and advocate for those underrepresented people. This made me passionate about encouraging and advocating for the underrepresented, too, especially youth. So going on this trip with 25 other Christian men (most between the ages of 30 and 70!), was a great experience.
Five Full Days
We knew that we had limited time, so we worked hard and fast to build the best houses we could in just five days. Inevitably, being so close together in an unfamiliar place resulted in our formulating connections and relationships that would otherwise never have been made.
The diverse demographic of our team included 19-year-olds and 72-year-olds; we had white, black, Asian, and Latino; we had former felons working with pastors; we had CEOs of companies working with janitors. I was truly amazed to see the assembly of men from very different walks and lifestyles, and who all love God, come together to do a good work for the less fortunate.
Our daily itinerary was busy — starting from day one. We had caught an early morning flight from Seattle to San Diego, and once we touched down, we packed a truck with luggage and lumbered across the border into Tijuana. We then made our way to an orphanage, where we set up camp.
While we got situated, kids from the nearby school ran out to us and began practicing their limited English. Because I already knew Spanish, I served as one of the translators between the local people and our group.
On that same day, we got to work. We started by painting what became the outside of a new classroom for an elementary school not far from the orphanage. For the next few days, we became carpenters, architects, contractors and construction workers.
In our five days in Tijuana, we built two classrooms for an elementary school and a house — one story, built of wood with two rooms and three windows — for a family of five. (The family would be sharing a bathroom with the next door neighbors.) The house wasn’t much compared to our Americanized standard of living, but to that family, it is might as well have been a mansion.
During my first visit to Tijuana, I had come back feeling sympathetic for the local people. They live in poverty and went without a lot of what we in the U.S. call “the basic necessities” like cable TV, Xbox, and a microwave oven. However, on my next trips, I returned with an entirely new perspective that has changed my life in an amazing way.
I returned feeling sorry for us comfortable, privileged, spoiled Americans. We have so much, yet we complain and desire more. The people in Tijuana do not have a lot, but that just increases the significance of the little things, and they appreciate them so much more. I was convicted — and challenged — to set aside my materialistic views and alter the status quo in our communities where we define success by how much we own.
I also loved how family oriented the local people were. There, family is first, always. Although they could complain about a lot — like a husband and wife with three kids allowing the grandparents to live with them, or other extended family members living with them in a house that barely fits the nucleus — they kept their grumbling to a minimum.
As a result of these experiences in Tijuana, I am convinced that spiritual wealth is much more valuable than material wealth. Now back in Seattle, I’ve made it a point to share these lessons with the high school and middle school students with whom I work through Urban Impact.
This world is set up to persuade us that we need to be selfish and bless ourselves. However the greatest commandment that Jesus gave us was to love God and love others. And I discovered striving for spiritual wealth is a better reflection of Jesus’ command than trying to achieve material or financial success.
We must remember: We can’t take any of it with us when we go!
Jerrell Davis is a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, double majoring in business and sociology. He grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and, in addition to his work with Urban Impact, he teaches basketball at elementary schools and serves with his church’s youth.
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