Ciudad Victoria (City of Victory) is the capital city of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. In November a government official from the mayor's office in Victoria arranged for the Way of the Cross to hold an outreach in a stadium in downtown Victoria. She expected 7,000 people. We went with a WOTC staff group to help with this outreach scheduled for December 5th.
The preparations included ferrying some supplies down to Padilla in advance as well as carrying supplies with the three vans and trailer that went to Padilla on December 4th. Neuvo Padilla is a town about thirty minutes north of Ciudad Victoria. WOTC has a base camp there for outreach and missionary work. The town is called Neuvo (New) because there is an old Padilla under the waters of a nearby reservoir. The relocated town has been around long enough hardly anybody adds the 'Nuevo' when talking about it. Probably like hardly anybody calls me 'little' Paul any more, especially since 'big' Paul is a long absent boyfriend of one of my sisters who is working on her fifty-somethingth year of marriage to her husband, Dan. But I digress.
The mini convoy loaded up and left Harlingen in the morning and got to Padilla mid afternoon. The WOTC staff and volunteers from the States were joined by some local pastors and members of a Mexican missionary group called Cristo es la Repuestra (Christ is the Answer) who were going to help with the outreach the next day. Tony, our leader for this outreach, reviewed the layout of the stadium and who would be responsible for what the next day. Then we all ate dinner together and visited until it was time for the others to leave for their residences.
Juanita and I went for a walk and found an internet cafe where I did a quick check for e-mail (nothing important) and to see if Canada still had a legitimate government or an interventionist, seperatist, socialist coalition. Good news! Parliament was prorogued for a couple of weeks before its scheduled Christmas / January break and there would be no opportunity for a confidence vote until late January. By then perhaps things could be cooled down and carry on more rationally. Also, any senate and judicial vacancies could be appointed before the dippers and separatists had any chance to fill any of them.
We went for a walk to downtown, bought a couple of paletas (ice bars), checked out cell phone holders at a shop and sat in the town square eating our paletas, visiting with each other and watching the other pedestrians and the kids playing soccer. Then we returned to the base. We joined the group as it was winding down with life stories so got to tell ours but only listen to a couple of them. Disappointed, but can't be in two places at once and really enjoyed our outing.
The next day after breakfast we had some free time before it would be time to leave for Victoria. Several headed for the river. I walked downtown and looked for a barber shop. After wandering a fair bit found one and certainly got my three bucks worth. Somehow I think my Spanish skills must have let me down. "Not too much off" seems to have come out "not too much left". Oh well, hair grows back in those places it can and the places it can't are a genetics issue, and nothing to do with an enthusiastic barber. Handed out several "curved illusion" Spanish tracts. Everybody seems thrilled to get them, even the two JW ladies I crossed paths with that morning. When I got back there was still time to check out the river so Juanita and I and a couple of guys from Oklahoma did a little bit of a circle tour on foot down there and back.
Both the ride through Victoria to the stadium and the ride through Matamoros the day before were most enjoyable to me. The last two times we had been in Victoria was in the winter of 2005/2006 going to and returning from Oaxaca. Riding as a passenger in a van driven by somebody else is a lot less stressful than pulling a large fifth wheel trailer through Mexican city traffic. I'll never forget missing a turn in Matamoros and having to double back through narrow little streets with low hanging wires.
We arrived at the stadium in plenty of time to help set up and to unload the seven thousand gift bags. The Cristo es la Repuestra people set up their sound equipment and stage and hung pinatas from the edge of the stadium roof. Several hundred chairs were set up on the field, between the stage and the stands. Then it was a matter of waiting for the crowds. There were a few early birds, but as the appointed time approached there didn't seem to be much traffic for that stadium. There was a fair bit of traffic for a track meet at the neighboring stadium. There were a fair number of busloads of kids arriving at the parking lot between the two stadia (ums?), but all them appeared to be for the track meet not the outreach. At the last minute one bus showed up from an orphanage with kids for the outreach and it was parked on the field since there was no more room in the bus parking lot.
While waiting for people to show up we kept busy coming up with a solution for the strip tickets for the raffles having only one number per ticket. It is hard to tear one end off and keep one end and have any sort of meaningful raffle results if there is a number only on one end of a ticket. The solution was not as hard as we originally tried to make it. We kept track of the first and last tickets handed out, made up a list of random numbers between those extremes and wrote those numbers on some tickets that we tossed in a coffee can. We created about twice as many potential winning tickets as there were prizes in case people lost the ticket or left before the draw.
Eventually it became obvious that there were only going to be a little over three hundred attendees and not the seven thousand predicted. They looked kind of lonely in the stands so everybody was directed to move onto the chairs set up in the field in front of the stage. The outreach program itself was well done with music from Cristo es la Repuestra and preaching by Salomon Trejo from WOTC and some very moving testimonies. Over two hundred people held up their hands and followed in prayer when decisions were called to be made. It was a good day. Two hundred is a good number. It was worth it. Maybe even worth reloading the rubbermaid tubs of gift bags. That last was dissappointing to my vanity since they were so heavy that by the time I had dragged a couple of them to the trailer I was not capable of dragging any more and my slack got picked up by people who were not really in the physical condition to do that either. They were just more heroic.
The smaller than anticipated crowd meant that a higher proportion of attendees won raffle prizes. One memory worth retaining was the big grin on the little girl carrying off a Pinata bigger than she was.
We traveled back to Padilla in the dark and left there early the next day for an uneventful trip home to Harlingen, Texas.
From December SOWER GL report: "Men taped, filled and sprayed the new sheetrock on the training center ceilings where it had sustained hurricane damage (chapel ceiling filled, but remains to be sprayed and painted). All the ceiling fans and most of the light fixtures in the training center were replaced. All the exterior door locks were replaced in the motel. Built new bathroom cabinets for the inside bathrooms in the training center. The women painted doors in the motel and ceilings and one bathroom in the training center. Ladies also did tutoring and made new curtains for two bathrooms. Assisted with outreach logistics. "
In preparations for the Big Feed the chapel ceiling got sprayed and painted along with all the remaining ceiling patches and the boys' bathroom in the training center. The bathrooms had needed some attention for some time, but never made it to the top of the list, so the results of the makeover caused one WOTC staffer to say "Praise God for the hurricane."
During one of the morning SOWER devotions one of the SOWER ladies talked about the background of the hymn "Joy to the World". Apparently it was not originally intended as a Christmas hymn which, on closer examination, accounts for some of the wording which is inconsistent with a Christmas message. She mentioned the connection to Handel's Messiah. This got me thinking, as is typical, at a tangent and about how I had listened to The Messiah on tape repeatedly, but never heard it live. A little web searching revealed that there was a planned performance the next Sunday. A phone call secured the information that although it was sold out of its free tickets, that we could risk showing up and taking the place of some no shows.
Not expecting to be able to get six no show tickets together, Juanita and I went on our own without our SOWER partners. On arrival, we were offered two seats apart from each other, but right at that moment somebody handed in her parent's two tickets together and we acted those with due speed and gratitude.
The performance was a truncated version, but still most enjoyable. Having heard the thing on tape, over and over on my truck stereo for years my standards are perhaps artificially high for an all volunteer group in a smallish city, but they overall did well and the message is timeless even where a soloist falls a bit short of perfection. If they continue with the production as an annual tradition I can see us making it ours as well when we are in the valley.
The post production self congratulation of the executive types began (managers are the same everywhere, aren't they?) and we escaped, beating the crowd in getting out of the parking lot and headed for an elegant post concert dinner at Church's Chicken before heading home. The chicken fried steak platter at $2.99 is highly recommended although having had it a few weeks prior Juanita refused to join me and ordered something a little less cardiac arrestish.
Big Feed Preparation
The Big Feed happens every year on the same dates. We were on a team last year with the write-up here. This year's write-up can be found here.
The preparations begin months before, but even so the week leading up to the event is frenetic.
All hands including any leftover SOWERS were on deck to clean, paint, carry beds, disinfect mattresses, move pews, finalize arrangements in Matamoros, carry stuff to the Big Feed site, and all the myriad things that need doing in this cross-border mega production.
Pretty well everyone worked steady until noon on Christmas Eve and then took a break until the day after Christmas (what we Canadians call Boxing Day) when there was still more last minute stuff to do to deal with the people starting to show up on the 26th and then arriving en masse on the 27th. Of the couple of hundred arriving early some were organized to clean the warehouse and to assemble gift bags for future outreaches. Others went shopping across the border. Pretty well all the groups get a chance to cross-border shop in the days either before or after the Big Feed. They certainly don't find time during the Big Feed.
On December 23rd we joined over a hundred others at the WOTC Christmas party in a private room at Gatti's Pizza. Everyone enjoyed the pizza buffet and it was a good time of visiting for the adults. The kids enjoyed the games and bumper cars.
The parking lot for Gatti's in Harlingen adjoins the parking lot for WalMart. Juanita said as we returned to the vehicle that we needed some groceries either from HEB (a Texas super market chain) or WalMart. I said, "not WalMart" and we left for Home Depot, which was almost deserted, for some supplies and then went to HEB which wasn't too badly crowded, either. Others told us they had gone from the party to WalMart and spent close to two hours to make a simple purchase and had to search the parking lot to find a shopping cart since all that were in the store were in use.
On the 24th, after finishing work at noon we headed out in the afternoon to the local outlet mall to see how busy that was. It was relatively quiet. Somewhat like a quiet Saturday. The parking lot was less than half full. So, rather than just cruising by to check out the action we ended up doing some shopping for bargains on our post Christmas shopping list. WalMart seems to have had a good year, but the upscale malls didn't do well compared to the crowds of shoppers burdened with bags we saw in them at the same time in 2007.
Christmas day we slept in and then got up and opened the presents we had from the kids and were about to phone them when the phone started ringing. By the time we found it and tried calling back we had to wait until the voice mail got recorded, but finally got through. We talked to Rebekah and Nick in Edmonton before they left for Christmas with the rest of the family. Then we called and talked to Deborah, Ernie and kids who were at Ernie's sister's house in Edmonton. Rebekah had got up from her bed rest the night before for the carol service at Sharon Chapel and had been surprised by Deborah, Ernie, Sonja and Sasha arriving. It was good to talk to them and we missed being with them, but don't miss the Canadian Christmas weather. It seems we are scheduled to experience that next year. We'll see how that works out.
At noon on Christmas Day we joined several others for Christmas dinner at John and Theresa's home on the training center base. Second year running. A lot fewer people emphasized the number of single staff people that had moved on. The Way of the Cross is a training ministry. Their mission is "Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and training up others to do the same". This means that once people are trained they have a tendency to move on to do that elsewhere, wherever they are called. Almost like a school with people graduating each year. However, it also is a case of relying on those "students' to do the work and it must be a bit dismaying to see experienced, hard working people move on. If the ministry was my responsibility I don't know if I would have the faith to trust that God would replace them. The turnover would sure take getting used to.
The day after Christmas there was an early bird sale at Kohl's. We ignored the six AM start time, but arrived at seven beating any crowds, because it certainly wasn't crowded like Black Friday. Juanita spend some time at the baby clothes racks accumulating bargains and I selected a shirt and a sweater at pretty reasonable prices. Wardrobe is complete again. Had time to pick up a breakfast taco and still be at the staff meeting on time. Then it was back to helping with the last minute Big Feed rush, which in my case eventually meant sitting next to the ice machine while I figured out if it was going correctly through its cycles. I learned a lot from Len and eventually about a day late it started working okay. Can't put my finger on any action by me so I guess it was healed.
The day after the Big Feed there was a brief rush of activity helping with getting the rental vans back and everybody having breakfast and saying goodbye and then the place was like a ghost town. In the evening Juanita's sister and brother-in-law arrived in Harlingen for two nights. We met them for a snack and then showed them around the training center.
The next day (New Year's Eve) I got up at 5:30 and rushed over to WalMart to pick up ingredients for my entry for the annual New year's Eve Great Chilli Cook Off. The parking lot was almost empty. I parked close to the entrance and walked up to it. It was locked. Probably why there was a parking spot. I then walked to the far entrance to get in. Then rushed home, threw the ingredients in the crock pot, washed the truck, had a shower and we went off to meet the in-laws for breakfast. Hampton Inn has a marvelous policy - guests of guests eat free at the breakfast buffet. Good selection, too.
After coming back to the rig to plug in the crock pot we spent the day sightseeing from McAllen to South Padre Island with lunch at Chapita's in Harlingen and ice cream in Port Isabelle. In the evening we all ended up going to a movie ("Fireproof" with Kirk Cameron). Okay. Good plot, with some marginal acting from some of the non professional cast members. Worth going to, a two hankie movie.
Made it back too late for the festivities and were in bed asleep by ten thirty ("You know you are old when...")
I had left access to the chili in case we didn't make it back in time. We found out the next day that the chili tied for second place. Don't know if there were more than three entries. Afraid to ask. <]:o)