Late last year, a busload of teenagers pulled into Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care (YLM), in El Paso’s Lower Valley. More than a few of the kids had a look of expectant wonder on their faces as they had made this trip before. Others were beginning to wonder what they had signed up for.
Yet, here they were, ready to begin a trip that would help shape their futures.
I’ve previously written that I am the type of guy that tends to view everything through a jaundiced eye. With all I’ve been through, it’s hard not to. That’s why, when I see something positive, I must write about it. When that story also involves a group of fifty teenagers spending their Christmas vacation building homes in Juarez, I really must write about it.
Imagine, a group of kids coming from Mayer, Minnesota, to build homes for people they don’t even know, in a country, most of them have never visited before. Then, learning that the youngest person on the trip is thirteen-years-old, and you have something you take notice of.
Mayer Lutheran High School is a school within the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. At the core of their teachings and beliefs is service to others. The same is true of YLM. For over thirty years YLM has been striving to change lives- Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness, is their motto.
I’m not going to tell the story of the kids who came down to build these homes; it’s better to hear it from them directly. You can watch the video I made with them here above. The story I am going to share with you is quite different. The story I want to share with you is about
need, about unity and about how it shouldn’t matter where one is from, or where one decided to help.
Over the last year, I have seen our country become polarized. Simply put there are two schools of thought. You either agree with the mainstream view, or you are labeled as a leftist, close-minded, or a moron.
It seems you must agree with everything the current administration preaches, or you will simply be an outsider looking in.
When I was considering this article, in early January, I spoke to several individuals about the work YLM is doing, and more specifically, the homes these kids are building in Juarez.
The most common refrain was that they should be working over here, in the United States. So, I spoke to Dave Lane, one of the teachers on this trip to El Paso, and Juarez.
“I had a lady, in one of our fundraising events, for this, tell me that specifically.” said Dave Lane, “I said, I don’t think it’s either-or, I think it’s both-and. Of course, people need to be helping people in our country, but who’s going to help those people in Anapra?”
As Dave said, he doesn’t see any agencies in Juarez working to help families in need. Don’t get me wrong; there are people who do help. But how far can their limited resources go?
That’s why it’s important that individuals such as Dave Lane, and his group of kids come down to help families in need.
Now, imagine a world where Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care or Mayer Lutheran High School didn’t exist. Imagine those individuals who have received home, home extensions, food baskets, or the free medical care that is hosted on their Lower Valley campus. Where would those people, those families be?
Were it not for those groups, there would be 3,000 families, on both sides of the border, who would possibly be homeless, or worse. There would be families who would not be able to make their limited supply of groceries last between paychecks were it not for the food baskets provided by YLM to families in need.
Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care is one of a limited number of groups reaching out and serving those in need. Regardless of religion, race, or political leanings, YLM – and others – exist to help.
This is what we need to remember, to serve others.
Rabbi Shalom of Karlin, in the 18th Century, said “If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into the mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person yourself out into the light.”
Any group that is willing to get down into the “mud” and help, they are worthy of our help and support.
“G-d does not need our good works,” Martin Luther, Father of the Reformation said, “but our neighbor does.” (Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 10).
So, I want to challenge you; I want to know where you are. Are you sitting there, on the sidelines, waiting for someone to help? Or, are you willing to help? That’s where I challenge you, to get up, get out and help.
Take a moment this week to speak to your Rabbi, your pastor, your parish priest. As them how you, as a community of faith, can help those who are hungry, are homeless, who are sick. Ask what can be done, and where to begin. You may be surprised as they just might be waiting for you to get the ball rolling.
Hillel the Elder said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
My answer to Hillel? It is us; it is now.
Photos provided by Mayer Lutheran High School.