It has been almost 2 years since I’ve been back to El Florido. I had no expectations but was extremely excited to see the growth of the community that had always been so welcoming and loving to our group. We happen to be joining the community at a time where there was a birthday celebration and mass for an extremely generous woman who helped to sponsor 12 homes, 12 families in just 13 months of discovering the community. Her name is Margie and was turning 82. When volunteering I always struggled with the idea of how much difference can one person or one group truly make? At the end of mass all the families came up to join in a blessing for Margie. This was one of the most emotional points of the trip, I could feel the love and gratitude that exuded not only from the community to Margie but from Margie back to this community. That moment felt as real to me as I would imagine it was like for Thomas to put his hands in Jesus’s wounds. I was able to witness and take part in pure genuine love and gratitude. It left me with a sense of awe and desire to “set the world on fire”. As we said our goodbyes, the exchanges of words of gratitude and love seemed endless. There seemed to not be enough time or words to express the deep humanity that has unfolded from the acts of mutual service and generosity. Moments like these help me to feel more grounded and closer to God and tangibly feel is deep love for me.
- Anna Viet
That is the feeling that stuck with me this entire weekend. I read somewhere that there are two types of prayer: a prayer of supplication (asking for something) and a prayer of gratitude. It seems that the spirit of the El Florido community is always one of abundance and gratitude. I am always inspired by their sense of "more than enough." More than enough time, more than enough food, and more than enough love.
In a world where the things we have in our lives -- even the people we have in our lives -- are somehow not "enough" ... the El Florido community has helped me see otherwise.
- Kevin Nguyen
I have a vision of building bridges on this trip. God called us to be the builder of bridges that close the gaps that separate us from each other and from Him. Sometimes, pain and suffering in our lives make us indifferent to the needs of others and prevent us from seeing God's presence. I feel called on this trip to be compassionate to one another by bridging the gaps not just by bricks and stones but through the act of kindness to freely give and receive each other. When we are true to ourselves and with one another, we become the mirror that reflects the image of the living Christ. When we join our hands with our brothers and sisters, we build a community that fosters hope in the younger generation and share our gift of faith to all. It is truly rewarding to be a part of a loving community that welcomes you like a family and continues to grow gracefully over the years.
- Thuy Phuong Trinh
Although mentally prepared, I was still affected by what I was exposed to during the trip, a little shocked and saddened about the differences between CA and TJ. Inequality happens as the people here lack access to basic living conditions such as clean water or housing. Life in TJ is not easy, yet it is quiet and simple. I hope the residents will thrive from their disadvantages to build a better life for themselves and their children. Meeting up with the deportees made me think about uncertainty in life. Like one of the life changing events, being deported is difficult to deal with. I think survival instinct will help the deportees adapt to the new living situation. More importantly, being separated from family and loved ones who are living on the other side of the border is the bigger challenge and the look of pain on people's face touched me deeply.
I was moved while reading about “The culture of coming together, of going out to meet one another,” during Friday night's gathering. It reminds me that we as humans, regardless of our differences, should step up and overcome challenges and conflicts to work for a greater cause for humanity.
- Huong Tran
I’m very blessed and thankful to join the Casa building trip. To me, this trip is very valuable, memorable, and meaningful. No words can explain how much joy and appreciation I have for this trip. The trip, especially all the activities within the trip, has opened my heart to the fullest potential to love and significantly increased my desire to do more for the destitute people. The main theme of the trip is for us to serve the community such as building houses for the needy family and spending time with children and immigrant people; however, I felt we received more than we gave because of their warming welcome, caring togetherness, preparing and providing nutritious meals for the group, and so much more. The Casa building trip was impressive and definitely has a lasting impact on me, and I just cannot stop thinking about the trip. To learn, to understand, and to discover, I must embarked onto the Casa building trip yet in the end, I received so much more than I could ever bargained for. - Tien Do
When I first signed up to help out with Casa Building, I was going off of a complete whim of wanting to get out of the country with some friends to do some volunteering on the side. What I got out of it was much more than that.
Getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, it struck how different life in Tijuana was. To see the change in scenery where everything was more bare bones filled with dilapidated houses and windy, unpaved roads struck me as we crossed the border. How could the change be so radical considering how nearby California was? And yet the proof was in front of my eyes. As we went to work on the house for the Carvajal Ortega family, however, my focus changed. Seeing the families from all over the El Florido community come to help out inspired me as I worked on the insulation and other various tasks. And then, when we got to interact with the community even further at the community center, spending time with the children and the families, I saw what they lacked in amenities, they made up for it in love, support, and joy. From putting up chicken wire, to sharing meals with the community and celebrating birthdays, to playing soccer, to attending mass together, everything was just so beautiful and special.
I remember going to one of the rooms in the community center, a small dance studio, where I met little Joel. I remember making a connection with him the moment we met. From him showing me how to dance, to me playing a song on the piano for him, to coloring together, to eating together, him, along with the other children, all had such a beautiful love for life. I wish I could say I had the same zeal at his age. I was extremely touched when he slipped a gift into my pocket, a coloring he did representing our friendship (complete with a wonderfully incorrect spelling of Kevin as ccdin). It is still something I treasure and keep around with me. All this happened despite the broken Spanish I spoke. Despite the language barrier, the love the community had for all of us needed no words, in fact, words would not have done it justice.
Spending time with the community in El Florido truly taught me the meaning of solidarity, of working together rather than just giving charity. Not only was it about building a house, but it helped me get to know the community and understand what a community truly meant: a group of people who support, care, and guide each other to help one another grow. The community in El Florido taught me the importance of understanding one another on a deeper level beyond simple words. Seeing their positive attitudes and willingness to help like building one another's house to working together at the community center to create a warm, loving environment for each other and especially for the children inspired me to take that spirit of solidarity and community into my own interactions with those in my family, church, and local community. I went to Casa Building expecting volunteer work, but instead I got that as well as a greater understanding of community and a greater appreciation for life and those around me.
- Kevin Nguyen