Building relationships and houses in Mexico is goal of First Lutheran mission project

While the mission group of First Lutheran Church has a house to show at the conclusion of each weeklong mission trip they make to San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, the group is also working to build relationships with the people of that community.

Members of the congregation regularly visit the town in Sonora, Mexico, to help construct basic housing for its residents, and they also build up the spirits of the townspeople during each visit through church services and community meals, said Cheryl Wichman of First Lutheran Church.

The project is “relationship oriented,” she said. “It’s not a ‘one off and done’ project.”

In January 2023, the group’s most recent visit, volunteer builders from Florida, New Mexico and Nebraska built a 12-foot by 30-foot home for a family of seven that included a kitchen, a bathroom with running water, and a bedroom.

Before the family moved into their new home, they were in an apartment in the town and all seven slept in the same bed.

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Wichman said when the mother of the family saw a separate bed for herself and her husband, along with bunk beds for the children who range in age from 6 months to 18 years, she cried.

Wichman said her husband, Joel, first traveled to Mexico with his employer, where he met the boss’ brother, Curt VanEkeren, who operates a program called Casa Homes of Hope with his wife, Kelly.

VanEkeren encouraged the people who took part in that first trip to bring others back regularly for more building projects. The Wichmans and the First Lutheran Church group have been returning for seven years.

Mark Lant said he and the other volunteers “were the biggest winners” in the weeklong project.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said. Lant’s wife, Jeannie, said the family was “so happy and so grateful” to have their new home. The Lants presented the keys to the family during a “prayerful service” on the fifth day of the group’s visit. The prayer service took place after the First Lutheran volunteers set up the home, including handmade quilts for each family member and a handmade wooden cross.

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Each house takes four days to build, said Jeff Kohrs, starting with a concrete slab that is poured prior to the arrival of the First Lutheran group.

In addition to running water, the houses are wired for electricity, said Kohrs, which the volunteers agreed to pay the connection fee for in addition to the cost of the house.

“We felt a bit hollow,” he said, “because after we left, they’d be in the dark” without the addition of the electrical connection to the town’s power grid.

The January construction project was complicated by strong winds that blew over some walls that were under construction, said Ron Heng. Volunteers tied on bandannas and persevered, he said.

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Participants in the mission project pay their own way to Yuma, Arizona, where they cross the border into Mexico. They also contribute toward the $8,000 total cost of the finished house for a family in San Luis Rio Colorado. The Nebraska City Rotary Club meets at noon Wednesday at Valentino’s, 1710 S. 11th St. Guests pay $10 for lunch. Cole Sharp is the club president. Call (402) 873-0530 for more information.

As reported by Nebraska City News Press

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