By Katie Woods & Ali Woods*
Late last year people from four different conferences of The United Methodist Church from across the U.S. came together for a week of mission work with the Manos Juntas, Mexico annual conference. This team was made up of members from the Northern Illinois Conference, the North Carolina Conference, our East Ohio Conference, and Kansas in the Great Plains Conference. Altogether, it was an eclectic group of clergy and lay members, ranging in age from their early 20s into their 80s. Our main focus was to help with construction on a day care center, but our ultimate purpose was to understand more about the missions of Manos Juntas. We wanted to learn how bringing more teams can help make its visions a reality.
Manos Juntas is an outreach mission of the Methodist Church of Mexico based in Rio Bravo, Mexico which ministers to several cities on the U.S. – Mexico border. Its current ministries include clinics in the cities of Rio Bravo, Reynosa, and Nuevo Progresso, a children’s home, an elementary school and community center, and the Susan Wesley Institute, which provides supplemental tutoring for students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past, Manos Juntas focused on building small, single-family homes known as casitas for families in need. Now, leadership is shifting the missions focus and dreaming bigger. Global Ministries Missionary Willie Berman and Manos Juntas Operations Coordinator Julian Otero aim to create mission operations that will be self-sustaining and serve as models for other mission teams to follow. Instead of focusing on helping one family at a time, the directors feel that the mission can create greater change and help more people by creating community-centered programs, such as the day care center. With having an affordable day care nearby that is open all day, many mothers will be able to work more consistently at the nearby factories and bring more money to their household. This will help the economy of the neighborhood as well as the families who utilize the center.
For the majority of the week, the mission team traveled across town to the day care site that has four buildings and a privacy wall under construction. With the help of, Juan, Poncho, and Justo, three very talented maestros, “teachers” of construction, we worked on removing stumps in the yard, increasing the height of the privacy wall, and laying four sidewalks. During team meetings, we discussed that even though the work we did on the project did not appear dramatic, and some of our projects were small, each step was important. For example, the removal of the stumps was hard work with little change in the scenery, but several of the sidewalks could not be laid until they were gone. Even something as simple as pulling weeds is the first step in creating a garden for the children to learn about care of the earth. Our team’s work with the mission was a first step in bringing more teams to help build more projects.
There are many small ways for our congregations to help these big dreams as well. Each team brought contributions from their home churches, including vitamins, school supplies, laptops, guitars, and money to help pay for gates to the day care. Future planned projects include extensions for the children’s home, a community center, and a year-round vacation bible school retreat center. There is still plenty of work to be done.
Learn more about and support the Manos Juntas Mission.
*Katie and Ali Woods are members of Wellington First United Methodist Church in the Firelands District of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.