The annual Reel Life mission to the Southern Baja was planned long before September 14, when hurricane Odile made landfall. The strongest storm ever recorded to hit the area left around 10,000 homes totally destroyed in its wake, while thousands more suffered extreme damage. The Mexican Military was called in to restore order, while numerous agencies brought food, water, medicine and other forms of humanitarian aid.
The plans for our upcoming trip changed immediately as a result of the storm, and we began to communicate with our field partner, Mexican Medical, as well as local pastors to see how we might best be able to help. Under the direction of Pastor Luis Benivedas, we served in two poor barrios and assisted those who were unable to help themselves. As one could imagine, the rudimentary housing common to these areas was no match for such a powerful hurricane, and the poorest sectors were left completely devastated. While the resort areas and marina were quickly restored and made ready for the tourism which sustains the local economy, the road to recovery will be much, much longer for these impoverished neighborhoods.
The list of urgent projects was long, and our team of 14 gringos joined several inspiring nationals to bring both hope and a helping hand to those in need. Craig Libby, Gary Sheveland and Dr. Alvaro Avila of Mexican Medical led the charge, and numerous local heroes emerged within the storm-ravaged community. Friends, family, neighbors and strangers all came together. The older children were helping younger ones. Hard working and family oriented, these lovely people showed incredible resilience. Marcela Rodriguez, a twenty-five year old local resident, volunteered to join our team and serve for the entire week!Her genuine love for the Lord and those in her community was an inspiration to everyone.
Through a great deal of collaboration, we accomplished several significant construction projects, 5 gospel-centered medical fairs, and connected many individuals and families to the local church. The highlight of the week was seeing several locals pray to receive Christ as well as one of the members of our team! Words cannot explain the feelings of knowing that we were making a difference in so many lives. Each person we encountered seemed to share a common love for their neighbors and willingness to help with whatever was needed. Translators were available but used less than one might expect. Smiles, handshakes and thumbs up are universal. We were making friends as fast as we were making memories. There is something that is hard to describe about the sense of community that is common to areas like these where resources and busy schedules are lacking. Even though we worked long, hard days, something still felt like a vacation, or even better. No stress, just feelings of accomplishment and contentment. It just felt right, and we all hated to see our time in the southern Baja come to an end.
Although our team returned to the U.S., the work in which we were involved continues still today. Leaving behind a variety of tools with a small financial gift for additional materials, we continue to hear incredible stories of Marcela, Hugo, Santiago, Jose, Isaias, Dr. Alvaro, Pastor Luis and a host of others continuing to bring help and hope to those in need.
If you would like more information on how you can support the ongoing hurricane relief effort of Reel Life International in the southern Baja, please contact Nicki Cochran at ncochran@Reel-Life.org or visit our site at www.Reel-Life.org.