Jan. 20, 2009
By JERRY HILL
Baylor Bear Insider
Joseph Hawkins couldn't help but be shocked by the levels of poverty and living conditions in the villages just outside of Galeana, Mexico.
Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., and now in his second year at Baylor, Hawkins wonders to himself, "Why did God choose me to be born a few hundred miles more north than these guys?"
"When you drive up and you see the sight, obviously if it doesn't shock you, then you don't have a pulse," said the sophomore distance runner and 20-year-old philosophy major. "But at that point, I say to myself, `OK, I've got a certain amount of hours to spend with these people, let's make the most of it.' And that's what we did. We tried to show the love of Christ through our actions. Just showing them affection and showing them that you care about them."
Hawkins was part of a medical mission trip to Galeana on Jan. 3-8 that was led by associate athletic director Tom Hill and included a dentist, an oral surgeon, two doctors, two nurses, Baylor Athletics Chaplain Wes Yeary and six other Baylor student-athletes - baseball players Brooks Kimmey and Shawn Tolleson, soccer player Andi Fagan and track and field athletes Danielle Bradley, Brittany Bruce and Diamond Richardson.
"I've seen poor to a level that I can't understand. I've seen medical to a level that I don't understand. How they go day to day with a crushed hip," said Hill, who's made several mission trips to Mexico with his wife, Kristen, a former Baylor runner and now a nurse at Waco's Providence Hospital.
"You don't know what you're going to see in a village. And it can all of a sudden just cut you out at your knees and take your breath away. And you really can't slow down a whole lot. You're always moving. These kids come up to you, and they want affection, or they just want to kick the ball around. That's what pushes you."
For Bradley, who made the trip last year and speaks fluent Spanish, most of the barriers have been knocked down. But Richardson and Bruce don't know the language and were making their first mission trip of any kind.
"Obviously when you're not in your natural environment, you're going to be out of your comfort zone," said Richardson, a freshman quarter-miler from DeSoto, Texas. "But not in a bad way. The impetus for everything we did was always on God. We were giving out of our hearts, because the Lord placed it on our hearts to do so. It was only four days, and I know it sounds crazy, but I really did feel like it allowed me personally to grow closer to God."
Leaving out of Waco at 6:30 Saturday morning, the van carrying the seven student-athletes was awkwardly quiet. Coming from three different sports, some of them barely knew each other.
"At first, no one was talking," Richardson said.
"But then Shawn started the `Would you rather?' game, and we all started talking about music and all kinds of stuff," Bruce said.
In a 14-hour, one-way van ride, you can either bond or become extremely irritated. It's obvious that this was a special bonding experience.
"We were making a game out of everything," Richardson said. "I remember one day we were driving down the road, making noises for every bump in the road. It was just stuff like that. Shawn was hilarious."
"On the way home, I heard Shawn in the back of the van say, `Isn't it crazy how before (this trip), we went to the same classes and didn't even talk to each other?''' Yeary said. "And now, there's just a special friendship that you can tell just from being around these guys. They're like family to me after just that short time. I love these guys."
Basing out of a hotel in Galeana, the group started each day with a devotional led by Yeary.
"Wes' style is very good for this type of group," Hill said. "It's not preaching, it's devotional, and it's a quick challenge for the day. Which was exactly what we needed to get through the day."
Even before the devotional, some of the student-athletes were up as early as 5 a.m. for their daily workouts. Richardson and Bruce, who are both sprinters, did their 200-meter workouts on a makeshift track on the plaza in front of the hotel.
"I was really racking my brain, `How are we going to train the sprinters?''' Hill said. "Indoor track's about elbows and moving and shaking and pushing and shoving. And it wasn't a pure 200-meter track. But it was not so tight and cramp that they couldn't get their legs moving at a fast pace."
Located in the state of Nuevo Leon, Galeana is about 200 kilometers from the metropolitan city of Monterrey and "there's probably 600 or 700 villages" in the outlying area, Hill said.
"As long as you could see two wires, you knew there was electricity out there somewhere."
Traveling up to two hours to each village, they were usually setting up by mid-morning. On the way, Kristen Hill would pass out assignments for what her husband referred to as a "10-ring circus."
In addition to the makeshift clinic - kind of a much smaller version of the M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units used in the Korean War, equipped with a student-led pharmacy - there are rotation stations for dispensing eyeglasses, taking and copying photos, face and fingernail painting, arts and crafts and Vacation Bible School.
"Early on in the day, we would just help wherever we were needed," said Kimmey, a senior catcher from Temple, Texas. "And for most of the day, it was with the dentists, because there were a lot of kids. And the dentist can make the most immediate impact. When you pull somebody's tooth, you know that's going to help. Whereas the doctor can just give them some pain medicine for a little bit."
"We didn't actually pull anybody's teeth or anything like that," said Tolleson, a sophomore pitcher and pre-dental major from Fairview, Texas. "But we got to assist in some surgeries and holding the gauze and suctioning out the blood. That was kind of neat. And we would look at kids' teeth and do fluoride treatments."
Working with the doctors one of the days, Bradley saw a mother bring in her young son and X-rays of his hip.
"She thought that her son just fell and hurt his hip one day," said Bradley, a junior distance runner from West Palm Beach, Fla., majoring in health science studies. "But looking at it, the doctor told me that it looks like it's wearing down, it's eating away at it. There's a condition that happens in younger children when the head of the hip is just slowly eaten away at, and the only way to help it is with surgery. And if that's the case with this little boy, his hip is going to be continually worn down and worn down until eventually he won't be able to walk.
"When you encounter things like that, you just have to pray and trust the Lord that he's going to take care of it. Because He sees the needs of these people, and He can meet them when we can't."
Throughout the day, but especially during times when the clinic slows down, the student-athletes are like pied pipers for all the children of the village. All language barriers are broken down when you throw a Frisbee, kick a soccer ball or let them pepper you with Silly String.
"To watch Joseph just go into a village and, as soon as we get there, just pull out tennis balls and start bouncing them. And all of a sudden, there's a group of kids around playing catch," Yeary said. "I was blown away by the seven athletes that went with us at their desire to serve and the joy in which they did that. They were all out of their comfort zones, whether that was using an outhouse or being in a cloud of dust all day or just the language barrier. And yet whatever they were asked to do, they didn't just accept it and go, they did it with enthusiasm."
Starving for affection, the girls of the village were drawn to Richardson and Bruce and "wanted to show us everything."
"They were so attached to us. It was like we were the best thing that ever happened to them," said Bruce, a sophomore sprinter from Lee's Summit, Mo. "They wanted to show us the church and their rooms. This is where we go to school, and this is my friend. I wasn't expecting to be so embraced. It felt like we were getting a real glimpse into their lives."
"You can form a connection in so many different ways that you don't even think about," Richardson said. "I guess that was probably the most important thing that I learned. It's not always about words. It's just showing people that you care and showing people that you have an interest in their lives."
At the end of each day, as the clinics are shutting down and the group is loading up for the trip back, they show the Jesus film and let the local pastor close with a message. But when the projector broke down in the first village, "Danielle just got up and shared the whole story," Yeary said. "And then Diamond got up and did it in the second village. It was just neat to see them step up and serve."
From village to village, the people and problems they dealt with varied greatly. But the mission was always the same.
"I think it's unique when you wake up in the morning," Yeary said, "and your only goal is to be used by the Lord and just say, `OK, God, I'm ready. Wherever and whomever and whatever you call me to do, I'll be ready.' There was just a sweet spirit, and we really did grow in our love for each other and just enjoyed serving and locking arms with each other and going out."
Visiting three villages in as many days, there were only so many opportunities for evangelism. But on their second night in Galeana, a door opened for Bradley.
"I was minding my own business, just filling up my water bottle, and this lady in the hotel started talking to me," Bradley said. "She just kept talking and talking. She talked my ear off. We talked about her family, talked about (President-elect) Obama, talked about what we were doing there. Eventually I did get around to telling her why we were there. And she said, `Oh, you're missionaries?' And that opened up an opportunity to present the gospel to her. So I shared the gospel with her and asked if she wanted to receive Christ. And she did. So I led her in prayer."
Bradley then introduced the new disciple to Carlos, the Baylor group's local contact in Galeana.
"And Carlos invited her to stay with his mom whenever she came into town," Bradley said. "She's a teacher, and she only gets paid so much. So that would cut back on a huge expense whenever she comes into town. And immediately she just started crying, because she was receiving the blessings of the Lord already."
Even in short visits, the impact was hard to miss. In the second village, after the group shared the gospel, the pastor had the children go through a line to give each one of the missionaries a hug.
"I know there's some unwritten rule in our culture that guys aren't supposed to cry, but I definitely shed a few tears," Hawkins said. "That was pretty special. And they wouldn't have even had to give us hugs. Their smiles are just so big. There are certain moments in life where you'll look back maybe on your death bed, and you say,'Wow!' That's one of those moments that I'll always remember. And it's something you need to reflect on right then, not just 50 years down the road."
During the group's day off between the second and third village, they went just outside Galeana to see the Puente de Dios (God's Bridge), which is a natural bridge formed by a river cutting through rock.
"We passed by this one section where the places where the people were living looked like the forts that I used to build in my backyard with sticks and whatever else," Yeary said. "I've never been able to get that out of my mind, I guess just the poverty of it or the level of living of those folks. And I've had a heavy heart for so many of them."
Back at Baylor, the student-athletes and the rest of the group are back in their normal routines. Less than a week after returning from Mexico, the four track athletes had to get back on the road for the Wes Kittley Invitational in Lubbock, Texas, while the others have gone their separate ways.
But the trip to Mexico is one that will stick with them for a while.
"It's always good when you get the chance to go out and serve," Tolleson said. "You learn a lot about yourself when you're out there serving God."