The sun beamed through the Sierra Madre mountains and down on us as we walked along the edge of a dirt road. A warm breeze blew loose strands of hair in my face, sand in my eyes and the distinguishable scent of cow manure in my nose. Brown, dead grass and shards of broken liquor bottles crackled beneath the soles of my dust-covered shoes.
I stopped briefly at each home, one identical to the next, raised my hands, bowed my head and asked for God's deliverance and protection for each inhabitant.
Once we finished our prayer walk through the campo, three of us eagerly approached a group of blond-haired girls in long, floral skirts pedaling bikes away from the dirt yard in front of their simple, rectangular home and out into the road.
They stopped. We smiled.
"Hablas español?" I asked the oldest of the girls. She stared blankly.
"Sprechen sie Deutsches?" 15-year-old Michael Hadinger, standing next to me, asked in German.
The oldest girl nodded.
"How do I say 'hello' to them?" I asked Michael, the local missionary's oldest son.
"How do we ask them what their names are?" asked Lindsey McAllister of Lincoln, 24, standing to the other side of me.
Michael mumbled something to us and we unintentionally butchered it back in our own words to the girls. But with Michael's help, we quickly learned the girls' names and relayed the message that God loves them.
So, I thought to myself, this is Rubio, Mexico.
It wasn't quite what I had pictured.
Ten of us from Lincoln's Christ's Place church had joined 66 others from all over the Midwest in the Assemblies of God Missions Abroad Placement Service, to build a church and minister to the people in Mexico.
"I was ready to take my faith to another level and take the next step," said Josh McAllister. "I was stepping out on a limb for God."
Weeks before, we all had prepared to step out on faith for God. We had read up on Mexican culture, stocked up on antacids to combat all of the spicy foods and practiced key phrases in Spanish.
"I had the preconceived notion that the people were going to be Mexican," Lindsey McAllister said.
Little did we know we'd be stepping a lot farther out on that limb. Instead of being immersed in Mexican culture, we experienced a lot of German culture, devoured lots of homemade sausages and pastries and remained dumbfounded over the Low German dialect.
We knew we were going to a German Mennonite community, but we had no idea that the people we were going to meet would actually be white Germans and that the community would be so large.
About 50,000 German Mennonites live in Mexico. The German immigrants first came to Mexico from Canada after the Mexican Revolution. Foreign landowners had been expelled from the country, and the government especially needed farmers to tend to the land previously owned by William Randolph Hearst. In exchange for growing grains and producing fine cheeses, the Mennonites were exempt from Mexico's educational laws, military service and taxes.
But in past years, their culture has been hard hit. A 10-year drought sent many across the border to the United States and back to Canada. Those remaining face a struggling farm community torn by substance and sexual abuse.
According to Bill Hendren of Pueblo, Colo., one of the coordinators for the Colorado/Wyoming MAPS group, the alcohol rate for Mennonites is four times greater than that of Mexicans.
At first glance, however, it is hard to see a community that is suffering.
John Cummings, a Goodyear employee, has taken eight mission trips to Mexico with MAPS. In contrast to the other trips he's taken, the 60-year-old said, the Mennonites appeared to be better off than many of the Mexicans.
But Charise Orr, who was part of the medical missions team in Rubio and witnessed many cases of addiction and abuse, learned "that appearances can be deceiving."
While the German Mennonites didn't seem to need a lot, it was amazing to see how much of the little things we take for granted in the United States made a difference there.
Lindsey McAllister and I worked with the evangelism team in the mornings and with the children's ministry in the evenings.
One evening we taught the Mennonite children and some of the Mexican children how to use watercolors.
These children had never seen or used waterpaints - something I thought all children knew about and owned. And it was amazing to see the pictures these kids created.
Orr's most memorable moment was when she witnessed an elderly woman hear for the first time in years after using a hearing aid.
"The look on her face was just great," Orr exclaimed.
Cummings was greatly affected one evening when he heard one team's report of a woman, who they had gone to visit, asking that they bring her back underwear for her children.
"It's pretty sobering when something like that happens," he said.
And all of us grew solemn over what we encountered at a shelter in nearby Cuauhtemoc.
"I think that was one of the hardest days," Orr said about the first day the medical team went to the shelter.
Walking through the small, dilapidated rooms, the team saw a lot of pregnant, young Tarahumara women and children without shoes or socks.
Throughout the week in Mexico, many of us returned to the shelter with toys, candy and clothes.
"Everyone in the country ought to at least go on one trip like this to see really how good we have it in this country," Cummings said.
Many of us felt that God was able to use us to help the people of Rubio and Cuauhtemoc.
"The Lord can use any one, any thing, any experience," said 56-year-old Ron Baller. "He's capable of using them (experiences) as well as teaching you others."
Karla Hofmann, who was in charge of our group from Nebraska, said she learned a lot about leadership. "God showed me that Ican be a leader."
And we all learned patience.
Although it didn't seem like we had accomplished a lot, Hendren assured me that our group had really made a difference.
"You opened doors that have never been opened," he said.
Nathan Orr felt that it was just important "for people to know that there are people out there that love them."
The biggest lesson I learned was the same realization Hendren came to on his first trip:
"There is more in life than what Iwas doing back at home."
Reach Nealy Gihan at 473-7323 or at email@example.com.