What is Misión Mazahua and why do we send a short-term mission there?
Norberto and Lisa Cortés established Misión Mazahua in 1978 in the Hacienda de Tepetitlan, once headquarters of the patrón who kept the Mazahuans as serfs working his vast holdings and is located at the hub of the region occupied by the Mazahua Indians. The mission brings simple amenities, spiritual sustenance, and economic hope to folk who mostly escape the notice of important people in Mexico City.
Norberto and Lisa insist that providing social services, without the Gospel, is not enough; but equally, that Gospel witness must also bring transformation to people’s lives. Norberto is a visionary and a full-time exhorter, a blur of persistent motion towards transformative goals. Lisa, a farm girl from Ohio, keeps a slightly lower profile, moving with grace through the countryside, weaving a fabric of enduring friendships.
Our goal as a short-term mission is to provide to spiritual, physical and financial support for both Misión Mazahua and for the indigenous people of the area. This work began over 30 years ago and continues to evolve as the needs change for both the mission and the population it serves. Our team of 30-35 members will provide additional resources to further what Lisa and Norberto began.
What is the cost for the trip?
We can break down the cost into three parts. The first part is the participation fee of $455. The participation fee covers room and board, ground transportation, meals in transit from the airport in Mexico City and back, purified water, administrative costs, tips and any additional fees. (We do recommend that everyone carry an extra $100 for an emergency fund in case of flight cancellations or delays.)
The second cost is airfare. Airfare is not a fixed cost and it can vary greatly year to year. It is best to check early and get an idea of price for the week, but budget $500-$1000 for a roundtrip ticket depending on location (do not book until you are ready to make that commitment).
The final portion of the cost is spending money. This is up to the participant’s discretion. Generally we find that $100 is plenty unless you are looking to get something specific. There will be opportunities to shop, but please remember this is only a small part of the cultural experience. Any remaining funds will be gifted to Misión Mazahua to be used to further their Christian work.
What kind of work can you expect?
This question can be difficult to answer and the real question is how flexible can you be? Every year a “Scout” team is sent down a few days in advance to prepare for our arrival at the Hacienda; they assess our team and make plans for the work that we would like to complete. While these plans are made, we must also take into consideration that this is not like making plans in America. Often things change from day to day and sometimes hour by hour. The type of work we have done in previous years includes; building cisterns, working with handicapped individuals, making solar ovens, maintenance around the hacienda, landscaping, building homes, providing medical teams and spreading the word of God. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it should give you an idea of items we often do. It is not necessary to have a special skill set to join us, but if you do have a special skill set we may be able to use it. Please remember that we are in Mexico, things may not be done the way they are done in America.
What ages are best suited for this trip?
We try to accept those who are 14 and older. Anyone over 18 who is willing to follow a Christ- like spirit, follow directions from Mission Directors (team leaders, project foremen, and staff) and is willing to live by the Mission’s standards is encouraged to join. We request that middle school aged students please come with an adult family member and high school students with an adult chaperone (3-4 teens per adult chaperone). Minors (age14-17) are encouraged to come and are held to the same standards as an adult. Special cases may be handled on a case by case basis to be determined by the mission leaders. Due to the unpredictable nature of our mission work, there may be times where minors are asked to play pivotal roles. We do our best to limit these occasions, but we cannot rule out that they occur. If you are sending a minor, please feel free to ask questions. We will be happy to help educate both the minor and the parent.
What are the biggest physical challenges we see from our team?
The major challenges we see from our teams in Mexico are related to diet change/stomach problems, the change in altitude, and sun exposure. We try our best to set a schedule for our meals, but we often eat at times vastly different then in the US. Breakfast is usually around 9am, lunch around 2pm and dinner around 7pm. The food is generally in the local style with some American food. The food is not too spicy, but is definitely different then what we typically eat here.
Most stomach problems start with a mild case of diarrhea and some nausea that goes away after 24 hours. Some cases will require an additional day or two of rest. We recommend frequent hand washing, limited exposure to street food, use of bottled water (supplied) and use of probiotics before you leave on the trip. As an additional item we recommend packing some light snacks in both your carry on and in your luggage. Examples of appropriate snacks include trail mix and protein bars.
The altitude change sneaks up on people. You may find yourself in the middle of a project and unable to catch your breath. Or you may find yourself panting at night when you lay down in bed and are trying to relax from the day. If you need more rest, let us know and we will accommodate you as best we can. Through the years we have found that some extra rest can restore most people.
Please be aware that over exposure to sun is another issue. We recommend that you bring sunscreen and wear a brimmed hat. It isn’t that the weather is hot, but at 8000ft + in altitude you can easily get bad sunburn. We have found that even illness does not diminish the significance, satisfaction and feeling of success associated with the work.
Isn’t Mexico a bad place to visit?
Safety is our first concern. Our “Scout” team will arrive ahead of time to scope out potential problems. While we cannot guarantee an absolutely safe trip, we try to limit circumstances that might lead to problems. We ask that team members use common sense much like they would in any large city in the U.S. Usually there is safety in numbers. Try to have someone who speaks Spanish with you as you venture out.
We usually fly into Mexico City and leave the area within 3-5 hours. Once we leave Mexico City and arrive at the Hacienda (where we stay) we are in a more rural area. This area is very poor and the indigenous people are very welcoming. They know we are there to help assist them.
Accommodations, the Hacienda
First time team members are usually nervous and anxious about the accommodations while in Mexico. The Hacienda where we will be staying is roughly equivalent to a campus/dormitory.
There are beds or bunks in each residence with mattresses, sheets, blankets and pillows. Some members find the beds comfortable and others say they could use some improvement. We find that after a couple of days of hard work, any bed feels great! There are several residences on the property and we do not always use the same ones from year to year. Depending on the availability, there may be accommodations for couples.
Each residence has shower and toilet facilities. While the Hacienda has plumbing, it is unlike our plumbing in the U.S. We ask that you try to make your showers as brief as possible to not put strain on both the water supply and the sewer system. As well, toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet. Instead wrap used paper inside new paper and place in the trash can next to the toilet. These baskets will be emptied regularly by the staff at the Hacienda
Health, Immunizations, Altitude, Sanitization
Your health is always important, but when you leave the U.S. it can be a frightening thing. There are a few things that we suggest you do before leaving.
1. Inquire with your insurance provider as to whether or not you will be covered while out of the country. You may need to inquire about additional coverage. You will be responsible for any costs associated with medical treatment (doctor’s visits, treatments and pharmacy related costs). Please understand that many insurance companies may offer coverage, but you will be responsible for payment at time of service and it will be your responsibility to seek reimbursement.
2. Try to stay in your routine before you leave. If you take medications please make sure that you bring them with you. Refilling medications while in Mexico will be virtually impossible, please make sure to do this ahead of time. It is also best to pack an extra day worth of medications in case of travel delays. It is also best to pack medications between several bags, if possible, in case of lost luggage.
3. Make sure you are up to date on any vaccines and immunizations.
4. Drink plenty of water 2 weeks before you leave and while on the trip, the change in altitude can quickly set in. Staying hydrated helps to relieve those symptoms.
5. Be mindful of the sun. At such high altitudes you can burn quickly and without warning. The temperature is rarely an issue, as highs are usually near the low 70’s, but sun exposure happens daily.
6. HAND SANITIZATION. It is customary to shake hands often when meeting new people and can be interpreted as rude if you do not shake. The use of hand sanitizer is recommended. Carry it with you and use it often! Stomach illnesses often spread through handshaking and to help limit this it is essential to use hand sanitizer.
7. It is up to each individual, if they choose, to visit a physician before they leave on the trip for any medical related activities (physicals, immunizations, medications, etc…).
If your interest level is high and you do not have a U.S. Passport, please begin the process. This is an unpredictable process and can range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to complete.
Your passport will be good for 10 years (if you are over 16 years of age at time of issue) after getting it so this will not be a yearly expense if you decide to join us again within that time frame. If you already have a passport please make sure that it is current and will not expire until after your trip. http://travel.state.gov/passport/
While speaking Spanish would be helpful, it is not a criterion for serving on the team. We have many participants who speak little or no Spanish upon their arrival. To avoid potential problems we often will assign or divide into groups that usually have someone who speaks Spanish. As the week progresses, you will catch onto small phrases and sayings that will help to make your experience more comfortable. One major source of concern happens when you must purchase something. If you get a chance and are willing to learn, practice money amounts and asking, “How much does this cost?”
Special Friends Camp
The “Special Friends Camp” is a project that we have become closely affiliated with through Misión Mazahua and the Cortes family. This camp is an opportunity for children and young adults to enjoy a few days away from their primary caregivers while experiencing different opportunities not usually available to them. Unlike in the U.S., these children and young adults do not have a government agency to watch over them and make sure they get what they need. It is often left up to the parents who have very little understanding of the care they need or have very few resources to furnish that care. This is where we come in and try to give that reprieve to both the families and the child or young adult, all while hopefully improving their lives. We cannot possibly take care of every situation presented to us, but we do our best with what God gives us to try and make as big of a difference as possible in their lives.
Aside from monetary donations we encourage our group to bring items that can be left at the mission for the locals. With our large project often pertaining to the “Special Friends Camp”, we really can benefit from any items that are used for handicapped kids and adults. We encourage you to bring wheel chairs, lifting belts, walkers or any other items that can easily be used for the campers. We also encourage you to bring clothing for the campers (please be aware that they are usually significantly smaller than us Americans and that clothing that is easy to put on and take off is best). Vitamins, neo-natal vitamins, disposable gloves, adult diapers, toilet wipes are all things we have used in the past while doing our work. The smaller things can be packed with your belongings to be given once we arrive. Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers are usually treated as a second piece of luggage and we can often help reimburse out of donation money sent to us (sometimes the airline will waive the fees if explain to them what we are doing with the items).
What is the next step if I want to join the team?
If you have read over this information and decided that you are ready to join there are a couple of things you will need to do. First, please contact us and ask for an application packet. Second, please begin the process to secure a U.S. Passport. You will need one for travel to and from Mexico while on this short-term mission trip. Finally, consider inviting other Christian friends and church members to join us as well.
Misión Mazahua Website
U.S. Passport Information
Facebook page where photos and experiences can be shared