We arrived in Mexico City late Monday night and were received by Captain Margarita, Captain Suli and Omar. They drove us to Plaza Garibaldi, a well-known Mariachi neighborhood and our home base for the rest of the summer. For the first week our team consisted of seven members because we were lucky to have Viki Payton with us. We are still trying to adjust to new foods, different eating schedules and a higher altitude. Though sometimes it is difficult to adapt, the culture here is beautiful.
On Tuesday we gathered at the Capital Divisional Headquarters to meet Majors Flores and get a clear schedule of our six weeks. We found out our summer will consist of music schools, music camp, childrens’ home visits and VBS. Capt. Margarita took us to the territorial headquarters and drove by the training college so we could see more of the Army in Mexico. We also had a chance to drive around the city and see famous landmarks such as the Latino Americana Tower, the Angel of Independence and the Zocolo. Of course, we ate many different types of tacos.
On Wednesday and Thursday we drove to Chimalhuacán, a nearby city that took us more than an hour to get to because of the traffic. The Salvation Army does not currently exist in Chimalhuacán, but a small home was donated to the Army for the purpose of building a new corps. Our team was responsible for doing outreach in the nearby neighborhoods and announcing that in two weeks we will be having a music school and VBS for the kids and their families.
A week after attending the Central Territory commissioning, we were blessed to attend the commissioning service in Mexico, as well. The service was held at Corps Number 1, which was a special time for Viki and Greg. The last name “Payton” is very well known in this corps and in the division because of Colonels Frank and Yvonne Payton (Viki’s parents and Greg’s grandparents) who were stationed there. Greg joined the band for the weekend, and Johanna played percussion for the open-air meeting that was held at the exact spot where The Salvation Army first existed in Mexico. Eight cadets from the Messengers of Light session were commissioned Sunday morning. Thank you for your continued prayers as we prepare for our visit at the children’s home in Mexico City.
Week Two was spent at the childrens’ home in Mexico City. We met Fernando and Ezequiel (cousins) who work in the music department. We rode on the subway for about an hour. At the home we met Captains Luis and Noemi Camarillo then met most of the 90 kids that live there! Christy, the officers’ daughter, translated for us and helped prepare our meals. That night back at our hotel we said goodbye to Viki; we weren’t ready to depart with the one who encouraged us on a daily basis.
A typical day for us at the home meant teaching vacation Bible school, setting up for lunch and assisting in the kitchen. After lunch we would prepare for our music classes. Greg taught band, Johanna taught piano and Makayla, Kim and Shannon taught dance. We taught the kids some English songs, and they walked around for days singing them to each other. Once our classes were over, we’d set up for dinner, play with the kids then eat with our hosts. Most nights we’d wait until 9:00 p.m. to leave because traffic was so bad. We used that time for our devotions, which we did on the roof on the building. What a beautiful view of the city!
On Thursday instead of teaching music classes we shared our testimony with the children. That night after dinner, we went up on the roof for one more glance at the beautiful city. As we came back down we heard beautiful music coming from the chapel. It was Fernando and Ezequiel who wanted to play a worship song for us. As we sat there, kids started running in and pulling up chairs to become part of the worship experience. When an altar call was made, we realized how much hurt the kids had experienced. Many of them were under age 14 and had already lived through fear, pain and abuse.
On Friday, our last day, we accompanied the kids to Cuernavaca for a full day at the pool. Before we left Captain Camarillo conducted a small service at which the team was prayed for before we left for our next destination. We are beyond grateful for the work being done at the childrens’ home. We witnessed so much passion for God, the kids and for music.
This week we spent our time working with the youth of the Puebla Corps. We were welcomed at the childrens’ home by Captains Juan and Erika Monjaras. Our third week in Mexico was a bit different. We started the week off by teaching Sunday school and joining in worship. We only met four of the kids because the rest of them go home during the weekends to be with their families, then they return on Sunday mornings.
Our schedule for the week alternated between painting the building, teaching creative arts, running a leadership seminar and helping the kids with schoolwork and chores. Due to the small number of kids at the home we were able to spend more quality time with them. Throughout the week, the officers took us out to tour the city and got to know more about our work in the Army. We also spent a lot of time with their two daughters, Danna and Ximena.
During our visits around the city, we learned a lot about the culture and history in Puebla. The captains really encouraged us to try new foods and, as the adventurous team we all are, we agreed to have a spoonful of chapulines (crickets), cactus and barbacoa (sheep cooked underground).
Each morning we led the kids in devotions time before they had breakfast. We also used this time to teach the kids some songs in English, and they taught us a lot of songs in Spanish. Each day they had a new song to teach us; it filled us with a lot of joy to see how praising God through song made them all so happy.
On Thursday night, we joined ten of the teens and headed out to the streets of Puebla. We began at a nearby hospital to hand out some sandwiches and coffee as we sang and gave a devotional to people gathered outside the building. We ended at the Zocolo and served people until we ran out of sandwiches and coffee. Watching the teens minister to and pray with the people of Puebla both challenged and encouraged us as they showed no fear and had so much fun sharing the Word of God.
Although it was tough to say goodbye to our friends in Puebla, we are excited to be a part of the start of a new corps in the town of Chimalhuacán in the coming days.
Our time in Chimalhuacán was more of a blessing than we could have asked for. As we entered the fourth week with anxiety and uncertainty, we were glad to have many of our friends, corps members, and families praying for us. Chimalhuacán is the same city we visited during our first week in Mexico, a city where The Salvation Army is not yet established and our team was tasked with helping to start it.
Captain Margarita joined us once again as part of our team, and we also welcomed Miguel (a teen from Corps Number One), who came out to Chimalhuacán every day. Our week consisted of VBS activities in the morning and music classes in the afternoon. On the first day we only had eight kids, but those same kids showed up for the whole week and they helped us find more kids to invite for the remaining days.
We definitely had a blast teaching timbrels, dance, choir and, most importantly, teaching them about the armor of God. Also, each team member has officially memorized Ephesians 6:11 and all the pieces of the armor in Spanish. As we aimed to teach the kids new things, we learned a lot along the way.
For dinner each night we would meet at the home of Majors Rivera, the officers of Corps Number One. During those times we would debrief and enjoy the fellowship with each other. We shared lots of laughter!
To close our time in Chimalhuacán we held a small service in the afternoon on the last day where we encouraged the kids to invite their parents. That evening we had 47 people in attendance, including soldiers of Corps Number One and the divisional commander. Makayla preached about salvation, and our hearts were filled with so much joy when eight kids and two parents accepted Jesus as their Savior. Many of the kids had never owned a Bible, so we made sure to give each kid and parent one to take home.
This coming week we will be on staff for the divisional music camp. Team members will be teaching band, choir, timbrels and dance, and we’re also planning the Gala Night and pool party. We are so excited to see some of the kids from the children’s home we visited in our second week and meet new friends!
Week five for was full of unexpected surprises and lots of new experiences. We arrived to the first ever divisional music camp near Teotihuacan. We were part of the staff for the week as Greg assisted in beginner’s band, Johanna taught piano and Shannon taught beginner’s timbrels and dance class. Captains Santana and their daughter Kenia were also special guests from Florida for the week, and the camp coordinators were Eskil and Cata from Chile. Ezequiel and Fernando from the children’s home in Mexico City joined us once again.
Most days consisted of waking up at 6:45 a.m. and eating breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Following that, we’d have Bible study, theory, united choir, a snack and music classes (choir, timbrels or band). After lunch we’d have music classes again, free time, snack time, electives, more music classes, then dinner.
On Wednesday the whole camp took a trip to the pyramids built by Mesoamericans from 100 BC to 250 AD. We were privileged to climb the Pyramid of the Sun and see the beautiful scenery around us. The evening programs varied from day to day, but we were in charge of the gala (talent) night and also planned the campfire. The gala was a success with the help of the staff; of course, seeing the kids all dressed up and sharing their talents was a blast. Greg and Johanna gave a lovely rendition of “A Whole New World” from the Disney classic, Aladdin. For the campfire, we introduced s’mores and camp songs to the campers.
We also had officers of the day, and one of our favorite days was when it was Greg’s turn. Whenever he prayed in Spanish, everyone would cheer for him as his morning prayer went something like this: “Gracias Señor por la comida…Amen” (Thank you Lord for the food…Amen).
The final concert was held on Saturday. It was about three hours long, but we had lots of fun worshipping together and watching all the performances. We learned many new songs in Spanish and the team was asked to sing a song for the program.
Our time at music camp was packed with back-to-back classes, but we still had time to make new friends. Having a diverse group of staff members allowed us to learn a lot about The Salvation Army in different cultural settings. Each week we’ve been able to welcome new people into our group, and this week we were beyond blessed to have Kenia, Cata, and Eskil alongside us. When we weren’t too busy working, we made time to get to know each other, to form closer relationships with one another and to worship together. Greg was asked many times to play with the band, and Shannon sang with Kenia for one of the meetings.
Witnessing the passion each kid has for serving the Lord and for worshipping through music is definitely an inspiration and testament to how hard the officers and leaders of Mexico work to teach them about God. We loved every second of our time at music camp. Seeing some familiar faces also was special for us and helped us feel at home. But that meant saying goodbye was even harder.
This week we’ll be in Cuernavaca, and as our time in Mexico nears its conclusion, we ask for prayer that we may give all we have to the kids at the children’s home there and to prepare our hearts for the end.