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Group builds family a home



Published: Thu, July 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The church group builta home for 23 people in four days.

By ASHLEY POWERS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

The land stretches for miles, an expanse of dusty flatness and yellow sand and staggering poverty.

Gaunt dogs, one spray-painted orange, meander along dirt roads, occasionally sidestepping tumbleweed. A rooster, far from a cluster of propped-up cardboard homes with tarps as roofs, cocks his head and issues his shrill "good morning."

It's day one of Tabernacle Baptist Church group's four-day pilgrimage to Juarez, Mexico.

Ramshackle villages ring a metropolitan core in the city of 2 million people near the Texas line.

Twelve of the Youngstown group's members are stunned by the devastated locale. The 13th, Pastor Kelvin E. Turner, is unfazed -- only because he's been there before.

Previous trip: A trip last year sponsored by the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation sent Turner into the world of Mexican poverty. He helped build a house for a family living like one-third of the country: struggling on about $50 a week to feed and clothe 20 or more people.

Turner, 41, lanky and bespectacled, with a soothing voice, was awestruck at the need for ministry there. He vowed to return with a handful of his own churchgoers.

Fast forward to June 16. The baker's dozen, eight of whom are 16 or younger, spent the night sprawled across air mattresses on the floor of a church a half-hour's drive from Juarez.

Some of them, including Alexis Harris, 15, of Austintown, flew for the first time the day before, a two-hour journey from Cleveland, loaded with anticipation.

"The bathrooms might be really, really disgusting. I probably shouldn't drink the water," Alexis thinks to herself.

The group, along with 23 people from Green's foundation, is thrown into its first construction task with little guidance.

Two mixers churn concrete; soon one breaks down, and some of the foundation for the building that will house a family of 22 or 23 is mixed by hand.

That first day is back-breaking. The volunteers labor until noon, collapse for a siesta and resume work from 4 p.m. until well after the headlights of their four vans are switched on to light up the area.

Sleep comes quickly; so does the next morning.

In fact, the three remaining days, despite similarly grueling schedules, fly by in a whirlwind of hammering, sawing and wiring. Board by board -- like the rest of the building materials, all donated -- the structure slowly takes shape.

The third day: By the third day, 50-year-old Ron Perry of Youngstown is nodding in satisfaction as the young volunteers drop their complaints and push their elders.

"These things seemed to be unbearable on Monday. Now, it's Tuesday and Wednesday, and they're saying, 'Oh, that's not so bad,'" Perry thinks.

The family, selected by a local religious group to receive the house, emerge from their primitive cardboard shelter on the third and fourth days.

Children pour out, one playing hand games with 14-year-old Kandace Turner of Youngstown, another grabbing for 21-year-old Leonard Pinkard's beige fisherman's hat.

Pinkard, also of Youngstown, smiles and hands it to the boy. It swallows his tiny head; his large brown eyes peek out from beneath its brim.

The household's sole bread-winner is an ice-cream salesman. On the fourth day, Alexis walks toward him, holding the keys to the new three-room, 40 foot by 30 foot house, its stucco finish glinting in the steamy afternoon sun. Few people in Juarez have doors that work, let alone ones that need keys.

The family, too poor to afford indoor plumbing, cooks lunch for the group -- chicken, salad, tortillas, soda pop made with real sugar -- and shares hugs of appreciation.

"I can't believe I did it," Alexis thinks.

She's not the only one.

Looking back: Days later, the group gathers again, this time, showered, shaved and freshly clothed. They shake their heads and smile during stories of cockroaches and hastily built toilets -- holes in the dark dirt, sometimes covered with a plank.

Turner recalls a day, that, while traveling the dusty roads, a passing vehicle honked and a passenger raised a Bible toward the group.

On the last day, the group offered the family a Bible of its own, signed by each volunteer. They wanted to pass on the group's purpose for generations.

Their four-day mission in the desert changed each of their worlds, they say. With that Bible, they hope to impact others' lives in the same way.

apowers@vindy.com




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