By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
SINCLAIRVILLE - Catherine Heath's faith was tested in dramatic fashion before her mission trip to Mexico last July.
The mission group and family pose in front of a completed home. Catherine is kneeling in the front row of the group.
Catherine Heath holds a Mexican orphan during her stay in Mexico.
As reported last May by the OBSERVER, Catherie, the Stockton library director, planned to go to Tijuana, Mexico, a border town south of San Diego, for a week with a church group from Mansfield, Ohio. In May, she was trying to raise money for the trip by redeeming cans and bottles for the deposit.
Shortly after the article appeared, her husband David was diagnosed with cancer. As Catherine explained, "Multiple tests and three weeks later, he had surgery and along with that the complications after being discharged."
Catherine told the surgeon, who was aware of her plans, that she would not go on her scheduled trip.
He told her, "Don't let cancer stop either of you from living. I will schedule the surgery around the trip." After surgery she and her husband were told he would need chemotherapy, but it wouldn't start until the Monday after she returned.
Catherine also encountered opposition from friends and family, based on fears of the effect on her health as well as concern that something might happen to David. She wasn't sure if this was human opposition or if God was telling her no. She prayed that God would reveal his will in two ways: by David getting the OK to drive and by reaching her monetary goal for funding the trip through redeeming bottles and cans.
David was released to drive the day before she was to leave. She hadn't had time to take in the bottles and cans to collect the deposits. When she and her daughter did, they made three trips with her SUV packed full, but her total was $50 less than needed.
Catherine said, "Now if you know me - that left room for me to doubt; needless to say I was running out of time. Well, when we got home, my husband was in the driveway pointing to three huge garbage bags that we missed on the side of the garage. From our experience that day, that was the $50."
Catherine drove to Ohio to join the group. They were to travel by airplane and she described herself as having claustrophobia and a fear of heights. "But I had nothing but peace from the moment we took off until the moment we returned,"she said.
There were 38 people on the trip. They were divided into three groups. Team one was the food team; their job was to buy food and prepare breakfast. Team two (which was Catherine's team) was called the encouragement team. This team wrote notes of encouragement to those on each team everyday. Team three was the organizers and cleaners.
During the time the group was in Mexico, they constructed nine houses. Seven were 8 x 10 houses in which seven to ten family members live. Two were 12 x 16 which house ten to 13 family members.
"The Mexicans invite their parents to live with them and as a rule are honored to take care of them," Catherie said. "When able, the family is asked to invest in their home. Usually they are asked to purchase five or six bags of cement and/or a five gallon bucket of paint. Not all are able to afford this but those that can did purchase what they could. The family was present at each house and was eager to help when they could. Both the children and the parents were very hard workers. The families also cooked and served lunch to the groups. Generally we ate at boards covered with material and sat on buckets."
On one occasion, a family purchased what they thought was white paint but was really Elmer's glue. The group noticed that the "paint" had evaporated and noticed the "peeling" effect. The group got a bucket of paint and painted over the glue.
"Before we left the houses we would empty our pockets of change and place it on their windowsill. We were told it meant much more to them than it ever would to us,"she said. "We had families who had gotten a home in years past stop and tell us it was a new beginning for them. They would fill us in on their job and their life since."
Catherine also commented on life in the area. There was no running water at the houses.
"To take a shower, they have to drive to town and pay $3," she said. "A quarter is much to them. I noted the children and parents were immaculate in appearance. I inquired and was told by staff that the children are taught by an early age how to stay clean - they take pride in cleanliness. There weren't many toys. I did see bikes, but most often the children had picked up two liter pop bottles and would find bees to drop in the bottle - to watch them spin - and also they would find bees' nests to pick the bee larvae out with their fingers. This was fun for them."
The group also visited orphanages. According to what Catherine was told, most children who come to the orphanage are those born as a result of prostitution or those who are in extreme poverty. The one orphanage is coed until the boys hit puberty. The boys are then moved to a separate orphanage which is self-sustaining. The boys had chickens horses and pigs as well as a beautiful garden to care for.
"We held and fed the infants. We held a pizza party for the other children, although we had to be careful to mark their ears and foreheads with a marker so we knew how much they were eating so they wouldn't get ill. We played with them and helped them to make Jesus friendship bracelets. At the boys' orphanage, we played baseball we played baseball with them and also had pizza there."
At a facility called Spectrum, the group took care of street kids. The group deloused kids and washed their hair and their feet. The children then were helped to find a clean outfit to wear.
The experience strengthened Catherine's faith.
"I have always believed, and I do even more so now, that when one of God's children is in a trial, they are to reach out to others who are in need," Catherine said. "I firmly believe and have witnessed through this trip God blesses us and those we love for this. Believers should know God doesn't promise safety to those doing His work, but he has promises for those who trust Him enough to leave everything behind (including cancer) and follow Him; God wants the glory and what more could glorify God than to enable His children to reach out to others and be His hands? I wouldn't have been able at this time, He enabled me."
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