Below is a summary of the trip written by one of the team members.
While the time spent in Pan De Vida was certainly the highlight of our experience, the majority of our group was also blessed with the opportunity to meet several times before we left. This time was spent studying, praying, and dividing many donations among ourselves to fit into suitcases. These discussions not only prepared us for the trip, but also paved the way for some deeper reflection while in Mexico.
We left from Toronto airport bright and early on January 19, and after a short fight over to Houston, were able to meet the two team members who joined us from Smithers, BC. From there we boarded another flight, and landed in Queretaro by mid-afternoon. At the airport we met Jeremy Van Beelen, the director of Pan de Vida, who took us back to the orphanage and got us all settled in. We were then given a tour of the grounds, including the dorms, play area, and orchard. Pan de Vida is always working towards the ability to be self-sustaining, and thus also sports a small farm, complete with chickens, turkeys, sheep, pigs, and rabbits.
Saturday we were greeted with a warm and bright morning, and the divvying up of work began. The boys’ kitchen needed to be repainted, as the previous paint had begun to peel and crumble. There was also the project of the fish ponds, five large, concrete ponds that had to be sealed before fish could be introduced. Doors had to be framed, posts had to be cleaned and painted, and a new concrete pad had to be poured for the eventual building of the boys’ basketball court. These projects would become the focus of our work for the next ten days.
While the projects that we did at Pan de Vida occupied a large portion of our time there, the importance of spending time with the children was also emphasized. Each day we were given a break at the same time as the kids’ recess, so we could spend time throwing frisbees, jumping on trampolines, and of course enjoying all the goodies from the onsite tuck shop.
Each day was packed full of activities. After a day at work, we would rush back to the visitors’ inn where we were staying, get cleaned up, and then head out on whatever evening activity we had planned for that day.
On Tuesday evening we were blessed with the opportunity to hear the testimonies of several children, ranging in age from approximately 8 to 18 years old. Each explained to us the story of how they came to Pan de Vida, and what they had learned about their relationships and about God since arriving there. While it was heartbreaking to hear the pain that they had been through, it was also quite encouraging to see the hope that these children had been able to find in God.
On Wednesday evening our group went out to the town for a little sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. On Thursday we went to visit Esperanza para Ti, another Christian orphanage that was operating nearby, where we got a tour and an explanation of their vision for the future. It was a blessing to see the Lord’s work there as well.
Friday night was spent at a buffet style restaurant, where we got to try many different types of Mexican food. We then went to bed early and prepared for our long trek the next morning.
Saturday morning we headed on a two hour long road trip to Casa Otomi, a community centre built right at the end of a beautiful gorge. There we learned about the rich history of the locals, the improvement of living conditions over the last couple years, and were even able to hear the unique language of the Otomi people, a language that the centre is working hard to preserve. We spent the morning there, doing some small work projects, and then took the scenic route into town along a road with an old quarry and a magnificent waterfall. Once in town, we spent some time wandering around the marketplace, a bustling place full of small shops, fresh produce, and a butcher shop. Lastly, we ended off the evening with a wonderful dinner out.
Sundays were spent at the orphanage. We enjoyed our mornings sitting on the back deck of the inn, singing and doing our group devotions in the sunlight. At noon we attended a church service run by the orphanage, where the service was translated into English. As Sunday was our last day in Mexico, we spent the evening preparing hamburgers for all of the kids, and then finished off the night with a beautiful ceremony. Anyone that wanted to thank us for anything was given the opportunity to step forward and do so, via a translator. Needless to say, there were quite a few teary eyes.
All in all, visiting Pan de Vida was a wonderful experience, filled with reflection on God and his work. The children were incredibly welcoming, and returned every little bit of love that we gave. We ask that you keep the orphanage in your prayers, and reflect on the possibility of volunteering your time as well, if you are able.
Pan de Vida is run by Children of Hope, a Christian organization based out of British Columbia. They receive funding from donations and child sponsorships, so if you able to contribute, or would be willing to sponsor a child, please look for more details at Children of Hope.