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Volume 5 Issue 4“Building Confidence”April 2007



Welcome to our newsletter. I hope all is well with you and your renovations and that our website helps you build confidence to do the work yourself.

What's New

This newsletter takes a bit of a twist this month. I thought you might want to hear of our road trip to Texas and into northern Mexico and our mission trip to build a water treatment system for an Alliance Church camp in Rio Chico. I mentioned this project in previous newsletters and promised a report when we get back, so here we go.

My wife, Frances, and I just arrived back from seven weeks living out of a suitcase. We left home—north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (BC), Canada—on March 15th and spent the first night with our youngest of three daughters, Lori, who lives in the Greater Vancouver area of BC. We dropped off Scruffy, our cat, into Lori's capable hands and proceeded to embark on a road trip to visit Fran's family, mother and two sisters in Midland, Texas.

After leaving Vancouver, our first stop for the night was Pendleton, Oregon where we found a motel with wireless Internet, so I could answer the renovation questions from our website. The next day brought what road travelers dread when we experienced the pickup truck's engine missing. No, someone didn't steal it; the spark plugs were misfiring making the engine run rough. We stopped at the nearest town, Baker City, Oregon and I bought 6 plugs intending to find the offending one. I started the engine and the truck would hardly run, the "check engine" light came on which told me I should get professional help. Being a Saturday, just before noon, we found that 3 out of 3 mechanics were already booked up for the morning and were closing at noon. I went to the Ford dealer in town and was told that they also close at noon on Saturday, but would do a quick analysis on the engine and if it was too time consuming to fix, they would have to fix it on Monday. Well, since it was almost noon, I agreed and gave them our cell phone number to reach us with the truck's condition while we took a lunch break down the main street a couple of blocks away.

About an hour later, I got the call saying the computer diagnosed a fault in the transmission shift switch and it needed to be replaced. They suggested I leave it for Monday when they would get a mechanic to diagnose everything and fix it up. They gave us a loaner car and told us to enjoy ourselves for the weekend and described a tourist site—Hell's Canyon—just out of town, which was a must to see. We found a Budget Motel in town that fit our budget. Right across the street I noticed a Baptist Church. Hmm! I wonder if God is trying to tell us something. Bright and early, Sunday morning we attended the Baptist Church to be welcomed warmly by the congregation. I was hesitant to tell them that we were construction missionaries heading down to Mexico to arrange materials and such for our church's mission team to follow the following week. I was afraid they would get me up behind the pulpit to give a speech or something. I'm not used to public speaking, although I've talked to our home congregation a couple of times about Rio Chico. After the service and a good lunch we traveled to Hell's Canyon.

Hell's Canyon Dam, outside Baker City, Oregon

We definitely found God's presence in church, but didn't run into the Devil in Hell's Canyon. We were anxious for Monday morning, to get news of the truck costs. I could visualize a repair bill of hundreds of dollars. We got our call on Monday to come and pick up the truck. They didn't mention the price. Was that a good sign or not? The bill was $84 for what turned out to be a faulty spark plug, everything else checked out good. They cleaned and gapped all the plugs, not much else to do on a modern vehicle. I had changed all the plugs before I left home and asked if I had messed up somewhere. They assured me that the plug had a fine hairline crack in the porcelain protecting the gap and it was a faulty plug. We were very relieved at the price, as well as getting our truck back and running well again. We are so thankful that we broke down in a town like Baker City, Oregon with a Ford dealership that was so helpful and kind to travelers as Gentry Ford was to us.

Without further problems, we made it into Midland, Texas, even though a couple days late. Fran's mom and sister were glad to see us. A school girl friend that Fran had not seen since high school came up to see her. I got a kick out of listening to them recall times together back then. Here is a picture of them at Dennis the Menace Park in Midland where they used to skate around the park on their homemade skateboards, made from the wheels of roller skates.

Pat and Fran at Dennis the Menace Park, Midland, Texas

Well, time was marching on and it was getting close to Easter Sunday. We wanted to meet Pastor Tomas and his secretary, Brenda at the El Paso Spanish speaking church and to worship during the service, as well as finalize our plans on getting up to Rio Chico. After the service, Brenda told us that they were heading up there the next day and we were welcome to accompany them on the way. Great! I thought we would have to find the place ourselves. I had the GPS coordinates of the camp, so I knew we'd find the way, but I was a little apprehensive of driving in Mexico, since this was our first time. We would be following a van of people from Wyoming who were heading to Rio Chico for a week to install a 10,000 watt generator there to kick in when the power went out.

On Monday we picked up the insurance to cover our vehicle in Mexico and waited at the church for Pastor Tomas. We followed him across the border, which was easier than driving across the Canada-US border. In fact we got the green light, which meant we just drove on through without having to talk to anyone. Cool! We followed Pastor Tomas through the busy streets of Juarez, Mexico to stop at his Bible Institute in the heart of the large city. The people from Wyoming stayed there the previous night and were preparing to leave in a few hours. After lunch, we started on our way to Rio Chico.

Rio Chico is a very small community of about 35 people, all gathered around a very small river. Rio Chico in Spanish means "small river". There we found this camp which was sponsored by the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. It is used for a summer camp for children, up to 400 kids camp out there. It is used for a retreat camp for pastors and their families from the surrounding area including Juarez, about six hours away. More important it is used for a base camp to minister to the Tarahumara Indians that live in the Copper Canyon area around Creel, Mexico another six or seven hours away. The camp is in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of Northern Mexico in the State of Chihuahua at an elevation of 6700 feet above sea level.

Our job was to come one week before our team of eight other members of our church—the Shawnigan Alliance Church—so we could transport the goods and materials needed to build and house the water treatment system for protection from the harsh winters. We were told that for two months each year it freezes and possibly snows, just like home. Since the supplies were three hours away in a Mennonite area of Chihuahua, called Cuauhtemoc, we were making plans to pick them up on the Wednesday after Easter Sunday. The largest item to be delivered was a 10,000 liter (2500 gallon) polyethylene water tank. We arranged for a trailer and truck to haul it. We met two fellow missionaries from Red Deer, Alberta—Doug and his wife Carol—who volunteered to drive the truck and tow the trailer with us following to Cuauhtemoc. So off we went.

We told Doug and Carol that we needed gas in Madera, about 45 minutes south of Rio Chico. We would catch up to them on the road. Mexican roads are quite good to our standards, however, they don't have wide shoulders. We came upon a poor family in an old vehicle that had hit and killed a cow on the road. The police were in attendance. According to Mexican law a driver is responsible for killing a cow on the road during the day and the owner of the cow is responsible for a driver killing his cow on the road during the night time. Poor cow!

We caught up to Doug and Carol a little further along where their trailer and hitch came out of the hitch receiver when the pin popped out. Luckily, I had the same size pin on my hitch, so we gave them ours and off we went again. We thought he ran out of gas, the motor wouldn't turn over either. I tried to jump his battery, but to no avail. Luckily, he had a good heavy tow rope with him, which came in handy for me to tow him to the next town just up the road. We fueled up, but it still would not start. I towed him along the highway, but it would not jump start. A Mexican on a bicycle rode by and asked if we needed any help. His English was far better than my Spanish. He said he would ride into town and get a mechanic friend of his to have a look at it. The mechanic told us the battery was dead, which we replaced. Doug's truck started with the new battery and off we continued on our trek to Cuauhtemoc to pick up supplies.

We arrived at our destination at the building supply store I had earlier made an order with through e-mail. The owner was a Mennonite who spoke Low German, High German, Spanish and English fluently. Most of the Mennonites down there speak Low German. They seemed to have carved a country of their own out of a valley in Mexico. Their stores were big, clean and like our Home Depots or Lowe's. We loaded up the trailer first and then my truck with lumber, plywood siding, OSB, roofing and insulation. Doug's truck would not start again. I still had the rope, so hooked him up again and was ready to pull him onto a divided highway at a speed of 80 kmh (50 mph). As I entered the highway I noticed two policemen chatting at the side of the road. I pulled onto the highway. Just as Doug's truck with trailer in tow got onto the highway the rope broke. The police immediately, put on their sirens and lights to warn the approaching traffic that two dumb Canadians were stopped in the middle of the right hand lane. I jumped out of my truck and ran around to re-tie up the rope and started pulling the caravan down the highway. To my amazement the police never followed to give us tickets or throw our dumb ***s in jail. We towed the truck and the loaded trailer to a mechanic who was closing up for the day who said he'd look at the truck maņana. We spent the night in a beautiful, new motel close by for only 32 US dollars. It even had Internet so I could contact my family and answer a few more questions from you guys.

The next morning we arose to a very windy day and picked up the truck. Apparently, the mechanic had discovered that an electrical multi-connector was not making proper contact with the wiring harness from the alternator, thus the reason for the dead battery. After paying $10 for the repair we continued on our quest to pick up the tank and the plumbing supplies. We fueled up and off we went for a return trip to Rio Chico. Upon our arrival back at Rio Chico, the natives were concerned, having received no word of our whereabouts for last night. Rio Chico is in a valley in the mountains without any phone service including no cell phone service. We told them what had happened to their amusement. They were glad we were back safely and didn't hit a cow on the road or other such catastrophe. Everyone was amazed by the size of the water tank. It was 7 feet in diameter by 10 feet high. "How are you going to get this thing up the hill to the existing cistern?", they asked. A good question! I was thinking about this myself.

I took measurements of the tank and the existing cistern. The cistern was a concrete and rock square tank built on the side of the hill adjacent to the buildings to which it fed. I knew the tank that we received would be too large to fit inside the walls of the cistern, so decided the walls would have to be knocked down to where they were plumb. The person who built this cistern chose to angle the walls in for the last 2 feet in height, as shown in the picture.

The existing cistern at Rio Chico, Mexico

When the team arrived in the evening of the Monday of the second week, I talked it over with Geoff the plumber who agreed we didn't have much choice but to bust the walls out. What I wanted to have remain was the retainment of the earth on the cliff side of the cistern and to keep the concrete abutments to tie the slab into the rock face. With the additional height of the tank, we would have lots of fall for a gravity fed system to the residences. We had nine working days to complete this mission.

Day 1: The work started Tuesday, at 9:00 in the morning. The team was assembled in the meeting hall waiting for an introductory session about the job we had to do. Our team consisted of myself and Fran, Geoff the plumber and his apprentice, Matt, his wife Candice, Matt's mother Sue, Bob, Dave and wife Camille and our pastor Steve who was a mechanic. Steve would be left on his own to repair three trucks. His first job was to repair the cement mixer, which needed a new gas tank. We would help him if he needed it and vice versa. This was the first short term mission for all of us, except for Candice, which was her second. The team was very anxious to get started, they were all filled with energy for the two weeks ahead. I told them what our project consisted of. We needed to build two houses. One was 8'x8' to house the pump, the pressure tank, its switches, the filters and the UV kit. The other was for the tank up on the hill, which would be 8'x10'. Both houses would be insulated and have propane heaters. Geoff and Matt would do the plumbing. I told them our two biggest challenges were getting the tank into the existing cistern and digging about 150 feet of trenches up the slope from the pump house by the river to the tank house on the cliff. I figured we all would take turns digging the trenches. At the end of the first day the women had almost dug the entire trench from the river to the cistern! We broke the walls of the existing cistern down to a level where the tank would fit; formed and poured the 8x8 slab for the pump house; poured a new slab to level the existing cistern base; Geoff and Matt plumbed a temporary plastic tank to be used until we got water in the main tank and Steve repaired the mixer tank, which we used for mixing the concrete for both slabs and helped mix and pour the concrete.

Day 2: Today we were going to position the tank into the cistern and fall a small tree to clear the way to position the tank. We rigged a block and tackle from the trees above the cistern to stabilize the tank as it was lifted into position. It worked well with the help from our Mexican brothers. At the end of the day the tank was installed inside the existing cistern; the walls were being repaired by Kike our Mexican tradesman. He was a welder, a carpenter, a cement finisher, concrete wall builder and owned a tire repair shop in Juarez. He even preached the Sunday sermon, a very versatile guy. Dave and Camille helped Kike. For the lower pump house Bob, Matt and I erected the walls, rafters and siding. Geoff and Matt plumbed the pipes in the trench and the tank. The girls were sifting the rocks out of the dirt and backfilling the trench.

Day 3: Steve and Geoff went to Madera, about 45 minutes drive to the south to purchase some truck parts and plumbing supplies.

Bob and I erected the rafters and finished the roof on the pump house. We started the roofing and Matt took over and showed Candice and Sue how to apply asphalt shingles. Bob and I found a shady place to work and constructed the door for the pump house. Sue, Candice and Camille filled in the main trench and dug another. Geoff wanted the fill in the trench to be sifted to remove any rocks around his pipe. Frances started to insulate the house.

Geoff and Matt started to install the heater and electrical work in the pump house.

Up at the tank house, Kike, Dave and Camille finished building the rock walls to rebuild the existing cistern walls and retain the dirt. They started at the bottom in front of the tank house building a block wall on top of a small slab. The purpose of this wall is to protect the house during the rainy season, to prevent the framing being washed out.

Day 4: Bob, Candice and I pre-fabbed the four tank house walls, including insulation and siding. I cut the rafters for the tank house. Steve and Bob finished off the soffits. Sue, Frances and Camille insulated the walls, as well as dug trenches.

Dave helped Kike with the concrete work and framed the front bottom of the tank house.

Geoff and Matt plumbed the tank and wired the pump house. Steve, Frances and I drove to El Largo to use the phone and get some antibiotics for Frances, who developed strep throat and could hardly talk.

Day 5: The pre-fabbed tank house walls were installed easily today. We used the same pulley system we used to get the tank itself installed. While Steve was undoing the pulley system the rope let go that he had around a tree and he came skidding down the cliff to land in Geoff's arms. He twisted his foot in the fall and took the rest of the day off. Bob and I assembled the rafters and fascia. I drove to El Largo to get some supplies. I started to get a hard time from the crew—driving to town every day. Kike put the first coat of stucco on the lower walls of the tank house. Dave helped him. Dave got a new nickname from the Mexican helpers, Cemento Dave". Frances and Sue finished insulating the pump house rafters and door, not an easy job in the hot sun. Candice and Camille were trenching again. Geoff and Matt have completed plumbing the tank and pump houses. We have clean water tonight. We enjoyed our showers tonight. The water felt nice and soft and the hint of chlorine was a curiously welcome smell.

The new tank with walls being installed using the existing cistern as a base

Sunday: We drove to Madera in a 15 passenger van, so all of us went together. We found a business there that charged a nominal amount for a phone call. They dial the number and get your party for you then tell you which booth to go into and pick up the phone. It works very well, if you can't speak the language, which none of us could. I think everyone on our team phoned home. We then went shopping. On the way back to Rio Chico, we stopped off at an archaeological site called 40 Casas. This is an ancient site where Indian cliff dwellers lived. We climbed down a canyon, across a bridge over the small river at the bottom and up the other side to the site. It was very interesting, but tiring. The high altitude really gets to you when exerting any energy at all. We rushed back to Rio Chico to attend the 4 pm service at the little church where we heard Kike preach. We doubled the attendance with our own 11 members. Geoff was a perfect gentleman when he gave up his seat near the back of the room when an elderly lady walked in. We all enjoyed the service and the way the Mexican people are so passionate and uninhibited when they worship.

A distant view of 40 Casas, Mexico

Day 6: I installed the gable ends and insulated them and the rafters. Dave helped me apply the OSB to the roof, then he and Camille installed the roofing. Bob and Steve finished the trim on the pump house. Candice and Camille dug trenches in the morning. Bob and Alex, a Mexican helper, finished the corner boards on the pump house. Kike, meanwhile, was finishing his own little project up on the hill, completing the shed roof with corrugated sheet metal (lamina) and did the gable ends in ranch board (vertical siding). For the third day in a row, I drove into El Largo. This time Steve felt he should get his foot looked at, at the clinic. They took two x-rays of it which showed that nothing was broken. The nurse taped it up for him to immobilize it. They charged 20 US dollars for each x-ray, nothing for some medicine and bandages.

Day 7: Dave and Camille applied sheet metal to the bottom of the tank house to act as a flashing to shed running water coming down the hill during the rainy season. Frances and I completed the insulation on the gable end and the door. Candice and Krista backfilled around the pump house slab. Bob and Sue clad their door for the tank house with some sheet metal. Bob and I formed and poured a small slab beside the pump house for a propane tank. Frances and Sue completed the insulation in the lower tank house walls. They also cleaned up the room we were using to store our supplies in while working on the project. We all drove to town, La Mesa, after work, to get an ice-cream each.

Flashing at the bottom of the tank house

Day 8: Five of our younger team members headed off to the area of Creel, about six hours South of Rio Chico to hike down into Copper Canyon with Pastor Tomas. He has a ministry down in that part of the canyon with the Tarahumara Indians living down there. He visits them once a month to deliver food to them using about 10 mules loaded up with food and other supplies. Fran and I brought with us 90 pairs of shoes for the Indian children, donated by the people of our church. Lots of the kids down in the canyons don't have shoes to put on their feet during the cold winters. Pastor Tomas is trying to make a difference down there. He is concerned about their life down there, but committed also about their eternal life.

I drove the six of us who didn't go to the Copper Canyon area to Cuauhtemoc, a Mennonite community, about three hours drive to the south of Rio Chico. This was the town where we picked up our supplies almost three weeks earlier. Fran and I didn't get a chance to go into the city, we just saw the industrial side of town. The town was definitely Mexican, not like the Mennonite area. The girls enjoyed shopping in the city, but Geoff liked buying some more plumbing supplies in the industrial area. The Mennonites were good people to deal with; they could cook, too. We stopped for lunch at La Huerta Restaurant, which is where we ate the first time we were there. Geoff celebrated with a rib eye steak. I never saw anybody enjoy a steak like that. We all appreciated coffee served in mugs and food served on real plates. In Rio Chico we ate from disposable plates with plastic knives and forks, as washing dishes in untreated water increased the risk of our Canadian bodies being unable to fend off unfamiliar parasites.

Day 9: On our last working day, Frances and Sue cleaned up the site and put rocks over the main trench up the slope. I hung the door to the tank house and installed the hasps and padlocks. Geoff and I tested the heaters. I installed drywall over them to prevent the paper on the insulation from igniting.

The completed pump house by the river

Steve worked on his last truck. Geoff worked up to the last minute completing little jobs the locals found for him.

Our canyon team returned this evening with stories to tell of the difficulty of the hike.

The following day we made our way back to Juarez without incident. We stayed our last night in Mexico at the Bible Institute. In the morning we said goodbye to our team who were flying back home that day.

Frances and I did some last minute shopping in Juarez before we crossed the border at 3 pm. We felt good being on the road again, back in the US and heading home.

On our way home, we decided to go by Lake Havasu City, Arizona, a route we have never taken before. We visited the site of the rebuilt London Bridge in which we were impressed. We noticed lots of senior citizens strolling around. This is a haven for our retired folks.

London Bridge at Lake Havasu City, Arizona

We headed for the coast of California where we hit a cool rain in Sacramento. It felt good and refreshing, quite a change from the dry, dusty conditions of Mexico. We had the usual 45 minute wait at the US-Canada border at Blaine, Washington and rolled into Vancouver about the same time Lori, our youngest daughter was getting home from work. Scruffy, our cat, played strange after not seeing us for seven weeks. I sat down on the couch to relax and watch a bit of TV, she jumped up beside me and we were pals again. We drove Lori to work, picked up Scruffy and left the next morning to visit our eldest daughter, Sabrina and her husband, Curtis, along with her three kids, who live in Ladner not far from the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island. While there our middle daughter, Jacqui, phoned and said she was flying out to Victoria from Calgary, Alberta, with her two kids to stay with us for the weekend. Her husband flies for WestJet Airlines and gets special employee deals on flights. We picked them up on our way home. What a perfect ending to a vacation and mission trip.

I checked the kilometers when we got home and we traveled a total of 12,513 km (7776 miles). After seven weeks of living out of a suitcase, it was great to be back home!


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