Mexicali & Ensenada, Mexico
Gregg Garner took his first trip into Mexicali as a musician for a team that would facilitate a 'Vacation Bible School' for youth in a rural barrio.
Immediately after crossing the border into the developing country, he recounts,
"The sights, the sounds, the smells, they all took me back to my family's time serving as missionaries in the Philippines, and I was reminded of a reality I had somehow forgotten. I remembered a greater purpose, connected to the narrative of my heritage and the expectations of my faith."
Over the next seven years, Gregg would lead teams of young people into Mexico, serving the local communities and simultaneously learning how to develop an appropriate missiological approach and service team dynamic for the organization to embody.
Ensenada would become the location where, to this day, G.O.D. Int'l has led the most individuals to serve a particular community.
Close to 1,000 people, from Canada and the United States, have served in the surrounding rural areas of this municipality through the facilitation of G.O.D. Int'l.
In 1996, Gregg co-led a team with Robert Munoz, on which Tara Garner and Jason Roufs were also included. This particular trip was incredibly impactful on the interpersonal and social service level.
It also solidified for Gregg the need to formalize the organization and incorporate it for purposes of fundraising and legal identity to continue this kind of non-profit work.
Basic service projects were performed in the rural community of Ochenta Nueve. Teams with mostly amateur skills participated in renovation efforts or home improvement tasks that would enhance the lives of our new friends in the area.
These experiences lent themselves to necessary considerations for a development strategy for rural communities--one that would utilize technology appropriate to the area and be sustainable and duplicable by locals with some basic education.
There were always plenty of opportunities to serve children. We quickly recognized that most kids just needed time and attention. It wasn't that their parents didn't care, but the difficult task of survival prevented parents from getting time with their kids.
We had to figure out how we could not only provide entertainment for the children, but also meet basic needs, including education that would perhaps set them on a trajectory different than their parents. Jesus taught that life is more than survival - "Is not life more than food and clothing?"
It was quite the phenomenon to witness. Our strategy necessitated that we actually stay in the local homes. We didn't stay at a nice hotel downtown and drop in for a few hours. We would fill up the little barrio with a few guests here and there, scattered throughout the area.
We cooked meals together and did daily chores together. Some of us went to work with the families we stayed with. We even had social gatherings with some characters that mostly came out at night and were considered "dangerous." We only experienced peace.
It was also in Ensenada where we developed some of our strongest indigenous relationships. Señor Santana and Señor Serrano were both influential in the formation of our organization's approach to partnering with indigenous peoples.
This included the invaluable learning experience of living, working and serving alongside these men in their day-to-day activity of reaching the impoverished barrios in the area. They taught us how to appropriately operate in Hispanic culture, and even the culture of poverty in general.
In 2004 we even took a trip together, both Americans and Mexicans, to a location neither one of us was familiar with. We applied some of the techniques we developed together with regard to researching a community and learning of their real needs versus felt needs.
We also made consideration for how we were able to effectively engage people as to determine where their greatest need intersects with the greatest potential to see real improvement. It was an invaluable time of learning through practice.