Utah team makes ninth trek to Mexico

By Karen L. Willoughby

Family in San Luis, Mexico served by Mission team from FBC Pleasant Grove.

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah – “I can’t go to church,” 11-year-old Ekir told Steve Sidwell of First Baptist Church here. “I’m disobedient.”

Actually, the words probably were “Muy malo.” Ekir was speaking in Spanish through a translator to Sidwell, whose team from several Utah churches had just that day finished building a house for Ekir’s family.

The six-person team was in San Luis, Mexico, 27 miles south of Yuma, Arizona. It was the Utahns’ ninth annual construction missions trip to Mexico.

“Our hearts break for these people,” Sidwell told UI Connections. “They live in such poverty. God tells us to care for widows and orphans, and that’s what we usually build for.

“I’m here to serve,” Sidwell added. “You just minister wherever you can. Building a house, ministering to the people, it was a group effort. You could see God working through the details. It was a really good trip.”

 Ekir’s family includes his mom, four boys (one a cousin whose mom is deceased) and often another of his mom’s sisters, who is mentally disabled. His mom works at what in America would be akin to a Subway sandwich shop.

Sidwell and some other members of the Utah team saw the place the family had been living in: One room, with pallets upended as walls, newspaper and similar items stuffed into cracks for insulation, and pieces of corrugated tin as a roof. The four boys slept together on one box springs on the floor, and mom (plus sometimes her sister) slept on the mattress, which had springs poking up.

Shawn Butterfield of the Utah mission team hanging out with boys from San Luis, Mexico on bunk beds built that year.

“Years ago we built bunkbeds for a family,” Chauna Sidwell told UI Connections about a previous Mexico missions trip. A tech guru by trade, she works “doing whatever needs doing” on the construction trips every year with her block mason husband Steve. “We decided to buy two [sets of] bunkbeds, but Shawn [Butterfield of First Pleasant Grove] said he would build them.

“After we worked all day, Shawn built them that night and finished them the next day after work,” the leader’s wife said. “Steve and Bernardo – he’s our liaison here – went store to store to find enough mattresses, for the mom too.”

The team had pooled their money for the mattresses, and also had enough for new bed linens.

Asked why she goes on the Mexico mission trips, Chauna Sidwell said, “It’s an opportunity to give back to a family less fortunate, who really needs it. It’s the least I can do to give back to God who has given so much to me.”

It was Butterfield’s first time to be part of the Utahn’s Mexico mission team. He’s a bricklayer by trade, though recently he received his general contractor’s license.

“I decided to go to Mexico because God has given me a special skill set and I felt it was fitting to give God the glory for the skills He equipped me with,” Butterfield told UI Connections. “Through this experience God has changed my life in such amazing ways. I understand now why he’s given me the construction background and work ethic I have. Everything He’s given me is for the glory of God.”

“I thought I was going to Mexico to build a house,” Butterfield said Sunday, April 7, at First Pleasant Grove. “Now I know it was to build relationships, with other members of the team, with the people we met there, and with God during our morning devotions.”

The house this year built by the Utah team consists of three rooms – one for living; the others for sleeping – in a 20- x 24-foot space, 480 square feet for the family of five, six including the boys’ disabled aunt.

Out back, an outhouse, also built by Butterfield. The family has a washing machine behind their house and go elsewhere for showers. For drinking water they have a 200-gallon tank the city fills, which they pay for.

When asked what he wanted in a house, Ekir said he wanted to sleep in a comfortable bed and not get rained on in the night.

Many homes in San Luis are only cladded by cardboard shacks that need repair after every rain storm

“A lot of these folks have oh so so little,” Clyde Parker told UI Connections. It was Parker who started the house-building ministry in San Luis 38 years ago. “This is the fastest-growing border town in Mexico, with thousands of people in same situation.”

He works with government agencies, who sieve through hundreds of housing applicants each year to find 10 they think will interest Parker. He interviews each and determines who will receive a home at no cost. The number of homes to be built depends on the number of teams and the amount of incoming donations for building materials. Each structure costs about $8,000 for materials.

So far, Parker’s ministry – which he calls “Get Away, Give Away – has built 265 houses, 20 churches and two orphanages. This year so far, teams have come from Washington, Oregon, Utah and Idaho.

Each team member paid $535 this year, of which $300 was allocated for the cost of materials. That amount is supplemented by one-time gifts, regular donors and fundraisers in Oregon, where Parker lives, and elsewhere.

Team members also share in their transportation and food costs and bring their own tools. They stay in tents or RVs on the fenced property Parker owns, which is where he stores construction material as it comes in.

While these are construction mission projects, the short-term missionaries are encouraged to share their faith on the project site and locally.

“We never felt unsafe,” Steve Sidwell said. This year, however, they stayed in town because two cartels were fighting over supremacy in San Luis, he added.  

Sidwell is one of those people who makes friends wherever he goes, and whose first or second sentence with his new friends always opens the door to gospel conversations. No matter which building project he goes on – he’s also been to Brazil at least 15 times to build churches – Sidwell considers them all evangelistic mission trips.

One day while working on the house, the boys brought their rodeo garb to show Sidwell. One of the boys had a cross on his jacket.

“A cross on your jacket doesn’t do anything for you, but Jesus in your heart does,” Sidwell told them. “If you want to win at life, learn more about Him and live for Him.”

Sidwell sat the four boys down on the ground outside and talked with them about God giving them their new home. Sidwell suggested they thank God for it. That’s when Ekir admitted he was “very bad.” After Sidwell told him God wants him to come to church no matter how ‘bad’ he is, Ekir said he would go.

Sidwell, a block mason by trade, was living in Oregon in 2011 when he was invited by Parker to join a team going to Mexico on Parker’s annual building project. Sidwell has been going ever since on the trips Parker named “Get-Away Give-Away.”

The Utah team, co-led by Mike Brooks of First Pleasant Grove, has been going since 2014. Brooks owns a plumbing business.

“I’ve had the opportunity to take my kids there, and have watched how that changed their lives,” Brooks told UI Connections. “Taking part in this missions project, they’re never the same afterward, both my kids and the kids we meet there. We bond our lives together.”

As the owner of an extremely busy plumbing company, Brooks said even though he’s busy all week helping build the house, he receives a personal blessing in Mexico: “Spending time with God in the desert.”

To contribute financially or with building materials, or to be added to the list of those going to Mexico next Spring Break, contact Pastor Mike Bagley, First Baptist Church, 344 E. Center, Pleasant Grove UT 84062 or coachstevesidwell@gmail.com or 435.630.5997. Sidwell and Brooks will pick up and deliver your donated materials.

Karen Willoughby

National correspondent for Baptist Press

and other state Baptist newspapers