I first stood in the barrios of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, when I was 14 years old. I was a freshman in high school and was on my first mission trip with my church.
Up until that point in my life, I’d had a pretty sheltered childhood. The poorest person I knew was the kid down the street whose family didn’t have a swimming pool. That’s how obnoxiously narrow my worldview was.
So when I experienced real poverty for the first time in that barrio, it broke me. It crushed my soul. Nobody had told me that billions of people around the world lived like that – let alone the thousands of people in this one community so close to home. I knew it wasn’t okay. Something had to be done about it.
So over the next ten years, all the way through high school, college, and into my twenties, I returned to Mexico again and again, doing as many service projects as I possibly could. When we got married, my wife Tina started leading these trips with me.
And I loved it. I felt connected to a cause greater than myself. I felt useful. I felt that I was doing what I was born to do.
Over time, we built around 30 houses for families in poverty. But at a certain point, Tina and I took a step back. We found ourselves wondering about all those mission trips and all those houses.
Is this community actually in better shape now than it was ten years ago? In another ten years, will this community be any better off than it is today?
These were profoundly personal questions for us, because along with people from our church, we’d spent countless weekends building these houses. We were giving generously of our time, energy, and money. But something wasn’t right.
Local families weren’t the heroes of the story. We were.
I knew we could do better. We had to do better.
And that’s how Tina and I eventually decided to start 1MISSION. I quit my job as a firefighter and stepped away from my landscaping business, ready to dive into this new adventure headfirst.
Images: One of the very first build trips in 2008. Bottom Left: Greg Yochim, VP of Operations, handing over the family’s new house keys.
We’d still be in the business of building houses, but the old handout model would be turned on its head. Rather than simply having people like us come down, build houses, and leave, what if we found ways to truly partner with local families? What if they could earn houses by serving their communities? What if they could be empowered, with their God-given dignity affirmed, through the process? What if they could be the agents of change in their own neighborhoods?
We didn’t have all the answers then, and we still don’t. But over the years we’ve learned a lot about the principles of healthy community development. We’ve learned what a big deal it is for families to have title to their land and how property rights unlock dead capital. We learned that it takes all sectors of society working together to make a lasting change. And in all of this, we’ve seen time and again that community transformation really is possible.
Images: We focus on all sectors of a society working together to make a lasting change. For an in depth look, watch our 2017 Gala program.
This year, 1MISSION turns ten – a huge milestone! We wouldn’t be where we are today without people like you who have made sacrifices to help us put more and more families in homes. We celebrate this together. But most of all, we celebrate the families we’ve had the privilege of partnering with – all 700 of them and counting! – who have taught us so much about hard work, perseverance, and hope.
They’re the true heroes of the story. And this story is just getting started.
Images: Jason Law, 1MISSION Founder, celebrating alongside the Morelos Cuevas family and Hermosillo, Mexico city officials.