LoveTJ: Reflections of a Reporter

In Latest News by Sara Arsenault

After sitting through a small orientation on what to expect led by Esteban Trujillo, the director of Ministry with Mexico, nineteen PLNU students and I piled into two vans headed for Mexico.

We arrived in downtown Tijuana and spent an hour walking through the streets absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. As we wandered vendors would call to us, inviting us to buy their product or telling us about deals at their restaurants. We weaved through a maze of people, goods and bright colors, even happening upon the red light district, which- even at twelve in the afternoon- was in full swing.

Boarding the bus we continued our journey to a long-awaited taco shop that doubled as a car wash. The food was, as promised, fantastic. Gabriel Bercerra, a senior Engineering major at PLNU, commented “The food was amazing the entire time. For me mexican food is always homey and comfort foody. Its food that makes me feel at home and welcome.” From tacos we grabbed some paletas, a type of ice cream fruit bar, and continued to Playas, the Tijuana side of the border wall.

On the topic of the border wall Trujillo commented, “There’s something about seeing [the border wall] that allows you to have better acknowledgement that it exists… there’s something that shifts in your perspective when you actually look at the border wall and are able to clearly see San Diego from the Mexico side… so even just understanding as far as land wise [that] it’s the same region, it’s the same type of terrain, but there’s just a wall in between… I wanted students to have the experience of being able to see it and acknowledge it and then have that spark some conversations or some thoughts in their heads.”

From there we headed to Centro Cultural Tijuana, a museum about the history of the Baja California region. We learned about the different native tribes as well as the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries who took over the area.

Evan Hamner, a freshman at PLNU , remarked, “it was fascinating to see the history of the region.” After touring the center, taking a small break at our hotel, and having dinner (more tacos) at our partner church in TJ, Iglesia Nazareno La Mesa, we headed to the Xoloitzcuintle’s Soccer game.

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The “Xolo’s”, as they are commonly referred to, are a professional club soccer team in Tijuana. From their website (http://www.xolos.com.mx/en) I found that they are in the highest league, have won seven straight games in a row at home, and are seen as a top team. The Xolo’s were not playing a major rival and so the game was relatively small, “only about 28,000 people,” our host Alejandro Torres informed us.

When we got to the stadium you could already feel the energy and excitement buzzing all around. We were seated right next to the official cheering section and almost half the view of the field was obscured because of all the flags with the team’s colors being waved.

The spirit section chanted the entirety of the two halves, dancing to the live music. It was a green sea enthusiast’s dream. Zach Lickteig, a freshman International Development major at PLNU, said, “The soccer game was cool. It was really fun to watch the people and see how they interacted and the songs and the flags. You don’t do that in the US for sure. It was hectic getting to and from the car but that was expected.”

Bercerra added, “The soccer game was amazing. I love being a part of all that energy. It was a lot of fun trying to sing along to the fight songs. It was a bummer we were next to all the flags and I couldn’t see the game the entire time but it was a blast and I got to buy a hat. Best purchase I ever made.” After the game it was finally time to retire to the hotel for the night. We were all exhausted from a full day of crazy adventures and everyone went straight to bed.

The next day we woke up for my personal favorite part of the trip, a full day of service helping a local church in Tijuana called Adonai. We cleaned and painted for half the day with the youth from Iglesia Nazareno La Mesa.

After lunch we walked around the neighborhood surrounding Adonai inviting people to come on Sunday, evangelizing and giving food to those who needed it. After a time of worship lead by the young adults of La Mesa, Esteban lead us in a service about community and love.

“[The Sequoias] grow in community, they grow in groves and their strength comes from the intertwining of the roots… We are part of the same church but we are on two different sides of this border wall. So how does that look like for us to still be the church [and] be intertwined even though there are still some physical barriers and also being able to love each other despite differences in language and culture… the body of Christ is enriched by its diversity, it’s enriched by the fact that it has different members and creates one beautiful thing… it points out our differences in a way that it points the greatness of who Christ is and the greatness of our creator and then also the greatness of God’s love.”  

We had one last meal and fellowship and then started our trek back into the states. Our caravan patiently waited in the two-hour line to the border, playing games and eating churros. Unfortunately, we had some trouble at the border station about having the correct visa and we were temporarily sent to a secondary holding facility while everything got figured out.

One of the students on the trip made a joke, “Tacos: 40 pesos, Xolo’s game: 400 pesos, getting sent to Secondary: priceless.” Border patrol was somewhat nice, in a stoic sort of way and after about a half hour we were on our way back to Loma.

When thinking about his overall feelings of the trip Bercerra said, “I thought the trip went really well and I’m glad we had that kind of trip where we can explore and enjoy the city instead of needing to be on a mission. We can just be there as tourists exploring another place. I think it’s good for the student population and for US citizens as a whole to be part of a trip like that and to dispel some fears and preconceptions we have of Tijuana and mexico as a whole.”

Sherrie (Ruixue Xiao) an international student from China studying International Business, shared similar thoughts. “It changed my perspective of Mexico. Before I came I thought it was dangerous and crime filled, but it’s a safe place; it’s quiet and warm… I feel like they emphasize the concept of family.”

Overall, the trip was like a thrilling roller coaster ride full of highs and lows. It helped open the eyes to the realities of poverty in the neighboring Tijuana community while still illustrating the blessing like family and food that were hidden amongst the city. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip and highly recommend it to all adventure seekers. Get out of your comfort zone and #loveTJ.  

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