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I am a traveling STORYTELLER photographer & humanitarian telling epic life stories around the globe. We are based out of Denver, Kansas City or wherever you're from.  proving you can be both a goofball & hopeless romantic, if not adventuring, you can find me cuddling with my fur babies on the couch with my laptop & a glass of milk or renovating an old vintage trailer of some sort with
my husband.

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My favorite week of every year…

Tijuana, Mexico | Missions Trip, May 2-8 | Puenta De Amistad

This past week for me was one of the most powerful weeks I’ve witnessed. One of my favorite friends and the leader of this particular trip, Paul White said it best..

“Tragedy and Triumph would be the best way to describe our mission trip last week. The tragedy part began early, during our first full day in Mexico, Sunday May 3rd.  Leslie Murphy and Tony Gardner lost their son Philip to a drunk driver that afternoon in Kansas City, while they in Mexico with us. This has to be a parent’s worst nightmare. The last half of Sunday was spent trying to provide some sort of comfort to Leslie and get them back across the border and on a flight back to KC. The entire team was affected, everyone was hurting for Leslie and Tony and we all wished the situation was different.”

To say that God was showering us with his presence and grace would be an immense understatement. We had a mission to do down there for a family well deserved and much in need of a home, and to know I/we couldn’t be there in presence back home for Leslie was hard.  I felt guilty for staying. Exactly what Satan wanted. We couldn’t even attend the service or funeral for them.  But.. their hearts and servanthood were what charged me to keep going for the week. You see, Satan always tries to work hard in this beautiful week we visit Tijuana each year. He takes the crap that happens to us while on a mission, and tries to skew our minds and emotions about God. In the midst of this tragedy, I saw a piece of Heaven through Leslie. As she left the house to head back to the border with Tony, they hugged us all, thanking us for who we are to them, who we were to Philip (her son), how grateful she was for memories we’ve made with them and asked that we pray for the driver who was in the wreck with her son and also to remind her to pray about the family we were building for. That takes incredible strength, but I saw that she relied on God to give her strength and that was life changing for me. God always wins. God always graces. And God will continue to be triumphant. 

Never a moment I was painted, hanging sheetrock, nailing a nail in or any of the work that was being done for the Lord, went without thinking about Leslie. I grieved for her, I smiled for her, I cried for her. And then the moment came, where I pictured Philip in Heaven playing his Violin for God….. and I melted. What a beautiful thought!

This particular week… whew it was exhausting and emotional, yet incredibly joyful and fun. Lots of journaling happened this week, so I promise i’ll try to keep it to a minimal, letting the photos tell the story…

Evening 1, Saturday May 2, 2015:     Arrive. Shop. Tacos.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0012015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla002Where we gathered every day. Kathi reminded us in our first days orientation that we are to put our pride aside on this trip. “We are broken people, helping broken people.” 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0032015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0042015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0052015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla006One of my favorite taco stands we go to each year. (I was the only sane one who didn’t get the spicy tacos.) MAY I remind you also, following this taco dinner, I played Mikey, Margaret and Alec at “AMIGO” (horse) in the drive way and beat them all. Boys most definitely included. As competitive as Alec was, I’ve checked off a bucket list item, to beat him at anything I could, starting with basketball! [smiles]

This same night was noisy. Noisier than i’ve ever heard Tijuana. The Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight was this night so hearing everyones televisions, Mexican music, parties, dog barking, and random eruptions was interesting to say the least, to fall asleep to.

2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla007Day 1, Sunday May 3, 2015:    Church. Slab prayer. Tragedy.

2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0082015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0092015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla010

We prayed over the slab where we were to build this week with Israel and Allison his little one. What a stunning view right?2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla012My sibling for the week! My real brother’s name is Alex so saying Alec (or what the kids knew him as, Thor) and teasing him all week just came naturally. In all honesty, He’s one of the most amazing friends, an incredible guy and a heart for the Lord. I saw a light in him this week like i’ve never seen and a work ethic like a beast. We were all so thankful that he was able to attend this year for the first time. I think it’ll take very little convincing to get him back down each year!2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0132015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla014This is the orphanage to the left, and the church straight up the stairs where Israel grew up and is now working. He even plays the bass guitar (below) and teaches swim lessons. What an incredible dad. One of my favorites we’ve built for in my 7+ years of going to Mexico.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0152015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0162015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla017

This image….     is incredibly powerful to me. This is Tony & Leslie. 1:00pm Tijuana time, I took this walking back up to the home just after our church service Sunday morning where the pastor said “We need to keep this group in our prayers, someone especially is going to need extra prayers this week.” 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla011We had some extra time for a car show visit..2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0182015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0192015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0202015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0212015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0222015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla023

Finished the day off with kicking butt at Farkle. Sorry Alec, Mikey and everyone once again.

Day 2 (day 1 of building), Monday May 4, 2015:      Paint. Walls. Wait

 “Monday through Thursday was an absolute whirlwind of activity, the construction of the house was going full speed ahead. All the ladies were painting furiously, trying to get some siding ready for the guys who were working on the framing. The first wall went up about 10:30 a.m. and all 4 walls were standing before the end of the day.

This day was a blur, with the 2nd floor, rafters, and roofing started, sheet rock going up downstairs and…more painting. Our target for completion of the house and the dedication was Thursday afternoon. We were going to need some divine intervention to make it by then.”

I understand God orchestrates each year perfectly, I get it. But I was sad that this year we had very little neighborhood kids or families come by. Usually there are children by the tons that want to come play and see what’s going on. This year, I had only met neighbors Estavan (10) and his sister Marriam (12). Both adorable, but Estavan was secretly a little booger. Very willing to help out but very unwilling to take direction or a “no mas porfavor.” Showed a lot of determination which is hopeful for his future. You can see him there below, in the yellow, sweeping without being asked.

2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0242015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0262015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla027The neighbor Merriam working hard in her clean clothes.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0282015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0292015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0308 years ago, I met a kid named Fernando, aka Freddy. He was 10. He was my little friend I picked on all week. Marciel, the smiley man on the left is his dad who’s been helping us build for years. I asked him this year, “Where’s Freddy?” LITTLE did I realize, he was the “man” on the right. I passed him at breakfast that morning and didn’t even realize who he was. I was SO excited that morning to see him again. Its been about 5 years since I saw him last, and he is now 18. He’s so grown up. And he’s still just as stubborn not letting me take a photo of him. So cheers to getting at least the back of his head.  All week let me tell you….. we teased until I could get just a SINGLE shot together with him. My Teddy Freddy.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0312015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla032Animated gif, GIF, Mexico Missions2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0332015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla034And so it continues….. my week with the boys in a nutshell! I was going to get my hug and photo with him whether he wanted it or not. (He secretly did)2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla035Mike and Kathy’s son Aaron. Always a pleasure to be around. He’s semi nice to me, semi on the guys side which meant “lets gang up on Jana together.” We had quite the ornery week always defending ourselves and taking each other out after seeing slug bugs, woodys and just because. I needed my own allys of girls. But lets face it…. who can’t love this face? He’s still one of my favorites.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla036Animated GIF, GIF, Mexico Missions, Puente De AmistadAnimated GIF, GIF, Mexico Missions, Puente De Amistad, House Building2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0372015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0382015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0392015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0402015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla041Day 3 (day 2 of building), Tuesday May 5, 2015:       Sheetrock. Distraction. Great conversation.
2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0422015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0432015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0442015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0452015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla046Lots of hard work from everyone today. Lots of muscles cramping, dehydration, exhaustion. Tired bodies that went to bed early tonight.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0472015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0482015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0502015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0512015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0522015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0532015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0542015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla055

Day 4 (day 3 of building), Wednesday May 6, 2015:       More Sheetrock. Exhaustion. Laughs. Church. New group came in.
2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0562015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0492015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla058The effect of eating spicy chips.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0592015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0572015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0602015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla061

Day 5 (day 4 of building), Thursday May 7, 2015:       Painting. Final touches. Dedication. 

“God’s provision allowed us to get the house done by 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the family was given the keys to the front door about an hour later. What seemed surreal is that we had begun this venture just 120 hours before. In that time we had worshiped at 2 different churches, had roadside tacos 3 times, and built a complete house.”

2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0622015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0632015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla064My boy Freddy and dad Marciel! I love that I got a real smile out of him. 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0652015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0662015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0672015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0682015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0692015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla070Don’t be fooled. He’s only pretending with that helpful point. 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0712015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla072The first time I got a photo of the family. Carla was very shy and her and Allison stayed down at the orphanage most of the week. I didn’t get any pictures of sweet little Allison all week hardly. I wished we could’ve chatted with them more, but at least I got this family photo. They made us a meal this evening before the dedication. Very sweet of them!2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0732015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0742015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla075Yep-this about sums up everything this week.  At one point today Freddy had brought me to the ground by my pony tail, sat on me and painted my face. I will get revenge in 2016!2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0762015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0772015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla078Kim dedicating the house to Israel, Carla, their little girl Allison and little baby soon to come (August). Kim did a wonderful job. These evenings are always so meaningful.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla079The light came out perfectly in time for them to receive their keys and see their home for the first time, done, without 20 people in it. I’m sure they were so grateful to finally get in and get some peace and quiet.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0802015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla082Uno…. dos…. tres….2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0832015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla084Margaret, Nancy, and then Kathy and Lynn (our cook) took Carla (mom) shopping to pick out her own dining table. We are so thankful for all the people back here at home who donated household items, baby goods and other home details for them to have. Joy!
2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla085Home from school in their nice uniforms.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0862015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla087The whole team.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0882015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0892015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla090All the kids thought Alec was Thor. How cute. I love that photo of them.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla091Poor Margaret. She looks miserable. This is our crazy kids photo that also sums up perfectly, how the week went with us all. Somehow we threw Margaret in the mix of the silly behavior.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0922015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla093My favorite photo of the week. I dont even care that it’s blurry. This is Allison excited and running to dad after she toured her very own home she gets to snuggle in. This is priceless to me! And the very reason why we try to get down there to do what we can for and with these families!2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0942015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla095Day 6, Friday May 8, 2015:       Pack up. Orphanage. Leave family in San Diego. Fly home.

“Friday was a complete rain-out so we would have never gotten our vehicles up the dirt road to the building site (God’s perfect timing again). We had 4 first timers with us on this trip, and I am certain none of the team will forget this particular trip.This report does not touch on the dozens of small events, interaction, and fellowship we had as a team; bound together by a very unique set of circumstances.”

2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla096One of my ultimate favorite things we try to do on our trips to Mexico, is visit some orphanages and squeeze and love on kids as much as possible. Alec started with a bang but picking one kid up and swinging them in the air. Once you start that, you just can’t stop. They all kept saying “mas, mas, mas.” It lead to a fun dog pile with the boys atop Mikey, and even an adorable kid spinning Gary around on the floor. 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla097I want to thank Kathi Simpson, our realtor here in KC for donating the crayons, coloring books and books. These kids melted. I pray so many blessings, comfort, and resources for these kids. They are all so loving. This organization ran by just a woman or two, with a big heart and little money, but determined to be a light for these children. I’m thankful for her. And i’m thankful for something as simple as a hug. I hope that God writes that day in their hearts and that these kidos and workers know they are being thought of and prayed for daily. 2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0982015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla0992015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla1002015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla101Such beautiful children.2015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla1022015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla1032015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla1042015-MexicoMissions-IsraelCarla105

“A question remains about next year, will there be a Mexico mission 2016? Will the Lord lead a group down that path again? It might be appropriate for a “bumper sticker” type of response. “We don’t know what the future holds but we know who holds the future.” Please pray for Leslie and Tony, our aches and pains and splinters and bumps will heal rather quickly. Their pain will take much longer.”

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2

  1. Teresa Gardner Camp

    May 15th, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Thanks for loving my brother and Leslie!!

  2. Terri West

    May 18th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Great job Jana. Beautiful words, beautiful pictures. As you said, this trip well be on our hearts for a very long time.

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