VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - Vail Valley pastor Nate Morris had been to Puerto Vallarta, Mex. before on vacation, but this time, his experience in the ocean-side city was vastly different.
Morris was one of 14 Vail Valley residents who went down to the area, located on the western coast of central Mexico, for a week-long mission trip that ended Friday. The group from Edwards' Calvary Chapel Vail Valley spent the week working at a sister church, Calvary Chapel Puerto Vallarta, and doing everything from rebuilding homes to acting out Bible stories in the barrio, or surrounding neighborhood.
"A lot of people do go there for vacation, but there is a dump about 30 minutes out of the main town, and that's where we mostly worked," said Morris, a pastor at Calvary Chapel. "People live on the outskirts of the dump. There are a lot of tin shacks, and other people who can't afford that put up tar paper for walls.
"There aren't really any streets, and they just have some outhouses, sewage running down the streets. It's pretty poverty-stricken area."
When not helping out at the church or teaching local kids at the church's mission school, the group mingled with the barrio residents, playing with children at the playgrounds and helping repair some dilapidated homes.
And this was definitely no beach vacation for the group - the entire group stayed in a three-bedroom house and got around in an 11-passenger van.
The group bought supplies and fixed the home of one church member whose walls had caved in after a storm. More repairs were done on another woman's roof, which was leaking badly and making her children sick.
Eagle resident Amy Applegate, 15, said the conditions of the neighborhood at the dump amazed her - some families had lived for four generations in cardboard, tin and tarp shelters, she said.
However, Applegate, the youngest member of the mission team, said she was even more struck by the positive attitudes they witnessed among the residents.
"The kids there are filled with joy, and they live in a piece of cardboard," she said. "They were really open and trusting. We'd go around, and all the kids would pile in the bus and three hours later we'd drop them back off.
"I loved seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing them laugh and seeing how they wanted to be loved."
Eagle-Vail resident Holli Shellhaas said the experience in the barrio changed the way she viewed poverty.
"If I would have seen something like the dump before, I would have driven by and locked my doors and closed my windows," she said. "But they were so welcoming. They're a true community in how they help and share everything and the kids all play together. In the squalor and in the poverty, there are still smiles."
Edwards resident Steve Van Beek said the best experiences of the trip was working with the local children and holding a worship service for the church.
"They loved it," said Van Beek, who plays piano for Calvary Chapel in Edwards. "They were so into the worship, singing at the top of their lungs. It was wonderful."
The team agreed that while the week was tough in ways and the work unpredictable, the experience was wholly worth the effort.
"I figured there are too many people who sit on the sidelines and let others do the work," Shellhaas said of her decision to join the trip. "I wanted to get my hands dirty and do some work, to do something outside of myself and help others."
Van Beek said that he came back from the trip with a new perspective on what is important - the children were overjoyed at simple things like soccer jerseys the group passed out, or getting a new soccer ball to replace the old shoe they'd been playing with before.
"These people have nothing, yet they have all this joy. We worry about a lot of things, but these people were so trusting, caring and open," he said. "Also, people there are hungry for faith because they don't have all this stuff to distract them like we do."
The experience also reminded the team that there are also people who need help right here in the valley, Morris said.
"I think this has gotten us excited about serving God and their communities at home," he said. "It's about realizing that our world is a lot bigger than just us."
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.