Discovering Christ in Strangers:
The Maclovio Rojas Project

By Anthony Manousos

This article originally appeared  in Quaker Life in May, 1998. It is based on a sermon delivered at the Bellflower United Methodist Church in the fall of 1997.

Opening our hearts to strangers can be very difficult. The old saying goes, "Charity begins at home." Sad to say, our charity often ends there. We are sometimes reluctant to give of our time and money to strangers, to "ferriners." Many Americans gripe about giving "foreign aid," even though we are the richest country in the world and give the smallest percent of our gross national product to foreign aid of any other industrial nation. Many Americans are even resentful about giving food stamps to needy American citizens in our own country just because they happened to born somewhere else. Most of us want to share with people like ourselves, not with strangers.

Even Jesus almost fell into that trap. When a Gentile  woman came to him asking for help, he said, in effect, "Don't bother me. I'm here to help my own  people, the children of Israel" (Mark 7:26-30 and Matthew 15:22-28). This is one of the harshest statements  that Jesus ever made, and I can imagine how the woman must have felt.  Imagine if you, as a American, had a sick child and went to Mexico to a
healer and was told, "Forget it, gringo. I'm here to help my own people."  Most of us would probably go off in a huff. But this Gentile woman was desperate, her child was dying, and she knew that only Jesus, a Jewish healer, could help her. So she swallowed her pride and said, "Even the dogs are entitled to the crumbs from the table."  Her humility, and her faith, touched Jesus' heart, as they have touched the
hearts of Christ's followers for two thousand years. The lesson I learn from this story is that we are called not only to help those in our church  and in our families, we are also called to help the stranger

That's what I did [last] summer when I took a group of thirty people down to Mexico to help in a poor community near Tijuana called Maclovio Rojas. Going to this community was a painful reminder of the "savage inequality"  that exists between rich and poor in Third World countries, and all too  often here in the United States. The community that we helped consisted of  1200 families­most of whom were forced to work in factories for $3 per day.

They had no running water, no electricity, and no paved roads. Most of the homes were made of scrap, the favorite building material being used garage doors.  Even though we were less than an hour's drive from San Diego, one of our teens said that going to this community was like going to an alien planet.

Over the course of the week, we worked side-by-side with the people of Maclovio Rojas. We put up sheet rock in a day care center. We dug holes and mixed cement to put up playground equipment. We purchased books and helped  to set up their library. We painted murals. As we worked and sweated  alongside the Mexicans, they came to seem less than aliens, and more like  amigos.

At the end of the week, our Mexican amigos threw a party for us. We told  them that it wasn't necessary, that we had brought our own food, but they  insisted, so we had a potluck. One of the participants in our group, a grad student, wrote about this experience:

"One of the things that struck me most deeply on this trip the feast that  the people of Maclovio Rojas had prepared for us and the way it was  prepared­with much love and much care­and the appreciation that this was  meant to express. In fact, this moved me to tears because I understood what  a whole day spent preparing this meal, and the cost of the meal, meant.  Yesterday Mark and I drove a man to Tecate so that he could interview for another job. In his current job, he works 6 days, 12 hours each day, every  week, and earns only $20 per week, for himself, his wife, and his four  kids. We can't easily understand the sacrifice these people made to show  their appreciation for our work and our presence."

When I saw the rich Americanos and the poor Mexicanos working and sharing  food and dancing together, I said to myself, "This is what Jesus meant when he said that God's kingdom is like a party where everyone is invited­rich and poor, holy ones and outcasts. When Jesus was on earth, he partied with poor. He shared in their joys and their sorrows. Jesus was serious when he  said that heaven is within us, and among us. We don't have to wait until we die to see heaven. It's right here, if we just practice what Jesus preached."

Many of us who live in the United States don't realize how much we have  been given, just by virtue of having been born in the richest country in  the world. Many of us think that we are just getting by, whereas by the standards of much of the rest of the world we are incredibly rich.

One of our teen participants was a boy from Whittier First Friends Church named Trevor who comes from what many in the United States would consider  disadvantaged home.