This route includes the villages of San Vicente, La Union, and San Miguel. This trip has the longest travel time due to the length of time on dirt roads through the desert. San Vicente is a small ejido just across the river from Big Bend National Park and several members of the community are part of the international fire management crew for Big Bend known as Los Diablos.
On the first day of the trip, the group gathers at the Misión De Candelilla headquarters on North Llano Street at 5:30 AM to load luggage into trailers. The group has introductions, reviews the itinerary, and receives last minute instructions before praying and leaving Fredericksburg. We arrive in Eagle Pass before noon and stop for brunch before crossing the border into Piedras Negras, Mexico. While traveling on this route we need one-week tourist visas so these will either be obtained at the border or about an hour down the road.
The group continues to Muzquiz to pick up supplies for the clinic from our storage location. We then have one last stop at a Pemex station for fuel and a delicious meal of tacos, rice, and beans provided by a local family. As this is an early meal, it is a good idea to bring a few snacks for the evening once we arrive in San Vicente. We then leave Muzquiz and head into the Chihuahuan Desert. Around this time we lose cell service so you have the opportunity to unplug and appreciate the beautiful scenery of the desert and mountains. We usually make one quick stop at the foot of the mountain before going up the pass. Be sure to have your camera ready for some breathtaking views! About an hour from the pass we will turn off toward our villages. As we pass the first two villages we may be stopping briefly to drop off food that will be prepared for us by locals. The last few hours of the drive are on gravel roads, which can be a bit rough.
We will come into San Vicente on the evening of our first day. When we arrive at the site we unload kitchen gear into the room behind the church, medical equipment into the clinic, and luggage. Group members have the option of setting up tents or cots outside or sleeping in the clinic (sleeping on the ground outside is not recommended due to dogs, insects, and other “critters”). There is a room beside the clinic where a few people can sleep and luggage can be kept. Because we are in the desert, most days are warm and dry but nights can get cool. Many people prefer to sleep outside but in the event of an occasional dust storm or rain shower, group members can set up inside the clinic to sleep.
The next morning the group awakes to a breakfast of cowboy coffee, tacos, and fruit before a short devotion and worship time. The group then begins to set up the clinic and new group members are debriefed or trained in the areas in which they will serve. The people doing intake pull records from previous trips, take vital signs, and make notes for the doctors regarding any complaints that patients may have. A registered nurse typically runs the lab table as well as an electro-cardiogram and ultrasound machine. Once patients have been checked in and done any necessary labs, the doctors pick up the folders and begin their consultations. Doctors who are not fluent in Spanish are paired with a translator. Folders then go to the pharmacy where a team, typically led by a nurse or pharmacist, pulls necessary medications. Other team members in the pharmacy help by writing labels, counting medications, and explaining to patients how to properly administer their medications. The most common medications include those for diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart conditions. Every child who comes through receives vitamins and every pregnant mother receives an ultrasound of her child as well as prenatal vitamins. Because we have clinics twice a year, every patient receives a six-month supply of medications for chronic conditions. We also often treat allergies, stomach complaints, joint pain, and headaches. Though helpful, it is not necessary to know Spanish in order to serve in the clinics.
We take a short break for lunch around one o’clock. One of the locals, Benita, typically prepares lunch and supper. All meals prepared by locals usually include fresh tortillas, rice, and beans. Once the clinic closes, the group usually has a little downtime before supper. The Rio Grande is only a short walk from the clinic so group members may have time to take a short walk through the desert to the Rio before dinner. After eating supper, the group prepares for worship with the community. Our friend, Pepe, or another person from the area often leads worship. Community members are invited to share a word with the congregation. The mission group is introduced and sometimes members of the mission team share a song with the congregation. One of the group leaders then gets up with a translator and preaches. After the sermon, local community members have an opportunity to have the group pray over them and their families. At the end of the service there are sometimes raffles for sewing machines that have been donated to the mission. As the community leaves, the group returns to the clinic to set up their sleeping areas for the night.
On the third day the group awakes to a hot breakfast, spends time together in worship and a time of devotion, and then packs the vans and trailers and embarks on the next leg of the journey. We travel to La Union, arriving in time to unload, set up the clinic, and begin seeing patients by 10 AM. This site has a clinic and bunkhouse that have had improvements made by a church youth group from Fredericksburg. There is often time for each person to slip away during the day to bathe in one of the small bathrooms in the building beside the clinic. This site has bunk beds in a room adjoining the kitchen, so group members have the option of sleeping on their cots outside or in the available bunk beds.
The fourth day begins just as the day before as the group prepares for the third and final ejido of San Miguel. This clinic is one of our larger and utilizes a house that was purchased by Dr. Charlie Burg, a physician from Fredericksburg who has been a part of the mission for many years. Pepe’s wife, Fidencia often helps with the cooking while we are in San Miguel. There may be some time in the afternoon to visit the tienda before supper. At the end of the day, the group has the opportunity to worship with the local people one last time. In the past this worship has been done at the clinic, but this year, God brought a reconciliation between members of the community, opening up the opportunity for worship in the church.
On the last morning, the group wakes early, packs and loads all of the gear, and then sits down one last time for breakfast prepared by Fidencia and a time of worship and devotion. On the last day group members are given the opportunity to share what the week has meant to them. This is a beautiful time of encouragement and an opportunity to see how God has worked in each person on the trip. The team departs San Miguel around 7 AM and makes the trek back across the Chihuahuan Desert and the mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The group stops for fuel and snacks at the Pemex before continuing to the storage facility to unload medical supplies. The next stop is to return the tourist visas and then it is on to the border. Once in Eagle Pass, the group stops once more for a late lunch and then continues north, arriving in Fredericksburg between about 5 and 10 PM (depending on traffic at the border).