The checkered ball bounced across the dirt lot in Mexico, kicking up dust in the fading afternoon sun. The question came up about school. The ball rolled to a stop.
Terry Brown’s Spanish was a little broken. Nelly Perez’s English was about the same. Their game of soccer on the bare dirt lot in Maneadero, Mexico halted as 12-year-old Nelly looked down shyly. No answer.
Their paths continued to cross each year as Brown visited Perez’s town to work with missionaries and help build sustainable homes for the impoverished people of Maneadero. Their friendship grew despite the differences in language, culture, ethnicity and age.
Each time, the same question would come up. Each time Perez had the same response. Brown finally realized the little girl was playing in the middle of the day and was not going to school. Her family of eight, which consisted of a mother and seven brothers and sisters, had no money and resources to enroll. The need for an education paled in comparison to the need to feed eight mouths. Yet, a mere $100 would solve the problem and get Nelly a seat in a classroom. Brown knew what he had to do.
Many families like Perez’s, lived in cheaply made slums, which were visited and served by the mission team Brown is a part of through Vaughn Park Church of Christ and Baja Missions. The homes there were little more than makeshift walls of scrap wood and a tarp roof.
Brown could not see how those families lived and turn away. His heart broke for them. He decided to serve them however he could, even if all he did was get Perez into school.
“You can see something that you are actually accomplishing, which is very nice,” Brown said in regard to his mission work in Mexico. “In education you may see the results of teaching students years later, but when I help those like Nelly or build one or two small houses, families are able to move in right away and it’s easy to see the progress being made. At the end of a hard day, we may be exhausted, but we are euphoric. We get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.”
Fast forward to today and Perez is set to graduate from adult school, a government adult education program for adults over 25 years old that extends beyond primary education.
The year Brown met Perez, he had almost decided not to go to Mexico with his church’s mission team, but relented after listening to the teams’ stories of fulfillment from prior years. Ten years and 25 trips later, Brown continues to visit the dusty roads of Maneadero every January and June hammering nails, raising walls and installing appliances for new homes and schools or dishing up thousands of hot meals to the villagers and their children.
“After I went on my first trip, there was no way in my mind not to go,” Brown said. “I have to and now my wife, my children and my some of my grandchildren come with me.”
Terry Brown is a professor of kinesiology and exercise science at Faulkner and has served the university for more than 34 years.