Mexico mission trip is a blessing for church group

BurkheadImageUseThisOneThanksgiving is a time of, well, being thankful. And there’s nothing like being around people who are less fortunate to make us feel thankful for what we have.
That was the experience for a group of nearly 30 people, most of them affiliated with Meeker’s United Methodist Church, who traveled to Mexico during Thanksgiving to lend a helping hand in that impoverished area.
“That’s the largest team we’ve ever taken,” said Pastor Johnny Arrington. “We had 27 folks go, four youth and 23 adults. It was a mix of first-timers and repeats. For some of the 27 who went, church isn’t a part of their life. One person saw a poster of our last mission trip and just said she always wanted to do something like that.”
For all who went, it was a life-changing experience.
“You go with the anticipation of being a blessing, and you come back blessed,” Arrington said. “To see people who, in so many ways have nothing, but they have a joy in their life because of what’s important to them. It’s always a good thing to see how someone else lives and to see the joy in their life without all the stuff.”
And for the people in Rio Bravo, Mexico, where the mission group went, they don’t have a lot of stuff.
“We were there in June, with a smaller team, and we built a casita, which means a small house. There’s no electricity, no running water, no electricity, just cinder blocks, two doors, two windows and a tin roof, it’s typical of the homes there,” Arrington said.
While there in November, the mission group celebrated Thanksgiving with their Mexican friends.
“It just happened the group that went in June was so enthusiastic, they thought it would be a wonderful way to go and spend Thanksgiving,” Arrington said. “So we fixed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They don’t have (grocery) stores there, so we had to haul the food to be cooked to the mission center. We sent a few of the team members back across the border, to McAllen, Texas, to go shopping.
“For 99 percent of them, it was their first experience with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” Arrington said. “We ended up feeding about 70 people. It went great. It was funny to see them grab the hot sauce and put it on the turkey, but they especially loved the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows.”
The mission trip wasn’t a vacation to some exotic location.
“You work, but it’s worth every minute of it,” Arrington said. “Some mission teams will go down and say this is what we want to do. One thing I appreciated about this bunch that went, they said, whatever, you tell us what you need us to do.”
Rio Bravo is on the border of Mexico and the United States, but it’s not considered a border town, “because there’s no access to it. There is no border crossing into it,” Arrington said.
“(Rio Bravo) is a staging place for people trying to migrate to the States,” he said. “People ask what’s the population. It’s too hard to tell. It’s too fluid.”
For Arrington and his wife, Patti, this was their sixth year to take a group to Mexico.
“We started when we were pastoring in Dolores,” Arrington said. “This is just a continuation of that relationship. The mission has been turned over to the Mexican church. The hope is they will continue the ministry. They will facilitate all of the teams that come in, the financing, every aspect of the ministry. They will take over the business of handling the whole ministry. That was the goal, to start a ministry, and then make it so the folks in the country where the ministry is take it over and run it.”
One thing for sure though, Meeker’s United Methodist Church will continue to send mission teams to Mexico.
“(Those who went) are already talking about going back,” Arrington said. “We don’t know when we will go again. It’s too soon to tell, but we will be back.”
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Work is progressing on the new sanctuary for Meeker’s United Methodist Church. The church broke ground for the new sanctuary in July.
“We’re getting close to putting the walls up on the second floor, which is really exciting,” Arrington said. “It won’t be long and the sanctuary walls will be going up. Once we get the roof on, it can snow all it wants.”
The project has been a group effort, as many different people have volunteered their time and talent.
“This whole community seems to have embraced this project, not only with their hands, but their prayers,” Arrington said.
The church is still looking into options for the old sanctuary, which was built in 1899.
“We’re still hoping to find a home for it,” Arrington said. “But that’s not been real successful, unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, Arrington is hoping work on the new sanctuary will be completed by late summer or early fall.
“I would hope that would be the target date,” he said. “It’s optimistic, but it’s doable.”
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The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Meeker’s Lions Club members went shopping — for Christmas trees.
“We do that every year,” Anthony Mazzola, club president, said of the organization’s Christmas tree project. “There are usually about 15 of us. We go down Piceance and find a little spot, cut down the trees and haul them into town. It’s a good little fundraiser.
“We have to buy permits from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), but because we’re a nonprofit, they give us 20 free permits,” Mazzola added.
The group cuts down trees of various sizes.
“We cut like 100 trees down, and then sell ’em for $15 or $20 each, depending on size,” Mazzola said. “We have some that rival the courthouse lawn trees. No, they’re not quite that big, but there are some big ones.”
The trees — located behind the grandstands at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds — are available through Christmas and are sold on the honor system.
“There’s a little cash box there where people can drop their money or checks in,” Mazzola said.
Asked if there was a concern about people stealing Christmas trees, Mazzola said, “We figure, if somebody needs a tree that bad, they can have a tree.”
In the end, he said, it all evens out.
“We get people who will write a check for $50, just to make a donation,” Mazzola said.
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With this week’s snowstorm, crews have been busy clearing the roads in town, throughout the county and on state highways.
Dirck Garcia of Meeker, area supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation, takes pride in his crew’s dedication.
“We take care of our communities,” Garcia said. “In the event of a storm closure, we’ll go out and take of the roads. We do the best job we can. We take care of our communities. It’s our loved ones, too, who are driving those roads.”
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Joe Gutierrez of Meeker served in the Army with Greg Richards — one of the four police officers who was shot and killed Nov. 24 in Lakewood, Wash.
“He went to basic (training) with (brother-in-law) Steve (Kilibarda) and I, and we spent the next three years together,” Gutierrez said. “He was in the same company, but different platoon, at Fort Lewis (Wash.). We still trained together. He was not a close friend, yet in the infantry, you learn to watch each others’ back and become a tight-knit group, much like brothers. I consider all who have served, or are serving, to be a member of that group.”
Richards was 42.
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John Justus of Rangely was the winner of $250 Conoco gas card in the grand prize drawing Nov. 21 at the seventh annual Christmas open house of Quality Carpet and Furnishings of Rangely.
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Meeker Police Chief Bob Hervey said Officer Mike Washburn was called to Barone Middle School last Friday and issued two male students with citations for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
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Mary Brenes and Christine Stouder have been temporarily added to the county’s budget and finance office, in the absence of a full-time director. Diane Sorensen resigned in November.
“Mary is on contract to finish the preparation of the 2010 budget, and Christine has been hired as a temporary employee to handle the day-to-day business within the budget/finance office,” said Teresa Anderson, the county’s human resources director.
The county is advertising for a full-time budget and finance director.
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Meeker football player Tyrel Gerloff was named the first-team all-league kicker, which in itself was an honor, but was particularly noteworthy given, “I’ve never seen a team that never kicked a field goal or an extra point all season, never even attempted one all year, and we had the all-league kicker,” said Cowboy coach Shane Phelan. “That speaks to how well Tyrel kicked off.”
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Speaking of Tyrel, I saw him at the Cowboy Shootout girls’ basketball tournament last week, on one of those bitter cold nights, and he was wearing shorts.
“It’s not that cold,” he said.
Ah, to be young.
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Lisa Sprod, a 1995 graduate of Meeker High School, was the guest speaker last Saturday morning at the Cowboy Shootout, during a breakfast for the participating teams.
Sprod is a researcher at the University of Rochester (New York) Medical Center. She competed in volleyball, basketball and track when a student at MHS.
“It feels like yesterday,” she said. “It’s so interesting to be back at Meeker High School again. It still feels the same. It feels kind of like home.”
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At Rangely’s Holidayfest last weekend, I overheard a boy telling his younger sister, before she took her turn sitting on Santa’s lap, “If you ask him for something, he’ll give it to you, really.”
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I’ve interviewed Rangely girls’ basketball and volleyball coach Jimmie Mergelman countless times for the paper, but last week was told I had been misspelling Jimmie’s last name by transposing the “e” and the “l” in Mergelman. I shudder to think how many times I may have misspelled her name. I know one thing, one of my former journalism school professors would’ve given me a failing grade. His policy was, if you misspelled a name in a story, regardless of how good the story was, it was an automatic F.
My apologies to Jimmie, who, in typical fashion, was more than understanding.
I’m gonna start blaming these mental lapses on Mad Cow. For you “Boston Legal” fans out there, that will make sense.
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I try to get around to as many events in the county as I can to take photos for the paper, but I recently had a mom tell me her son had commented, “If I had a stalker, it would be Jeff.”
I’m not sure if that was intended as a compliment or not.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at