Building Homes and Bringing Hope to Mexico and Beyond
Like a line from Robert Frost’s poem, Latham® Dealer Mike Van Zee of Pella, Iowa, “took the road less traveled and it has made all the difference.” He has helped make a difference in the lives of people in low-economic regions of the United States, Niger, and Mexico.
“From the time I was 17, I’ve been blessed to take week-long mission trips,” says Mike. “It’s a pleasure to make a difference in someone’s life. Constructing houses with a group of friends and high school students is such a rewarding experience. We humbly serve and interact with the wonderful families we build houses for. We provide a great home for them and change their economic outlook. They show their gratitude by serving us an authentic Mexican meal with lots of hugs and smiles.”
Mike has traveled to Mexico for nine of the past 11 years through Third Church. More than a decade ago a partnership formed between Door of Faith Orphanage (DOFO) in La Misión, Mexico, and Third Church in Pella, Iowa, where Mike’s wife, Myra, works as Finance and Administrative Leader.
The Van Zee family’s involvement in the mission trip evolved from Mike serving as a youth leader, who chaperoned the high school ministry trips. He has had the opportunity to chaperone his daughters, too.
“I went on three mission trips to the Door of Faith Orphanage while I was in high school,” says Ella Van Zee, Mike and Myra’s oldest daughter. “The first two trips were in the summers with my church. The third trip was just my dad and me. We went to surprise my friend Samariha. We also helped repair some lights near the cross that overlooks the orphanage after they had been damaged in a wildfire. These trips have helped me grow deeper in my love for God while serving the kids at DOFO and the community of La Misión.”
Teams of 50 to 70 high school students and adults from the Pella, Iowa, area usually fly each summer into San Diego, California. They cross the Tijuana border with a mission of “building relationships, one house at a time.” They typically build two to four homes annually in this bedroom town between Rosarito and Ensenada along the Pacific Ocean.
Door of Faith staff work with local families, who apply for a house through DOFO’s house building ministry. Once approved, a family is required to buy the plot of land and have the concrete slab poured. The mission team from Third Church sends money in advance for DOFO staff to purchase the materials.
The mission team paints siding and prepares trusses at DOFO while a few team members begin the wall layout on the 24 x 30-foot pad on Monday. By Wednesday, roofing and siding begins. Thursday is window and drywall installation. Friday completes the build with a second coat of mud and doors. Then the receiving family will paint, lay flooring, and finish the house after the mission team leaves.
“A typical home has three bedrooms, a living space wired for a kitchen area and an attached bathroom,” explains Mike. “Each of our 60-ish team members writes a prayer, scripture or other words or symbols of encouragement on a two-by-four stud. We dedicate the homes with a gift of a Bible, keys, and a broom, which is a symbol of ownership and care taking. This dedication is a reminder to us of our purpose in 1st John 3:16-17.”
“The houses are just the foundation to the relationship,” adds Mike. “Often times, the family helps with the build and offers refreshments. The family usually treats us to an authentic Mexican lunch of tamales or tacos served on handmade tortillas. Each Wednesday night during the mission trip, the Third Church team hosts a mini reunion at La Mission church. This meal consists of American favorites like hamburgers and hot dogs, cake, and ice cream The cakes are made at the Door of Faith Orphanage bakery, a small business that helps children learn life skills.”
The Mission Continues Despite Pandemic
Although the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has prevented Third Church from hosting mission trips for the past two years, the Van Zee family was able to complete a mission of its own in July 2021.
“Our oldest daughter, Ella, had a wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern with Door of Faith Orphanage,” says Mike. “Our family surprised Ella with a visit to Mexico at the end of her internship. We worked alongside a construction crew for three days to replace a roof on a shelter. While Ella stayed true to her internship, she provided Myra and her sisters a tour of the orphanage and helped serve a pizza party for the kids on Thursday night.”
A highlight of Ella’s summer internship was getting to spend time with the girls she sponsors.
“It was fun playing with the kids, serving them meals, and helping some of them with a reading program,” says Ella. “One night we got to watch a movie with the kids. That night both girls that I sponsor were sitting next to each other, so I sat in between them. I realized that most people who sponsor a child never get to meet them. They just get a picture or two and maybe a letter if they are lucky. Yet, I was blessed enough to get to sit within arms’ reach of both girls. I got to play with them, read with them, swim with them, and eat meals with them. I feel so blessed that I got to build personal relationships with them.”
With her internship complete, Ella moved to Orange City where she is a freshman at Northwestern College. She is participating in band and choir while pursuing a double major in Secondary Education and Spanish. She plans to become a high school Spanish teacher. Her sister Eliza is a junior in Pella High School; she is active in marching band, jazz band, basketball and soccer. Evalee (pronounced Ev-a-lee) is in eighth grade this year. She is active in band, basketball and soccer. Evalee also enjoys observing crop conditions and joining her dad in the combine during corn harvest.
The Van Zee family invite you to join them next year for a mission trip, with our church group or a team of your friends, to build homes and relationships in other communities. Contact Mike or visit www.trcpella.com
In honor of their trip to Mexico, the Van Zee family is sharing with us their favorite recipe for chicken enchiladas.
Recipe by Van Zee Family
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1, 4-ounce can of diced Florence chiles
- 1, 3-oz package cream cheese
- 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
- 6 to 8 flour tortillas
- 1 can Cream of Chicken soup
- 1, 8-oz carton sour cream
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup shredded co-jack cheese
- In skillet, sauté onion and butter.
- Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of the chiles.
- In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, milk and chicken. Then add onion mixture.
- Place chicken mixture in tortillas, roll, and place seam-side down in a greased 9x13 pan.
- Next combine soup, sour cream, 1 cup milk, remaining chiles and shredded cheese. Pour over tortillas.
- Bake at 350 for 35 min covered; uncover and bake 5 min.
- Top with remaining package of co-jack cheese before serving (if so desired).
COOK’S TIP: You can use taco meat or a breakfast burrito hash in place of chicken for the filling.
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