A Desert Christmas Story

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Tony Maples Photography


Each December, families from the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church fill a box with gifts for a family in San Vicente, Mexico. The rest of the year, Mision de Candelilla provides healthcare services in villages just across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park. This medical mission has been traveling these roads for 30 years with volunteers including medical doctors, dentists, optometrists, nurses, and a whole lot of people with no medical experience. This trip is different: it is about the joy of spreading Christmas to these forgotten people. This young girl looks confused about what is going on, but she probably has a doll in the box of gifts for her family, and her Dad has a pair of work gloves and a long sleeved shirt.

San Vicente family receives their gifts.

Family in San Vicente, Mexico

Photo: Robert C Deming

These families live on communal land called an ejido, and their primary support is raising cattle. This is the Chihuahuan Desert, with hot summers and cold winters and very little rain. The villages served by this mission are strung out along the river in an area without cell phone or internet service.  What electricity there is comes from solar panel-charged 12-volt car batteries. The only lights are a single two-foot long fluorescent tube in each house. There is a water system, but many of the bathrooms are outdoor privies. The nearest store of any kind is 150 miles away, and the first few hours of that drive are on a rough dirt road.

This is the team from Fredericksburg

Mision de Candelilla Team

Photo: Robert C Deming

These people came to share the love of the people of Fredericksburg United Methodist Church. They are all veterans of this trip and accustomed to the primitive conditions and long drive. There will be a team with a similar mission to a different village; the youth from Holy Ghost Lutheran Church, after school is out for the holidays. The home in the background belongs to Noe and Benita, two delightful people who are leaders in the village of San Vicente. The Rio Grande (Rio Brava to the Mexicans) and Big Bend National Park can be seen in the background.

Grandmothers make the trip, too.

Mision de Candelilla grandma time

Photo: Robert C Deming

San Vicente has no shortage of young children, and team member Connie Voight got some “grandma time.”  The people here have few comforts, their living conditions are primitive, their possessions sparse, but family is still the most important thing.  The village has a primary school with grades 1-6, all in one room. If children go on to high school, very often one of the parents moves with them to another relative’s home, somewhere there is a school. These children grow up without video games and their parents don’t have to say, “go outside and play for a while” as there isn’t much inside their adobe houses.

Candelilla plant

Candelilla Plant in the Chihuahua Desert

Photo: Robert C Deming

This is the Candelilla plant harvested by the people in the area.  In the same genus as the Poinsettia, the plant is rendered for a wax, which is sold to the government. The desert scenery is dramatic and most often void of people or houses. The villages have about 150 people each and they are 10 or more miles apart; one can drive the roads for hours and not see another vehicle.  When the Mision de Candelilla van meets another vehicle, the chances are the drivers are old friends, as the Mision has been operating there for 30 years. The village is reached after traveling 35 miles on this road. Getting there is half the fun!

If you are intrigued by the notion of visiting this part of the desert as a part of a Mision de Candelilla team, contact the directors Curtis and Sara Allerkamp at [email protected] or (830)-997-6542. According to Sarah, a Registered Nurse, 80% of the participants are not medical professionals but work under the guidance of a core team of doctors and nurses. Teams visit nine villages twice each year. Other trips beside this special one build facilities in the villages they serve; there are no public buildings, so the Mision builds their own clinics.