DOXA--Eric Stelter Interview
How long has DOXA been in operation?
The first trip to the place we go in Tijuana was made by University Presbyterian Church's youth group in 1991. Soon after, Mercer Island PC, First Pres Spokane and others joined in. In 1998 we formed Homes Without Boundaries to both handle the facilitation for all the groups and to purchase property since we were over-running the orphanage and displacing the kids. We changed the name in 2011 to DOXA (Greek for "glory and honor to God") to reflect our expanded mission and to be able to incorporate in Mexico.
How did it start?
James B Notkin (Youth Pastor at UPC then) had taken some kids on a house-building trip to the outskirts of Tijuana in 1989 or 90 -- they liked the experience but not some particulars of the provider they had built with, and he was searching for another way to go down there and do more of the trip themselves. He found the orphanage somehow which had just started building a few houses off of a simple plan that a lumber supplier in Orange County had come up with for Central Presbyterian Church Merced (in California). The orphanage had a fantastic location in the hills between Downtown Tijuana and the ocean in an area with lots of people just camping out on the land -- so lots of need. We've been there now for 20 years and, with no strategic plans and all-volunteer everything, have put up around 1,600 homes housing some 7,000 people -- a city built and financed almost entirely by high school students in Presbyterian church youth programs.
What do you do?
In a kingdom sense, there are a lot of us who carry this particular part of the world in our hearts and minds, and we contend for our friends and neighbors there who are in need. For the work we help with, we have always facilitated for youth ministry teams -- helping them offer a developing-world mission experience (house building) while letting them plan and detail their own trip. So we'll take on the logistics (housing, family & site selection and preparation, all materials for the house and foundation, as well as on the ground guidance). The groups in turn raise funds, do their own travel prep and cooking, and organize their work and free time as they see fit. These trips have in fact proven to be powerful for youth and adults alike, so today we have many men's groups, families, college and even corporate groups going down to get immersed in the developing world in a meaningful way.
A few years ago, many of us all at once felt that we were called to expand our involvement and commitment in Tijuana. We felt a great need in that many of the poor families we built for could not afford to have their kids in public school, and also at times did not understand or value what an education could mean for their child. So we worked with our friends and the schools to develop a program to put kids in school. Its holistic in that we try to address as many factors that are determinants for success for those kids in that setting -- finances, uniforms, books, nutrition, health care, study space and parenting. This in turn led to an after-school program -- at first for our kids but soon the counsellors in the schools asked us to to take on other kids. Presently we have about 40 kids placed in school and a total of around 70 kids coming to after school program six days a week. We have also been holding a month-long day camp in the summers for these kids and the orphans we work with. The summer day camp has given the kids their first exposure to museums, art projects, parks, folk dancing, camping, and the beach. We have a growing relationship with World Vision in Tijuana and we are pairing with them to do community work with our parents and beyond.
What churches in the Seattle Presbytery have you worked with? (also, a couple names of individuals at those churches would be handy as I try to round up a couple other quotes!)
Since we were 'born' out of the Presbyterian church, its natural that our board is entirely presbyterians and a majority of the groups we serve are from presbyterian churches. From the Seattle Presbytery we have leadership representation from UPC (Jeff Aitken & Randy Brothers), Union (James B Notkin), Mercer Island PC (Paul Barrett and Lindsay Murphy), Capitol Hill PC (James Kearny). Other churches in Seattle Presbytery that we have served include Rolling Bay, First Pres. Bellevue, Lake Forest Park, Sammamish, and John Knox. We also have partnered with Presbyterians from Austin, Missoula, Princeton, Ojai, La Jolla, several colleges and churches from other denominations (i.e. Emerald City Bible Fellowship/Urban Impact), and some para-church organizations ilke Teleios, DADS and Young Life.
I think my favorite bit of 'working together' is where a group of us has led a transformative trip for men for the past 12 years -- it started with men from the Teleios men's ministry (white presbyterian men) and men of color from Emerald City Bible Fellowship -- we intentionally brought men from a wide range of racial and socio-economic back grounds together to spend a few days building houses there. A few years later we added men from the DADS ministry, also in Rainier Valley. So on one small trip we will have a few CEO's at one end of the spectrum and guys not long out of prison on the other, and we work and joke and pray and talk and find out how much we have in common -- though the world would focus on the differences. These men have grown in to the biggest sense of 'brother' that I have experienced and we are all in awe of God in this.
How have your relationship with those churches been sustaining both for DOXA and their congregations?
Well from DOXA's side all of our activity sort of starts with the house-building component so serving groups in this way allows us to introduce them to this corner of the world in Tijuana, and their involvement is everything for us -- whether its long-term costly leadership, going once on a trip or committing to fund a child's education or day camp. We also have folks come to help with our programs as long-term interns or short-term missionaries -- all of these have been from churches I have already named. I think from the congregation side folks have a variety of responses that vary from us being a 'gateway' to other types of service to us being a central and ongoing part of ministry. Its demonstrably a truth that those who put the most into what we are doing get the most out of it, and that we all probably receive more than we give or sacrifice by going down there and caring in a costly way.
What is God doing right now in your ministry? What's next?
We are capping off several years of transformation -- growing up from fly-by-night into a professional and sustainable organization. This has meant our name change, filing as a non profit in Mexico, bringing on paid Executive Director Alex Maxim (husband to Eliana!) and working towards our first fundraiser this May. We have developed a strategic plan that will take all that we have done and advance it and make it sustainable, and we are working on the 'next generation' of leadership. And, as we are able, we will be expanding our work down there and our offerings in types of trips and ways of service and giving for folks up here -- expanding the blessings that we have seen flowing across the border in both directions as we respond to God's heart for our neighbors.