10 Mar When the Lord Builds the House…!
By Phil Waldron, CEO
On October 4th, 1998, Donna and I moved our young family to the island of Cozumel, QR, México. Thus began a five-year-long mission that God flourished in some incredible ways. During our time there, God allowed us to establish an orphanage called the Ciudad de Ángeles, to establish a Bible Institute, to plant a new church, and to build a church building with auditorium, classrooms, and offices to serve their needs. We converted many, many people from all over México and the rest of the world during those five years due to the huge tourist industry where many people came through Cozumel to work for a while and then return home.
This past month Donna and I were invited back to the Island to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Ciudad de Ángeles, a children’s home for orphaned and abandoned children. It was heartwarming for us to be able to be present as members of their Board along with friends and donors who came together to mark this historic occasion. As Donna and I reflected on all that God has done in the intervening years since having first obtained the license to open a children’s home, we couldn’t help but praise God for having allowed us to be a part of something so incredible.
For us, pausing to reflect on all that He has done in this work was just one more example of the truth of Psalm 127:1 which says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…” Clearly, after looking back on the twenty intervening years, God was building a beautiful work that we got to be a part of helping Him accomplish. I phrase it in this way because of how all of this happened. As briefly as possible I would like to share with you the beginnings of the Ciudad de Ángeles that now has its own campus and staff that attends to upwards of 50 children at times. I hope this story encourages you as much as we were encouraged to recall two decades of evidence of God’s providential blessings. This is a work that began with nothing more than a dream to meet a need that we recognized in the local community.
In 1999, I studied the Bible with a man by the name of Roberto Franco who lived on the Island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo, México. After many studies, he was baptized and became a close friend. I got to know him quite well since we spent so much time together. Roberto had been orphaned early in life and at the age of twelve he walked by himself across the border from México into the United States. He suffered greatly, eating out of garbage cans and begging for work so that he could earn a little bit of money. Some man took Roberto under his wing and gave him work. He also encouraged Roberto in his natural abilities in art. As a result, Robert became an accomplished sculptor. After spending many years in the USA illegally he returned to México and settled in Cozumel. There he opened a shop where he sold jewelry and sculptures in black coral. He became quite successful in his business.
In 1999 after becoming a Christian, Roberto shared with me his story of being an orphan and lamented the lack of resources available for the orphans in the State of Quintana Roo where we was living at the time. This led to Roberto and I taking a trip to Ensenada, Baja California, to visit the orphanage of Ciudad de Niños. The visit had a moving impact on both Roberto and me and we jointly prayed that God would give us the ability to open a similar work in Cozumel. It was on the way back from Ensenada that Roberto proposed the name for the orphanage as the “Ciudad de Ángeles.” I liked it immediately. Roberto explained at the time that it was very common in his culture for parents to refer to their children as “Ángeles” or “Angels.”
Stan Stout was the Director of Ciudad de Niños during those years, and he agreed to sit on our Board and help us get started. For the next two and a half years I worked very hard to get the license to open a children’s home. At the same time, I worked hard in telling the story to anyone and everyone who would listen in the US in an effort to find a financial sponsor. All we had was an architectural rendering of a bird’s eye view of the campus that we were dreaming about having for the children. I left no stone unturned even resorting to waiting out front of the mayor’s house before dawn to get to talk with him about getting his help. He referred me to the governor of the State of Quintana Roo. I tried numbers of times to get an appointment with him, even resorting to traveling to his office and waiting outside in his secretary’s office to catch him as he came in and out. We also paid a lawyer for his help. All to no avail though, and after two and a half long years, we finally gave up.
Then, while having an evangelistic campaign with Dr. Dan Coker in Cancún where we were helping to plant a new church, I met a criminal attorney by the name of Justino Cerezo. He was very interested in helping us get a permit to open the Ciudad de Ángeles. I agreed to let him try, and in one month we had the permit as an Institución de Asistencia Publica, a nonprofit. The rest is history, as they say. God’s timing proved to be perfect as always. Our next step was getting the first donation of funds to hire staff and send them to Ciudad de Niños in Ensenada, for training. We then began discussing a sponsorship for the home with the East Cobb Church of Christ in Georgia. The pace of the project picked up when Stan Stout recommended Gary and Nancy Gardner as potential Directors for the home.
Gary and Nancy came to visit us and stayed in our home for several days. We were so impressed with them that before they left, we were begging them to come and work with us. Thankfully they accepted and made the move to Cozumel to take the reins of the Project. God used their incredible talent for organization and fundraising and over the following years they built a solid organization that has now developed into the incredible work that you can see if you visit the Island today.
Looking back 20 years to when things came together, it is impossible to not see all the good that has been done in the intervening years by so many different people. Hindsight is 20-20, as they say, and now it is so clear that “when God builds the house, those who labor in constructing it will not be disappointed.”