What would motivate someone to sell their home and business, leave their friends and family, as well as, the comforts of the United States and trade it all in for living in a Third World Country, albeit a beautiful tropical island smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean?
For years my husband and I have had a dream to dash off to some remote island and live out our days planting our own botanical garden and spearfishing for our dinner in a tropical lagoon. Our quest took us to some amazing places like Rarotonga, the Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, St Croix, but the Lord brought us to Cozumel. In the short 8 months we have lived here, we are asked almost daily, “So, why did you move to Cozumel?” Our quick, compulsory answer is ever the same, “We love it here. We love the people. We love the culture.” But the real reason is deeply personal and requires a longer explanation. And so, without further ado, here is our “back story.”
Gia’s Back Story
For those of you who know me, you know that I’ve always been a person who deeply believes that if you set your mind to something, you can do anything in this world. I suppose it is my tenacious nature that leads me to believe that the world is indeed my oyster. A little over a year ago though this belief of mine was challenged. I was standing in the hospital room where my mom lay half-sleeping in her bed, and a quiet truth crept into my thoughts – even if my mom decided to change her life right now, she would not be able to. She simply couldn’t get out of bed. She had but one path she could take. In my mind’s eye, I saw a long, straight road, there were no curves, no intersections, no forks in the road, no places to make a u-turn, just one path. It was then that I realized that life is too short to keep putting off my dreams. I must live the life that God called me to live, not tomorrow but right now.
I met Donna Douglas (you may remember her as Ellie May from the Beverly Hillbillies) when I was 13. In the short conversation that we had, she imparted to me a piece of wisdom that I have held on to throughout the years. She said, “God wouldn’t put a dream in your heart if he didn’t want it to come true.”
As a teenager, I dreamt of having a church camp for youth. God gave me an orphanage with 40 children to work at. In my 20s I envisioned having botanical gardens and a butterfly sanctuary, God gave me a community garden in Las Fincas to teach people how to grow their own food. It amazes me daily, that the dreams that I have God always improves upon. I am blessed.
Eric’s Back Story
For me, I had always enjoyed the camping and Missions aspect of ministry. When Gia and I married, I wanted to provide stability with my new stepson and needed to find a job in the area. The gym has been such a blessing, but to do the same thing daily, well I was getting a bit worn and not growing into a better person. Two years ago, my right arm went numb, years of sports and stupidity had caught up with me. My lower back had been horrible for decades but this was different. My arm started to atrophy. After four months of tests, and 6 epidurals, I underwent neck surgery and a month later, lower back surgery. Typical hyper fool that I am, two days out of the hospital, I was clearing plants with my machete and mopping the floor on my hands and knees. The next day, I was back in the hospital for a week with blood clots on my spine and close to death. It was a wake-up call.
Even before the surgeries we knew we were called to come to Mexico. My heart and passion has always been here. The result of the surgery though was a realization that life is too short to live passionless lives, to read about adventure and men of God but not experience it. I want to serve completely, in love with my Saviour. Was it scary to sell everything? No. Were there detractors, either scoffing at our decision or throwing fear our way? Yes, and from sources unexpected. Yet this is what we have been called to do for this season of our lives. For me there was no other choice. Thoreau once wrote, “if a plant cannot live according to its nature it dies and so a man.” When your nature is a Christ-follower you have to heed the call or you whither, you do not stay the same. You atrophy.
Ciudad de Angeles
As I ride on the back of Eric’s scooter on the dirt road from the orphanage, my heart is so full. I am indeed “living the dream.” We have a little routine now. I teach Zumba a few mornings a week at the local gym, and Eric trains some friends from the church, then we head out to Ciudad to work in the garden with the children. Eric carriers his paint bucket full of tools and I pull the hose over to water the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil and other veggies we have planted. The kids are the true blessing. They help by using the machetes to weed or take turns watering. Well actually, watering turns out to be more of a playful water fight than feeding the plants and weeding has taken on many forms, including but not limited to, a new game we call frisbee weeding. We stand together in the garden, throw the frisbee into the air, then whoever catches it uses it to dig out the weeds by their feet. It worked well until they ran out of weeds and dug up the jalapeño seedlings. In any event, it worked to our advantage, as we have found that raised garden beds are more productive than planting directly in the ground. The garden is beginning to take shape. We have four raised garden beds, thanks to donations from David Rapp and a Zumbathon with Instructor, Wren Tidwell as well as some of my wonderful Cozumel friends and Zumba students on the island. The garden boxes are filled with a variety of herbs and vegetables, some donated and some grown from seed. We have even begun harvesting the tomatoes and basil!
Las Fincas Community Gardens
Las Fincas continues to be a special oasis for us. The work here is different from the Orphanage, as we literally broke ground on this project and it is our “baby”. We have over thirty different plant species growing, still determining what will survive in this harsh climate. The difference here is this is truly a lost area. Many people want to help and serve orphans, there is a plethora of help from the States coming down and rightly so, there is need at Ciudad. The problem is you drive through the outlying areas of stick houses, squalor, etc. to get to Ciudad. These are people that work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day making on average only 70 pesos each day, less than six American dollars. Then on Sunday, after Mass, they try to build a house. One cinder block costs only fifty cents, but do the math, after food, clothing, etc. they might be able to build a few bricks a week. For us to grow crops, give haircuts, help clear their land, it shaves off a few pesos to provide for bricks It is small but it is something. Every Saturday volunteers come out for a few hours and basically, weed, clear stumps, break rock. This allows Gia and me to get to other tasks. It is not comfortable work. I have been doing this for a bit so I am a bit immune, or leathery as Gia says. For many people, this is hot, hard, stuff yet those two hours of volunteers not only enlivens us but helps so much. Every small rock removed is one that I do not have to do. People from the community come by and ponder that a bunch of gringos are sweating in the sun, they are used to seeing them drinking in the sun at the beach, but not working hard in a garden. It also teaches our kids to serve, even when it is a bit uncomfortable. To get their eyes off of themselves and onto others, to help because we are commanded by Christ. We are not in charge, He is. In just a few months, the garden will become a place of teaching. We will be hosting compost classes and gardening classes. The insects and soils are a menace but every day we are a bit closer and remember, no one has done this ever, breaking ground literally and hopefully spiritually after we prove ourselves. The hard thing with Island life is it is so transitional. In Hawaii, we hired people hopping for two years. Here, so many come for such a short season. For us, we hope to be here for as long as we can be used.
One last fun thing..A company called Southern Grind is sponsoring me (Eric) with their new
machete line. I am the only model with all the fingers in place.
As always, we are so thankful for your prayers and donations. If you would like to be part of this
wonderful ministry there are many needs. Here are just a few: Raised Garden Beds, New Fence
For Ciudad, Picnic/Work Tables for Las Fincas. To donate please click on the link below. paypal.me/7dayheromexico
What a beautiful story, Eric & Gia! Seriously, all I have seen are pic’s of Gia doing Zumba at fancy resorts, or the whole family playing at the beach (and a few pic’s of Eric with a machete) – LOL – made me jealous (not really 😉 – but I did have a skewed view of what you are truly doing down there. So good to see the real story. Praying that God blesses your work mightily!
Gia ,Kai, Eric
Glad to see you following your dream so many times we sat at the park and talked about this vary thing I think it’s amazing and Kai will learn sooo much bravo to you for being awesome people!!!!
Gia and Eric–What a pleasure to meet you during spring break. Thank you for all you are doing at Ciudad de Angeles. I very much enjoyed reading your stories, and look forward to seeing you again in May.
It was great to meet you two at Ciudad last week. Thanks for following your dream(s), making the world a better place and bringing a little Kingdom here and now.
I love the work you have doing ! Is great , I would love to help some times and specially learn ! I m senior citizen I love gardening ,flowers , fruíts trees etc. among other things, I m an artist Watercolor and pen & Ink , ( I have a art show at the Univ. De quintan Roo , I love to promote art among youn g people or adult alike , ) but gardening and planting trees is one of my favoritos , I saw the articule about your work on Cozumel x you ….and as I say before I would like to help some times I have some Free time , here is my cel núm. 9871015590 my name is alfonso ,
Thank you so much for comments Alfonso. We would love to have you help with the garden! A good introduction is to come on Saturdays when we have local volunteers from the community help at the orphanage.
Gia, it’s been wonderful to meet you here in Cozumel and so encouraging to hear about how a dream God had planted in your hearts is now coming to fruition. May He multiply the seeds you sow here many times over!!
I love your story. You are a blessing and inspiration.
Thank you so much Alicia!