VADO, N.M.—Antonia Ocón’s living room has a foot-wide hole in it. Spider webs cling to the room’s corners. The floor would break if anyone jumped. And the windows are peep holes covered by plastic.
“I spent my life picking chile, planting onions and gathering herbs for a living,” she said, stretching out sand-paper-rough hands as proof. “It was enough to help feed 10 children, but the sun gave me cancer.”
But the idea of death doesn’t seem to faze Ocón, age 69. Her mind is habitually on others—such as the volunteers she hears hammering on her roof.
“God bless them,” she said about the teenagers climbing ladders to paint the outside of her home. “I hope they don’t fall.”
Outside, Alexis Vasquez, 13, clasps a ladder with one hand and strokes a dripping paintbrush along the side of Ocón’s roof. She smiles while she works, but not when she remembers.
“My father got sick and died when I was 9,” Vasquez said. “And my mother’s problems with drugs and alcohol got worse. She told her boss she’d burn down the house when my siblings and I were sleeping in it. So, they took us out.”
Vasquez, who’s been living at the Buckner Children’s Home in Lubbock for a little over a year, said she finds comfort in helping people and showing them someone cares. She said she discovered a love of service through Buckner.
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Alexis Vasquez and Antonia Ocón don’t know each other, and they aren’t likely to remember each other’s names. But they are connected in the ways they bless each other. And they are connected through Buckner.
Vasquez is part of a group of seven children from the children’s home in Lubbock, and an eighth child from Midland, who traveled with Buckner staff to Las Cruces, N.M., to help paint and restore the homes of two families living along the Mexican border. This was the first Buckner mission trip to New Mexico.
Each child on the trip has a story of how they ended up in Buckner care. Vasquez pulled hers out and laid it on my note pad.
When Vasquez moved in with Buckner, she learned that she could be a solution to other people’s problems, she said. And if she studied to be a surgeon, she might even be able to save the life of someone like her father, who died four years ago.
“If I’m a surgeon, I can tell the people I do surgery on about God so they won’t be scared,” Vasquez said. “And if I don’t become a surgeon, I still want to help people by doing hospital ministry so I can talk to them about God.”
Fifteen-year-old Stephanie Montiel said she sees herself spending part of her life doing missions.
“If I hadn’t ended up at Buckner, I never would have been interested in mission work,” Montiel said. When she was visiting her mother, “I told her about God and church, and she said that if I get to move home again, we can go to church together.”
As the teenagers worked outside, Ocón worked inside her house. She lives in a trailer home with room additions made of mismatched pieces of wood, brick and concrete. Her husband built the home over the years, but he died from lung cancer, she said. Now, she shares the house with her son, her daughter-in-law and their newborn baby.
“We lived a happy life here,” she said, remembering 15 years spent in the home. “My husband and I raised 10 kids and saw them grow up and get married.”
As Ocón walked in and out of her house doing chores, she covered her head and neck with a black cloth and wore five layers of shirts and sweaters to protect her from the sun’s rays.
“It stings my back,” she said. “I try to get up several hours before the sun so I can do dishes outside and other chores because my sink doesn’t have water.”
But water is on the way. The Buckner group from Lubbock teamed up with a small group from Mesilla Park Community Church in Las Cruces to make life easier for Ocón and her family.
The Mesilla Park group connected with Buckner through Jerry and Ratha McClelland, who have worked for seven years with the Buckner children during their mission trips to El Paso before they moved to New Mexico.
“We had been afraid that once we moved out here, we wouldn’t be able to work with Buckner any more,” Jerry McClelland said. “But then we learned that Buckner wanted to start working in New Mexico. It worked out great.”
And the Mesilla Park small group is also getting ready to re-roof the house and hire an electrician to do some work.
Ocón said she is grateful for the help she’s getting, and she is happy with the way she has lived her life.
“God has blessed me,” she said.