Home Building

Striving for Good By John Touloupis


I pulled out a greasy old aluminum pan and kicked on the stove. Searching the fridge, I finally found my eggs. I tossed a little bit of butter into the pan along with two slices of white bread. For the past two months, whenever I wanted a little alone time in Mexico, I cooked a small breakfast for myself. I found peace and harmony in the kitchen amidst the morning chaos as my nine roommates ran around brushing their teeth, checking tools for the worksite, and looking for missing work boots.

However, I wasn’t in the 800-square-foot intern house in Mexico cooking up my favorite breakfast meal, but rather back in my sweet home state of Alabama. There were no early morning shouts for keys to cars or people asking to borrow a pair of socks. Only silence and the sound of eggs frying in the pan.

I thought going home would be easy. I was wrong.

While I missed my family and friends dearly, I found comfort in my life in Mexico.

I got to go to church twice a day, a rarity for a college student like me. I spent time getting schooled in soccer by the boys on the ranch. A local man befriended me and helped show me the ways of construction, culture, and life in Mexico.

I saw poverty I’ve never seen before. People living in shacks made of scraps of plywood and garage doors. People living in holes on the side of the highway. Children with special needs peddling chocolate bars in the streets.

In the midst of all of this though, I saw some of the purest happiness I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never forget the excitement on a four-year-old’s face as we finished painting his new red house.

Words cannot do justice.


Each and every week when we started leveling the rocky terrain to pour a concrete pad we gave families hope. As I learned during my time in Mexico, we were not simply building homes, but building futures.

The houses we built for people like a loving grandmother, hard-working factory employees, or a mother trying to build a better for her four children were going to be more than a home to them. Not only did their new house allow them to stop paying rent on other's property, they now had a safe, secure place to protect them from weather, diseases, and intruders. Finally, the families had somewhere to build the rest of their lives.

I’ll never forget the joy a tough, young construction worker shared with me as we put the finishing touches on his roof one day. Through a crooked smile and soft tears in his eyes, he exclaimed how much he loved his new big house (Project Mexico houses are 13 feet by 26 feet).

Every single week, no matter the family, I saw tears of joy. They were tears of relief, comfort, and peace. While we served the families, they would serve us, cooking meals as an offer of thanks for our work.

It took seeing with my own eyes to learn happiness doesn’t come with material things. Since returning home, I have been living in a totally different world. But just because I’m home doesn’t mean my mission is over. I’m still learning the importance of our Orthodox faith to navigate these worlds.

While I’m not building houses anymore I know I’m going to take the importance of service and humble leadership I learned in Mexico and apply them to my life in the United States. I know just because I’m in a different world now doesn’t mean I have to change my lifestyle. The world is a pretty messed up place.

As Orthodox Christians, we should all strive to do just a little bit of good.


Opportunities for volunteering are now available

Prayerful Preparation by John Touloupis



The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want 
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me besides the still waters. 
He restores my soul; 
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. 

I knew I wanted to work on my prayer life as part of my preparation for interning this summer at Project Mexico. During the school year, I get distracted by classes, assignments, and friends, often neglecting my prayer life. I’d stay up late studying or working on side projects and then crash without saying my evening prayers. In the morning, I’d sleep in after a late night before dipping out for class, skipping breakfast and simply grabbing a black coffee to start my day.

So, to prepare, I started at ground zero.

I keep an Orthodox study bible on my desk--thanks to my mom who slipped it in my suitcase when I moved to college. I cracked it open to a bookmarked page and read Psalm 23, one of the most famous Psalms and my personal favorite. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; 
For you are with me; 
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 

In my previous Westward Bound, I wrote about how excited and scared I was to embark on my internship this summer in Tijuana. While I’m excited about the opportunity to meet new people, spend time in the outdoors away from distractions and to serve others, I’m still scared of the unknown.  But something began to change the more I read Psalm 23.

Whereas previously I hardly prayed, I found myself reading the Psalm once a week. Once a week turn into twice a week. Now, it’s several times a week. A prayer life began to emerge in my life, and as a result, my fears slowly started to fade away. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; 
My cup runs over. 

As an economics major, I love logical reasoning and thinking analytically through problems. One of the fundamental rules of all economic principles implies that people are rational thinkers. I need facts.



I consider myself a highly organized person who pays close attention to detail to ensure nothing goes wrong. 

And that stresses me out in life.

But I found when I kept reading Psalm 23, my fears and anxiety began to slip away. I found the answers to my stress in scripture. The Lord is my shepherd. He continues to guide me throughout my life with blessings and opportunities I struggle to be thankful for every day. I’m trying to be more thankful and mindful because the Lord has always taken care of me. 

I don’t need to be afraid this summer because my Lord will always be with me.

But my mind still needs more logic and reason, and as I continued to read more scripture, I found more answers. 

In Matthew 13:29-30, Jesus says not to pull the bad weeds from the wheat, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” 

The weeds represent suffering, pain, and evil while the wheat represents the good. The kingdom of Heaven allows these things to coexist while we are on Earth because we wouldn’t know one without the other. 

Without night, we wouldn’t know the day.

Without heat, we wouldn’t know cold. 

Without fear, we wouldn’t know excitement.

As the final days count down before I leave, I try to let my stress, fear, and anxiety go. My lord will shepherd over me and protect me.

As I prepare, I’ve learned to place all my trust and faith in the lord, because surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. 

Painting Hope

When we think of paint, what comes to mind?

For many, we think about someone, an artist perhaps, sitting comfortably in the process of depicting a colorful picture with vibrant colors or using a specific color to paint a certain room in a house.

But, what do these images have in common?

Both reveal that it is a preference to some people to reveal their own uniqueness through their color choice or what they are composing on a canvas; a method of expression.

That is exactly what Project Mexico reveals through the use of lime whitewash used to finish families’ homes around Tijuana built by our generous volunteers. Through our work with Project Mexico, we bring to light our uniqueness.

The lime wash is not just a color but it is a symbol of hope. Project Mexico is an organization that was built on hope and when we finish a home with lime paint, it tells a story.

A story, experience, and communion with humanity shared by those who worked long hours on the home to provide shelter for a family in need.

Each time we pass by a white, lime-washed home built by volunteers and missionaries through Project Mexico, it instantly uncovers a story of hope and a symbol of love and strength.

It reminds us who we are as an organization and what we stand for.

By Emilia Gimmaka

Saint Innocent's Orphanage Beautification - Spring Build 2017

Saint Innocent's Orphanage Beautification - Spring Build 2017

Spring break sounded different this year.

A symphony of hammers, drills and concrete mixing provided the soundtrack to our Spring Break homebuilding groups as they worked to erect our new volunteer housing units at the Ranch in Baja.