Members of Hartland Bible Church will be returning to Guadalupe, Mexico, in April 2017 to continue assisting an orphanage construction effort.

The church is working with Tapestries of Life Ministries, an international orphanage and non-profit adoption agency. To raise an orphanage in Guadalupe, it is relying completely on volunteers from around the world.

Thirty-one members of Hartland Bible Church went to Guadalupe in 2014 to help complete construction of the dormitory portion, after hearing about the experience of John S. Swick, who went there in 2006, during his freshman year at Roberts Wesleyan College. The members learned how to place concrete, blow insulation, connect water lines, lay down tiling, build bunk beds, weld railings, install generators, et cetera.

"My first trip in 2006, I helped run PEX (piping) lines to bathroom sinks and showers," Swick said. "The trip has always involved some type of construction, with it changing each time due to the different phases of building that they are in."

Today the 55,000-square-foot orphanage is 95 percent complete. Next spring, groups from Hartland Bible and Swick's church in Old Forge will help build a 20,000-square-foot cafeteria building next to the orphanage. That is the final leg of the project, according to John Swick's sister Grace Swick.

"We will be working on a retaining wall while we are there, as well as any other work that they may need done," she said.

Construction volunteers have been told that the orphanage will be able to house 400 children once it's open. Forty minutes west of the site, TLM estimates there are at least 10,000 orphans.

According to John Swick, there is no foster care system in Mexico, nor is there any government agency looking out for orphaned children. They're fending for themselves and are vulnerable to being inducted into the drug cartels.

"Many of the orphans are products of their parents being killed in the drug war or other unfortunate circumstances from living in poverty," she said. "To eat and survive many join the cartels or are abused in the sex trafficking rings."

Every year, the mission group from Hartland Bible Church starts off its week-long stay in Guadalupe with a tour of the orphanage-in-progress. Each day they work at construction from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., except for on Mercy Day. That is TLM's community giving day, when the volunteers work with local churches to distribute groceries and other necessities to the needy.

"We buy food items and household necessities and then go to a local community area and do a mass handout of items to families who are poverty stricken," Grace Swick said.

Mercy Day is the Swick siblings' favorite part of the trip, they said.

"When the families receive the food, many of them have not eaten in several days and are so grateful to receive things we take for granted, something as simple as an orange or a block of cheese," John Swick said. 

"It's always interesting to see the reactions," Grace Swick added. "The one year I was able to hand out the jalapenos and chili pepper, and for them and their culture that is such a staple of their diet that their eyes just light up when they see those, because it's like they know they will be able to make something that tastes good to them."

The mission group from Hartland Bible Church will be in Mexico from April 8 to April 15, 2017. The group is open to anyone who wants to join; the cost is approximately $1,300 per person and that includes air fare, lodging, food and work materials. For more information, email John Swick at jswick31@verizon.net or call his dad, John J. Swick, at 716-735-7098.

Contact reporter Rachel Fuerschbach at 439-9222, ext. 6246.

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