The Doxa Download (Blog)

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2020 from Andrew, Doxa’s Board Chair

The ministry of Doxa has been around for almost thirty years and continues to grow as God calls us to serve in the many neighborhoods of Tijuana. Over the last year the board and staff took the time to reflect on what the next five, ten and twenty years has in store for Doxa. This was not always an easy process as we were forced to identify our strengths along with our weaknesses, but the results have been rewarding.

We studied our vision, mission and values, which allowed us to refine these key concepts to align with the organization we have grown to be while not losing sight of the core values that were set in place almost thirty ago. The refining of these foundational elements set the stage for us to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the upcoming years that creates short-term and long-term goals. 

Some of our short-term goals include expanding board membership, fundraising and increased marketing. We have already brought on two new board members and will be looking to grow the board by a few more in the months and year to come. Our fundraising efforts took shape this last spring as our Executive Director, Alex Knopes, led a robust campaign to ensure that houses were still being built even though the pandemic restricted groups from participating in the building of the houses themselves. Through this fundraising we were able to safely employ local labor to complete the houses and provide homes for families that had been waiting. We have also begun to establish fundraising campaigns that will include the Pedregal Community Center and expansion concepts for house building and community outreach in East Tijuana. As we continue to expand our marketing efforts, we encourage all of our supporters to follow us on social media. Please see links below so you can stay up to date on all of these goals as we work hard to push them forward. 

We believe these goals will continue to push us towards our vision and mission. A vision of:

A world in which relational and economic life flourishes, where people are globally compassionate and gain new life by giving theirs away.

Doxa’s Vision

And a mission to:

Create opportunities for people to serve Tijuana through house building, education, and long-term community.

Doxa’s Mission

In all our ministries we are striving to further our vision and mission. We are most excited to see our first community center building take shape in the neighborhood of Pedregal. We are nearing the completion of the plans and will begin to get bids for the construction and strategize the phasing of this capital project. The community center will be designed to support the Tijuana community through child and adult education, providing tutoring programs and community events. Taking a relational and interactive approach will help to form long-term community relationships. It is exciting to see this concept turn towards reality and we look forward to engaging all of our communities on both sides of the border to come alongside as we realize this goal together. 

Remembering Rosa (April 17, 1966 – October 2, 2020) – by James B. Notkin

When we first began to build homes in Colonia Pedregal de Santa Julia the roads were dirt and deeply crevassed, without electricity the sprinkling of houses on the hillsides, were dark at night and every drop of water, whether for cleaning or drinking, was trucked around the neighborhood. Clearly, great change occurred over the last thirty years but one constant was Rosa and her passion to make life better for every person she encountered. 

I first met Rosa in the early 90’s when she came to Hogar de los Niños orphanage and cared for the kids there. Each year about a hundred high school students from our church would travel across the border to build houses and the orphanage was our base of operations. In addition to all her work at the orphanage, which at the time had over seventy children living there, Rosa’s duties included helping out-of-their-depth youth pastors, like me, navigate everything from finding building sites and creating a lumber yard throughout the orphanage to delivering sand and finding a tow-truck for a van teetering over a cliff – all done, regardless of what other mishaps had occurred that day, with graciousness and a brilliant smile. To be honest, I am not sure the smile was good natured restrained laughter at my ineptness or, in the early years when she was learning English, a way of communicating her great support for our endeavors. Either way the smile always helped. 

Over the years the building trips grew larger in size and in number and it became clear to the Doxa (then Homes without Boundaries) leadership team that growth was due in no small part to Rosa. Many short-term missions do more damage than good because of their “hit and run” nature but Rosa’s year-round presence and engagement in the community dovetailed into Doxa’s commitment to return year after year to the same place and built trust in the neighborhood and beyond. Logically, we hired Rosa full time and with that both the community and Doxa became stronger. More specifically, each of us became stronger inspired by her compassion and commitment. 

Most of the teams from the US knew Rosa from the educational offerings like day camps she organized or the house building projects she supported but there was so much more. She was known by multitudes as “la profe.” Others saw her as the unofficial mayor of the region. And for many she attained that mononymous status reserved for Elvis or Prince and was simply Rosa — as in one person saying to another in need, “go see Rosa.” Regardless of her title, Rosa was a force for good. In the movies the good guys wore white hats but in Pedregal they wore bright white sneakers and those white sneakers of Rosa were everywhere: out in Brisa Marina talking to a family about building a house, at the clinic taking a woman with cancer who had no other way to see a doctor, at the community center tutoring, meeting with Zumba instructors to offer classes, in another colonia delivering food and supplies to a woman with disabilities, at the Annex overseeing the delivery of house building materials, or downtown partnering with the City of Tijuana to build three hundred houses further out on the highway where we are still building today. Rosa was a one-person Social Welfare and Housing Agency — and a great one.

More importantly Rosa was Flavio’s beloved and Paola, Esmerelda, and Flavio’s mom. They were her pride and her joy — her eyes dazzling at the mention of them. To each of them I, Doxa and am sure all who benefitted from Rosa’s dedicated work, her sacrifice of evening and weekend time with her family to resolve a visiting group’s crisis, want to say the deepest thank you for sharing the gift of Rosa with us. 

Several years ago, Rosa traveled to Rome and received an audience with Pope John Paul II. As she spoke to me humbly of this joyful experience that affirmed her God-given belovedness, it was profoundly evident this belovedness was the source of the belovedness she poured out to all who met her. Rosa knew she was loved by Jesus and responded with her whole being. Her wisdom and influence permeate Doxa. Being in Tijuana will never be the same without Rosa who has travelled this journey with so many of us. Yet, her influence, example and inspiration remain, encouraging us to dream and persevere in our mission. Jeff Holland, a co-founder of Homes without Boundaries (now Doxa), tells the story of coming back from a tough day of building houses when Rosa, who had brought in a mariachi band came up to him and asked, “Why aren’t you dancing?” Jeff wanted nothing more than to take a bucket shower. But Rosa insisted, “It’s a fiesta. You have to dance.” That’s Rosa. There are always obstacles and heartaches on the road to being a beloved community but it doesn’t mean you don’t keep dancing. Constantly. 

House Building, Education, and Community Report

Doxa’s house building, education, and community operations have been heavily impacted this year (no surprise there). The solutions of the past were not going to work as easily in a 2020 world. In order to continue Doxa’s mission, creative solutions were used. House building realized by employing local construction teams, education largely online (but some still in person), and community reimagined. 

For the first time in over a month, the local house building teams were back on the job sites. They completed two new houses over the weekend. Bittersweet, as they were the first houses built without Rosa. Still, it is good to get back to work and work at something that Rosa believed in with her whole heart. The families worked alongside Doxa’s local building teams and together the houses were completed. New green and blue structures dot the hillside in Rojo Gomez, and the Jaral Cejudo Family and the Gomez Ambriz Family now have a house to sleep in. Next up for these families is moving in and turning their house into a home. 

The education scholarship program has largely moved online, equipping all middle and high school students to learn with laptops and Internet access. A handful of the younger ones, 2nd and 3rd grade still come to Doxa and get more personalized assistance. Over the summer, we outfitted Doxa with all the necessary COVID-19 equipment and procedures in order to have smaller study groups utilize classroom space. Doxa continues to work with Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre on their education needs. Providing a dedicated tutor who comes to work with the kids on a daily basis has proved to work well in those settings. The classroom at Unidos por Siempre now functions as an in-home school for those kids. 

Admittedly, finding ways to continue the community part of Doxa’s mission has been the most challenging. Aside from providing families with some food packages, holding a parent meeting on COVID-19, and some virtual communications with families, it’s been difficult to cultivate the kind of community that Doxa is typically accustomed to. We just haven’t been able to find a way to adapt the authentic in-person, face-to-face connection that draws people to Doxa’s summer camp, parenting classes, community events, fall carnival, clubs, and activities in a COVID-19 world. While those program offerings remain on pause, God has presented an enormous opportunity in the meantime: to assemble stakeholders and form a local task force to detail out the programmatic plan of the Pedregal Community Center. Parents, neighborhood leaders, Doxa staff, and subject experts are part of this effort. Just as the design for the community center was driven by local stakeholders, so is the programmatic approach. As things continue to develop, we look forward to sharing them with you all! 

Finally, none of the reimagined house building, education, or community work could’ve been realized without your support. We are so thankful for all of the groups and individuals who have donated this year. We literally wouldn’t still be here without you! The trust that you’ve placed in Doxa to still carry out its work in the midst of a pandemic is something we don’t take lightly. The current status of Doxa’s fall/winter fundraising goals are below: 

  • 14.3 out of 20 houses funded!
  • 65 out of 50 new scholarships funded! Goal exceeded, praise God!
  • $2500 out of $2500 raised for community food packages!

We’ve met or exceeded two out of three fall/winter fundraising goals and are closing in on the third! Thank you for the outpouring of generosity for the people of Tijuana!!

Remembering Rosa

It is with great sadness that we share Rosa Amelia Dominguez Zavala passed away in the early morning hours on Friday, October 2, 2020. She is succeeded by her husband, Flavio, and their children. This news is painful and shocking as we grieve this loss together. 

Rosa had been active in the Tijuana community for almost her entire adult life. She worked with Casa Hogar de los Niños orphanage, Doxa, and the catholic church San Judas Tadeo. Rosa got her start at Hogar de los Niños and became part of the fabric of the neighborhood (Colonia Pedregal de Santa Julia). With Doxa, Flavio shared that Rosa found her passion and really shined. From Doxa’s inception, she was the main person to qualify families for house building. And for more than a decade, Rosa led Doxa’s education and community programming. She dedicated her time to mentoring kids and their parents, whether through the after-school program, summer camp, parenting classes, or special events and clubs. Flavio noted that with Doxa, Rosa had a platform to affect change in her local community which gave her and those around her flourishing life.

We give thanks and continue to be in amazement at all the things God was able to accomplish through Rosa. She touched thousands of lives on both sides of the border. While we will miss her dearly, we know she is in a better place now. Earlier this morning, Flavio and their children shared that they were so grateful for everyone’s friendship, support, hard work, and love. In serving Tijuana together, it has been your love poured out that has made the difference. Rosa saw everyone as part of her family and she always opened her house up to everyone. Her family intends to keep her legacy of that.

Rosa’s burial is scheduled for tomorrow at 10am PDT. While there won’t be any large church gathering, we invite you to join in a moment of prayer at that time for Rosa and her family.

For those who are interested and able, there is a Memorial Fund setup to help with funeral and unexpected family expenses during this time.

Thank you for your continued love and, as Rosa would say, I’m sending you a fuerte abrazo (big hug). 

– Doxa’s Board of Directors & Alex Knopes

House Building with Local Teams

We are now three-quarters of the way done with 2020 and not a single nail has been hammered by an American volunteer group. That’s a statement most, if not all, of us never thought would be the case. Instead, local building teams have been hard at work cranking out houses (15 houses completed so far). This has led to a very interesting dynamic, a worksite with all Mexican builders. 

With the onset of COVID-19, it became clear that this year was going to look very different for house building operations. While Doxa was firmly committed to building for qualified families that had been on the waiting list, it would be accomplished with the hiring of local building teams and raising financial support from groups and individuals. This new model has showcased some of the best of everyone involved. Groups and individuals have shown enormous generosity in giving, families have worked hard on their own houses, and Doxa has been able to provide increased employment opportunities for builders in the local community. Seeing everyone shine in their roles has been a privilege. 

Many times groups that have experience building in Tijuana assume that locals would build the house much better and faster than they do. While there may be some truth to this, there’s still a learning curve. The local teams use cement mixers and power tools to speed up the process. It’s also not uncommon for them to pre-cut all of the lumber the day before. These steps dramatically speed up the assembly process on the worksite. Not to mention the experience that these teams gain week after week of working with each other and the 12-hour days they put in. 

Of course, there’s still the moments of “oh, I forgot the box of roofing nails back at the orphanage” or “I could have sworn that the window lengths were 46” instead of 46 ½,” guess we’ll have to recut some lumber.” Squaring up the walls and roof can also be a challenge. It doesn’t magically just come together for the local teams, either. Kids on the worksite still play in the paint while moms chase after them. It seems as though, even across cultures, we still have things in common. 

One thing that is different on the worksite is the feel and atmosphere. There’s less talking and more non-verbal communication. There’s an awareness of process and order of building that is unspoken. When things are explained, few words are used. Everyone is keenly aware of the overall goal of finishing the house and is constantly looking to see how the group is progressing. To describe it in a nutshell, it is a group mentality versus an individual mentality. It is approaching the task from the standpoint of what is needed, instead of what I want to do. Not surprisingly, the time with the most talking is lunch time. Conversations start and drag on through the food; until it’s time to get back to work! 

Through the end of this year, our goal is to keep the local teams building and houses coming. We are about half way to our goal of funding 20 more houses. Thank you so much to everyone who has already contributed, you’ve already made such an impact. If you’re interested and able to donate, please do so through our secure website

Distance Learning in Tijuana and Doxa Education

Just as COVID-19 has caused many schools across the United States to transition to distance learning, Tijuana schools have taken the same approach. Since April, there has been no in-person classes and there won’t be any until at least 2021. Zoraida, a Tijuana schools assistant principal, shared that distance learning is largely dependent upon the teacher. Various methods are being used such as Google Classroom, Zoom, WhatsApp, and broadcast TV. Zoraida believes it’s important to have some sort of communication with each student and their family, but what that looks like is dependent upon the family’s resources and teacher capability. 

For the students sponsored by Doxa’s education program, Rosa notes that distance learning over video seems to work for middle school, high school, and college students. Elementary school children, however, still need the in-person atmosphere in order to properly learn. In preparing for this school year, Doxa equipped all of the middle school, high school, and college students with the technology and access needed to learn remotely at home. For elementary school children, Doxa has opened its after-school program for in-person classes. Of course, all the necessary safety and health precautions are being taken to ensure students remain healthy while getting the educational support they need. 

Hogar de los Niños and Unidos por Siempre are equipped with laptops, Internet access, and tutors to help their children engage scholastically. The older kids often help the younger kids with their homework. Thankfully, both orphanages have a dedicated classroom where kids study throughout the day. Unidos por Siempre even has a school teacher who comes a few days a week. The children in both of these orphanages are fortunate to have school brought to them this year. 

For a school year where learning in the classroom probably will not occur, we are so thankful for the new solutions that still allow learning to take place. Even though all of these students will be automatically passed onto the next grade level, our goal is that they will learn the material at the same level they would have in-person in the classroom. 

As expected, we have seen an increase in scholarship applicants and the cost of equipping students to learn remotely. Through the end of this year, our goal is to raise an additional 50 scholarships and we are half way there. If you have already supported, thank you so much! If you’d like to get involved, you can purchase any of the school supplies from our Amazon list or give a monthly scholarship. Any and all support makes a huge difference, thank you!

Staff Spotlight: Maria Figueroa

If you haven’t met Maria yet, here’s your chance! She is the director of Unidos por Siempre orphanage and Doxa’s house building manager for East Tijuana. Her words and interview below have been translated from Spanish to English. 

My name is Maria Esther Figueroa Torres and my motivation for doing everything I do is my family, love of kids, and becoming a better person every day. I am originally from Tijuana, Baja California and what I like most about this city are the traditions, food, and people that live here. 

How did you learn about working in orphanages? 
Initially, I worked as a volunteer at Hogar de los Niños where I did all sorts of things like work with kids under 5 years old. It was then that my love and interest in working with kids started. 

How did you end up in the Rojo Gomez neighborhood of Tijuana? 
I ended up in that neighborhood because they (local land board) gave me the land to start a soup kitchen and all I had to do was construct a small house. I was already looking for somewhere else to go because of my poor financial situation and domestic violence situation with my husband.

Why did you decide to work with kids and open Unidos por Siempre orphanage? 
Because I thought about my kids growing up, how I had difficulties in providing food and supporting them in their studies. So I thought about helping other kids have better possibilities for school, food, and a dignified life. 

Since you’ve lived in Rojo Gomez, how have you seen the community change? 
I’ve lived here since 2002 and was one of the first people to move here. There have been great changes and I’ve helped to work with the government to build local schools and install running water. Working with Doxa, we’ve been able to provide dignified housing to families. 

What are the primary needs of people in Rojo Gomez? 
The most important needs are quality food, street pavement (or street grading for dirt roads), street lights, and quality houses for families. 

What do you like about your work with Unidos por Siempre?
I like to see the evolution that each child has after receiving the attention, love, and space to live freely. That they are converted into educated professionals that will have a positive impact on their community in the future. I also enjoy seeing how families react in their new houses and the ownership they have. This makes the community better little by little. 

During this time of sheltering in place due to COVID-19, what have you learned about yourself? 
I have learned more about each of the kids at Unidos por Siempre, the ways they live together and develop. My love for them and for this greater work has only continued to grow. I’ve realized that if anything happens to them, it also deeply affects me. 

Before leaving, I’d like to thank God for putting you in my path and for helping Unidos por Siempre unconditionally. I’m thankful for the boost you have provided and knowing that there are people who care about our well-being is invaluable. I send you blessings and hugs from Tijuana.

How to Responsibly Engage with Tijuana Orphanages

In a previous edition of the Doxa Download there was an article on how kids end up in Tijuana orphanages and even if “orphanage” is the best term to use for these homes. Perhaps surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of kids in an orphanage have living parents. Their parents, for whatever reason, just may not be in a position to care adequately for their kids. In Tijuana, and many other places around the world, this has led to the creation of orphanages. 

Over the course of many years a network of orphanages has emerged throughout Tijuana and its surrounding cities. This is common among many other countries around the world, too. Even though orphanages started out of necessity and good intentions to care for children in need, the last several years of research have shed a different light on children who grow up in an orphanage setting. This research points to family reunification as the best course of action in almost all scenarios. That it is better to work with families to ensure that kids stay with them or be reunited with them. 

When short-term mission teams are added to the scenario, orphanage work can become even more difficult to do responsibly. First, it is common for orphanage directors to feel that they must keep kids in their care in order for financial support to continue. This creates a cycle incentivizing orphanages to keep kids in their care instead of facilitating family reunification. Second, the rapid and intermittent introduction and removal of volunteers can lead to attachment disorder in children. This can happen especially if children are not receiving the love and affection they need directly from their primary caregivers. Third, local initiatives and solutions can become undermined when outside actors are the main drivers of programs and institutions. Articles from the Chalmers Center and Ethical Mission Trips highlight and expound upon these short-comings. 

Recognizing these dynamics and possible pitfalls is not cause to just shut everything down. Instead, it is an opportunity to heed this sound wisdom and rethink and rework the outdated model. Doxa has taken a fundamentally different approach to orphanage partnership in the following ways: 

  • Doxa groups’ primary activity while serving in Tijuana is building a house, not interacting with orphanage children or even having prolonged contact with them. Not only does building houses actually help to keep families together in the first place, having limited interaction with orphanage children helps to prevent attachment disorder. This ensures that the main source of love and affection for kids is coming from a stable place, and anything else they experience is just a supportive complement to the important work already going on.
  • Since Doxa groups pay orphanages for their hospitality and space to stay, this creates an opportunity for earned income that is not tied to the number of kids or even the specific kids in an orphanage. This removes the pressure often felt by orphanage directors to keep their orphanage full of kids and retain the same kids from year to year. Overall, this helps to build long-term capacity for care of children when warranted and responsible.
  • Doxa staff are in contact with orphanage staff year around and these relationships are centered around supporting the orphanage in its work. Doxa is not the star, instead it is just there to journey along with the orphanage. Sharing in the highs and lows, and playing a supportive role when needed.

While there is always room for improvement, these key differences in how Doxa partners with Tijuana orphanages can help lead to healthier outcomes. With everyone’s interests aligned, this frees up the orphanage and local social workers to pursue the ultimate goal of family reunification for every child. At the heart of that work is relationships and the reconciliation of ones that have been broken in the past.

“Successful” Mission Work

There are entire organizations and books dedicated to uncovering what “successful” mission work looks like. How to identify, define, and evaluate it. In this article, we’re going to touch on a few of the larger themes that concern stories, pace of change, recognizing brokenness, and process.

As we engage in mission work, so much of what we do is shaped by the stories we believe. Not only the stories we believe about the people we are serving, but the stories we believe about who we are as people. When serving the materially poor, it’s hard not to bring in our own bias and stories about others’ situations. We need to be especially careful about implicitly telling people through our work that success looks like us and we are here to “help.” Instead, we should be asking God what’s the larger story here? We should increase our awareness to realize what work He has already got in motion and ask what role He would like us to play? What is God’s story for everyone? 

Asking those larger questions also makes us equal actors in the story. This is the first step to recognizing that we are just as broken as the people we are serving. Sure, our brokenness may look different, but we are broken nonetheless. Flourishing life is a balance of community and stuff. Our Western culture typically has plenty of stuff (i.e. income), but lacks in community (i.e. relationships). Non-western cultures typically appear to have the opposite. We must recognize and be aware of God’s larger work of change not only for the people we are serving, but for ourselves. 

This change may also take longer than we would like. Changes in material poverty can take a while, especially on a large scale. If our human hands deviate from His plan or rush the work, then human hands are also capable of undoing the progress. What has come from God and is built by God, no human hands can undo. 

While results matter in mission work, so does process. It’s important to keep an objective eye on both. For example, it’s tempting to increase programmatic efficiency by use of technology. Doxa could provide scholarships to more students if there was no requirement for students to apply in person and we did everything over the phone. However, this advance in efficiency would undermine the relational contract that is formed between the student, their family, and Doxa. While technology can help increase programmatic efficiencies, it must not result in undermining the community aspect of poverty alleviation efforts. 

If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into these topics, we’d recommend listening to the Rethink Poverty podcast. This interview with Brian Fikkert is a great starting place. 

Update on Doxa’s COVID-19 Response

The deeper we get into 2020, our experience continues to look different than what we all had expected. Doxa has used this crisis-filled time for prayer, evaluation, and innovation. To revisit the ways by which we carry out our mission. Even though it may look a little different, Doxa continues to create impact through house building, education, and community.

For house building, this has meant creating and employing local building teams to construct homes. Many groups and individuals have financially supported the building of houses during this time. It has not only resulted in houses still being built, but also in increased employment opportunities for a community that is experiencing layoffs and reductions in working hours. This “new” way of building houses has opened up an opportunity that Doxa has never seen before. It may also be something that becomes a permanent fixture within Doxa, even after this season of crisis passes.

For education, we have equipped students for distance learning. Instead of investing in school uniforms, Doxa equipped those students to learn from home with laptops and Internet access. Tutors from Doxa’s after-school program also continued to check-in with students and families through WhatsApp or phone calls. Now that the 2019-2020 school year is finished, we have several weeks to catch our breath, strategize, and plan for what Tijuana schools will do next. One thing that we do believe is that there will be an increase in scholarship applicants for the 2020-2021 school year.

For community, we have had to stop all activities and the dance group practices. While we hope to continue those soon, we recognize that safety and health take precedence. For Doxa’s annual summer camp, which routinely draws over 100 children and adults, we have had to delay and augment its implementation. We are planning for a shortened camp, limiting numbers of kids, instigating increased health and sanitizing procedures, and conducting mainly outdoor activities. One of the major needs that summer camp will address is school review. Many students did not absorb or retain the same amount of school lessons as they normally would have.

Back in March, as shelter in place orders were starting to occur around the world, Doxa undertook a spring fundraising campaign. Those goals were to fund 22 houses, raise $7500 for Hogar de los Niños orphanage, and raise $15000 for Unidos por Siempre orphanage. We have been completely blown away as you have helped to exceed these goals. Thank you so much for your generosity! 22 houses have been funded, over $8000 raised for Hogar de los Niños, and over $15000 raised for Unidos por Siempre. A grand total of $164,705 for Tijuana! We can’t thank you all enough for this outpouring of support!

As we transition into summer, the effects of COVID-19 have lasted longer than we originally anticipated. We had thought groups were going to be able to travel again to Tijuana and build houses, school planning would be back to normal, and summer camp would be the joyous laughter-filled time that everyone looks forward to. In the wake of prolonged COVID-19 impacts, this has left even more families without the prospect of a new house. The cost of access to education increases with laptops and Internet requirements. While we are still planning on summer camp, it definitely will look different.

In order to respond to these continued needs, Doxa’s goals for this summer and fall are to fund the building of 20 houses, 50 education scholarships, and $2500 for a modified summer camp. There has already been awesome progress on these new goals!

If you would like to support, donations can be made through Doxa’s secure website and we also have an Amazon List setup for school supplies.

We are so thankful for your prayers and support during this time. It has been breathtaking to see the larger community moved into action, on both sides of the border.