Ten years ago Chris Evans of Orem was having a “quarter-life crisis.” He wasn’t sure he loved what he was doing professionally and was looking for something to put his considerable energy toward.
That’s when his wife, Angie, jumped in.
“We had some friends say we should go down to Mexico and build houses over the holidays,” Angie says. “I wasn’t ready to do it, but I signed him up to go.”
Angie hoped the change of scenery would give Chris a renewed perspective. Chris was gone for a week — only calling Angie once — and considers the time imperative to his life’s path.
“He came back a completely different person,” Angie says.
Chris traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, as part of the Builders Without Borders of Utah organization. The time spent working on improving living conditions for others sparked an idea.
“The next year, I took our two oldest boys,” Chris says. “The next year, Angie came with us.”
“There is a unique sense of self-reliance there. Government programs aren’t solving people’s everyday problems. If they don’t have money for food, they don’t eat.” —Angie Evans, Builders Without Borders of Utah
The year after that — Chris’s fourth with the organization — the couple became charter leads, planning the excursion for other families, most of whom are from Utah Valley.
Now, on Christmas night every year, Chris and Angie gather up their family, tools, clothes and other necessities for the week-long building excursion. They spend their holidays — the week between Christmas and New Year’s — providing much-needed service in Tijuana.
The service varies, but usually involves building and improving housing conditions, as well as providing vocational training and equipment. The type of service depends largely on the volunteers working as part of the group and the donations group members solicit from the community.
“We received sewing machine donations, and we had people in Tijuana ‘earn’ the sewing machine and fabric by learning how to use it,” Angie says. “Another year, we had computers donated and we taught basic computer skills.”
One participant, spurred on by this initial introduction to computers, received additional schooling and training and learned how to code.
“That has changed his family forever,” Chris says.
While Tijuana residents aren’t required to be members of the LDS Church to receive service, the organization utilizes resources offered by local church leaders to help identify service projects. The local church congregations also participate in dinner and activities with the group members throughout the week.
“The young people who come with us want to interact with the young people in Mexico,” Angie says. “It’s hard work, but we have a great time.”
Supplies, food and resources are purchased in Mexico, and local residents get involved with the work as much as possible.
“There is a unique sense of self-reliance there,” Angie says. “Government programs aren’t solving people’s everyday problems. If they don’t have money for food, they don’t eat.”
The Evans receive much more than they give. The chance to see first-hand the attitudes and living conditions of young people in Mexico changes the way the Evans’ seven children view their home in Orem.
Angie remembers her second son, who was 15 at the time and is now serving an LDS Church mission in Boston, coming home from school and commenting on how lucky he felt to have after-school clothes to change into and for the chance he had to choose an after-school snack.
“He knew the kids in Mexico didn’t have those options,” Angie says. “Mexico teaches our children things we can’t. They have a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for what we have.”
That’s the Christmas gift of a lifetime.
Chris and Angie Evans lead the local charter of Builders Without Borders of Utah, supervising 250 volunteers on humanitarian trips to Tijuana, Mexico, every Christmas.
Chris Evans learned to speak Spanish during an LDS Church mission to South America, but Angie didn’t speak the language when the couple starting making trips south of the border. In fact, most of the participants of Builders Without Borders of Utah don’t speak Spanish.
And yet the message gets across.
“The communication gap isn’t as wide as you think,” Chris says. “It’s amazing how well we can understand each other through service.”
Volunteers and locals work together and play together, gathering each night for food and fun at the local LDS church building.