Living south of the border reminds me that eating mounds of turkey and mashed potatoes on the fourth Thursday of November is primarily a tradition of the United States (one that I still plan to keep this year). However la acción de gracias—the practice of giving thanks—is an ancient human activity that extends across borders, cultures and time. Gratitude anchors us in this present moment, shifts our gaze away from the messes of the world and reminds us that today life is a gift. Without minimizing the reality of suffering, gratitude connects me to the kindness of others and the Goodness of my Creator.

Reflecting on the year that has passed since last Thanksgiving day—now a year and some days since we left San Diego—I have so much for which to be thankful: a new community that has welcomed us, families who have trusted us, youth who have inspired us, supporters that have rallied around us with encouragement and donations to make the work possible, waves and rocks that have invited us to adventure and learn together, opportunities to connect and serve, to give and receive. There have of course been real struggles and low points as well, but in the practice of gratitude, I find the glasses through which I view these challenges are clearer, and my compass is recalibrated to true north.

Fall weather brings a mix of warm and cold days to the valley. We wrapped up our surf activities with the youth from Casa Hogar Ciudad de Refugio in September for a total of 9 surf sessions put on together with CS Rosarito. The feedback we received from both youth and leaders was overwhelmingly positive. Many of the kids showed higher levels of confidence, comfortability in the water, and relational connectedness from the start of the season to the end. We look forward to revisiting this partnership in 2022. 

Back in La Misión we’ve continued to offer outdoor adventures on a weekly basis. Jess’ highlight of the week is often buying veggies at the Monday market and getting attacked with hugs from some of the girls who have joined us on programs. In October we took advantage of a few warm, small-wave days to take some of the local youth out surfing. We’ve come to recognize that very few young people from our community actually know how to swim, although the ones we’ve chatted with all wish they did. Offering swimming lessons is another hope for the new year.

As we get to know youth in the community, the hard realities that we often think about in an abstract way take on faces and names: homes with absent fathers and single mothers struggling to make ends meet, massive gaps in the education system, boys leaving school after 9th grade to work and provide for their siblings, cycles of addiction and abuse, lack of access to health care … broken systems and human stories in need of restoration. There are no quick or easy solutions, but this is the context for our work: inviting youth into recreational experiences outdoors that build resilience and provide opportunities to form supportive relationships.

Nahum (who we introduced in the last post) recently turned 16. He has now come out on 8 rock climbing sessions, has learned how to belay a lead climber and how to rappel from the top of a route. He talks about climbing as “mi pasión” and has a project route that he is working on.

Another exciting moment in November was the grand opening of the new ZONA youth center—recently constructed by Rancho Libertad, one of the churches in the community as a space dedicated to serving youth in the community. The building has rooms for activities like music and martial arts and even a computer lab dedicated to supporting youth with schoolwork. The church leaders have invited us to use the space for Aleph programs, and we are already exploring the possibility of building a climbing traverse wall inside the center! (We’ll share more on this project as it takes shape.)

As a final note, we want to again express our gratitude to everyone who has supported and believed in us throughout our first year in Baja. For 2021 we set the goal of gathering a consistent support base of $2000 per month to cover living expenses, and we are happy to share that as of December we will have reached that benchmark. As we look to continue developing the Aleph Baja ministry in 2022, offering consistent programs to more youth, getting a van & potentially growing the team, our budget will increase. If you would like to support our work, please consider donating here:

Happy Thanksgiving,

Dustin & Jess

4 thoughts on “Gratitude

  1. So proud of you two! Your courage, compassion and support for each other and your students is a beautiful thing to see. Love Aunt Terry


  2. Loved the newsletter Dustin & Jess. You both are making an impact on the lives in that community. Praying for you to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus.


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