What started out as a trip to build a house for three orphans has changed the direction of one man’s life.
Paul Heberling, 24, of Camas, traveled to Baja, Mexico, during spring break with a group from Central Washington University. They rebuilt a home for three children after it was destroyed in a fire, which also killed their father. Adding to that suffering, their mother lost her battle with cancer last year.
“It was my first time in Mexico and it was a very humbling experience,” Paul said. “Traveling from San Diego to Tijuana, you saw the world change. It filled my heart with compassion.”
Heberling was joined on the trip by his brother, James, a 2013 CWU graduate and Camas native.
“The hearts of the people there were so open and compassionate,” James said. “They were super grateful and appreciative for what they had. We have almost too much here. It was nice to give back.”
The group was led by James Avery, an associate professor in CWU’s College of Business. He has helped build homes in Mexico in the past and sees the trips as opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom.
“The primary principle of leadership is, ‘It’s not about you,'” he said. “To go and change someone’s life and come home $1,000 poorer, you can’t get that in a classroom. Hopefully it will open their eyes and help shape them.”
The group of 11 flew to San Diego, then drove a van across the border. When they arrived at the home site, they were met by a small crew of Mexican builders and a cement slab with anchor bolts. The rest was left for them to build. Not only did they provide the labor, but also pitched in cash to pay for the house, which cost $7,000.
“It was incredible serving this family alongside my brother,” James said. “To be with him and serve with him brought us closer together.”
He added that the two were close growing up, and enjoyed many memories together in the family home over the years.
“It was wonderful to give another family the joy of having a house,” James said. “Seeing that they also had a close relationship was huge.”
Having the opportunity to step back and volunteer to help others during a busy time in life was refreshing, he added.
“I can’t think of any better way to have spent my spring break,” James said. “It was a humbling and rewarding experience.”
Paul returned from the trip to Mexico feeling convicted.
Before he left, the CWU senior was unsure of what direction to go in life or if staying in college was the right thing to do. Passionate about his Christian faith, Paul wanted to do something in the field of ministry, but also felt he should stay and earn his degree.
“(After the trip) I was reading my Bible one night and came upon Colossians 4:17, ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.’ I felt really convicted that God was calling me back to Camas.”
So, Paul withdrew from his classes and moved back home to Camas a few weeks ago. He is volunteering with East Clark County Young Life and the youth group at Harvest Community Church in Camas, and working as a landscaper.
“This trip was huge and life changing for me,” he said. “I’m trusting God in the big and the little things.”