Faithful Footsteps Lead Back to Tijuana

"Exciting and intimidating," Emily Wurster said of her first mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico. A member of the Peace United Methodist Church youth group in Pickerington, Ohio, Emily was headed south as a volunteer at the Tijuana Christian Mission orphanage.

"It was my first mission trip and the first time going out of the country," said Emily, now a 17-year-old high school senior. "I was pretty nervous, going out of the country to a place where I didn't speak the language, but I was also excited." Emily said the entire trip was an inspiration. 

"The first time I went down, a lot of the teenagers were out of school," she said. "They were really talkative and playful and wanted to help. Even though there was a language barrier, we were all teenagers, and we all had something in common with each other," she said, adding the Ohioans and Mexicans shared an interest in sports and had similar classes.

What was different, she said, was the landscape. Tijuana is a crowded city of nearly 1.7 million with buildings stacked on top of each other, and Pickerington, with a population of 20,400, is located amid rolling hills and cornfields. "There's definitively a drastic difference," she said.

The poverty in Tijuana also caught her off guard. "I didn't realize there would be so much poverty, especially so close to the border," she said.

She wanted to do more. Returning to the states, Emily kept in touch with some of the orphans through old-fashioned letters. She also decided to sponsor one of the teens, sending care packages and gifts for holidays and birthdays.

The Peace UMC youth group returned to the Tijuana Christian Mission this summer. Emily and her mother, Lee Ann Wurster, organized the trip. At the orphanage, the group painted the girls' dormitory and a large room above the boys' dormitory, with help from some of the Mexican teens.

Returning home, Emily learned from one of a mission staff member the children needed school shoes - 65 new pairs - and they only had a month before classes resumed. Encouraged by Cody Thomas, the current youth pastor at Peace UMC, Emily and Hannah Bailey contacted everyone in the congregation and many people in the community, placed notices in the church bulletin, and created a Facebook page ( The people of Pickerington stepped up and provided the 65 pairs of shoes.

"To us," Emily said, "a new pair of shoes isn't a big deal, but to them, it really matters.

"I'm happy to be able to do this and hope this inspires other people that just because we're far away, it doesn't stop us from helping people in need."