Mexico missions trip 2015

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! January is nearly here, which means that it’s time for me to make my annual pilgrimage to Mexico, and I’d like to tell you about it.

David and Karen Caldwell are the founding members of Camps International, whose mission is to start camps for kids around the world and train counselors to use these camps to spread the gospel. Their flagship camp Los Domos is located on the shore of a small lake in the highlands of central Mexico, near the city of Morelia. This is a prototype camp where they develop tools, techniques, and strategies for starting new camps. This includes creating the activities and curriculum for the kids to experience, as well as the physical infrastructure required to run a camp.

Kids from many nearby towns will be occupying the camp during the summer months, but I’m visiting during the off season to work behind the scenes on improving the facility. In past years I’ve helped improve their web site, set up computers and networking, and design cabins and other structures. There are some unique challenges at Los Domos because they’re out in the middle of nowhere without electricity, and so everything has to run on solar power. This includes getting wireless internet access from a town eight miles away, and the internet relay tower located midway between the camp and the town is the result of one of my previous visits. Having internet access on site allows them to have a much greater capacity to communicate and conduct business.

One thing I enjoy about working with the Caldwells is the opportunity to invent solutions to challenges that I would never encounter in the US. One disadvantage of building your own electrical and internet infrastructure is the need for maintenance and troubleshooting when things break. This is particularly true for the internet tower: If it shuts down or malfunctions due to a lack of sufficient solar power or battery capacity, there’s no way to know what’s wrong without driving out to check on it. If there were a way to reduce these problems, it would save valuable time and money that could be used for more productive activities.

For the past month I’ve been working on putting together some gadgets that will monitor the status of the tower as well as other electrical equipment around the camp property. This will make it easier to keep track of how the various solar panels and batteries are doing, all from one central computer rather than walking up and down the property to check on things. In the future I also hope to add some automation to their water filtration system, so they don’t have to manually check the water levels in each tank and start the pumps as necessary to refill them from the lake.

I’ll be flying down on January 21st to install this equipment and solve as many other problems as I can before my two weeks are up. I would appreciate your prayers for safety in travel and success in the work I’ll be doing, as well as for the kids that will be participating in the upcoming summer camping season. If you’d like to hear more about what’s going on with me and the Caldwells, just let me know.

I would also like to raise $500 to cover the cost of the equipment I’ve purchased to bring down with me. If you would like to help me give them this belated Christmas gift, I would be happy to accept a contribution of any size. I can accept checks or PayPal, or you can give a tax-deductible donation directly to Camps International through their web site,

Thank you for your support!

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Mexico missions trip 2010

Dear friends,

Thank you for supporting me in my missions trip to Mexico with a team from RIT‘s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We praise God for our safe travel to and from Mexico, a good, productive week of work there, and the fun experiences we had sightseeing. Thanks to your prayers, we were able to raise enough money to cover our expenses and donate a good amount to the Caldwells’ ministry.

David Caldwell founded Camps International to facilitate planting kids camps in various countries and staffing them with nationals to carry on the ministry. They currently have one such ministry called RYCCA (pronounced ree-kuh) located in central Mexico, though there are possibilities in the work for starting camps elsewhere in the world. In Mexico they are building a prototype camp, where they can experiment with how to build camps as well as how to run them effectively. This experience will then be used to jump-start other camps in the future.

The camp in Mexico is located near Morelia and is named Los Domos, owing to the dome-shaped construction style they’ve adopted. David and Karen Caldwell and three of their children currently live on-site in several concrete domes that they’ve built over the past several years. They are currently in the process of building cabins for the campers in the form of steel geodesic domes with a white plastic covering. Inside they plan to build bunks that are suspended from the steel structure with cables. Completing these domes will allow them to begin hosting regular camp events.

I first got to know the Caldwells on the internet about four years ago through a web site about the Christian radio drama Adventures in Odyssey, through which I met their daughter Cherith. I met David Caldwell in person two years later, who encouraged me to bring a team down to help them out. As a result, in 2009 I gathered a group of four other RIT students who I knew through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and we traveled to Mexico to put our technical skills to work. In that week of spring break we designed new web and print materials, improved their web site and computers, and planned some camp activities.

This year I rounded up a new group to continue the work. I returned for a second year, as did Harry, a mechanical engineering student. New this year were Mike, an electrical engineering grad student, and Tyler, an information technology sophomore. The fifth member of our team was Kyle, another computer expert who in fact is not an RIT student but instead knows both Cherith and I through the internet and wanted to help out.

Our trip started out with an unexpected adventure, when our Friday morning flight from Buffalo to Newark was canceled due to a snowstorm. Once we managed to contact the airline, we learned that our options were either to wait until the next open flight on Tuesday or to fly out of Cleveland on Saturday. We chose the latter option, and later that day spent 6 snowy hours making the nominally 4-hour drive. After staying overnight in a hotel, it was smooth flying to Houston and then to Morelia, Mexico.

While the camp is located out in the middle of nowhere and lacks standard power and communication, the Caldwells have an apartment in the town of Acuitzio del Canje, where they lived before the camp was habitable. This is where we did most of our work, because there we can plug in our laptops and get Internet access (albeit slowly compared to home). Using the money we raised, we had purchased a laptop and some networking equipment and brought it with us to donate to the ministry. Tyler, Kyle, and I were the computer experts, so one of our projects was to run cables through the apartment to improve their computer network.

With that done, we moved on to a bigger project, in which we attempted to get internet access at the camp. This would allow the Caldwells to have more direct communication with the outside world, so they wouldn’t have to drive 45 minutes to the apartment to exchange e-mails. A friend of theirs lives two miles away and gets internet access from Morelia via a microwave antenna on a tower. Our goal was to install another antenna on that tower that would connect to a tower David built at the camp.

After scouting the tower site on our first visit, David, Tyler, and I returned with all the equipment we needed to set up the connection. I was chosen to climb the tower, since I’m not afraid of heights (and I’m already pretty tall). I got my harness on and then climbed the 100 feet to the top, where I clipped myself onto the tower so I could work with both hands. David and Tyler sent up the radio box and the antenna with ropes, and I set to work bolting them to the tower and hooking everything up. I found that working on top of a tower is more difficult than it would be on the ground, due to the limited space and the need to attach everything to the tower somehow, even the nuts, bolts, and tools I used. Two and a half hours later I completed the job and climbed down with a mild sunburn (but not before taking a 360 degree panoramic picture of the view from the top).

The next day we went to the camp to set up the other end of the connection. David had already built a 40-foot tower using the same steel tubes as the geodesic dome, but it needed to be taller for the signal to clear the terrain, so we took the tower down, attached another section, and raised it back up. I climbed up and attached the radio and antenna that were the counterpart to what I installed on the other tower. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the radio signal to reach from one tower to the other, so we had to leave without seeing the task completed. However, a month later one of David’s friends was able to make some adjustments which allowed the radio to work. The Caldwells now have internet access at the camp, which will allow them to conduct business and keep in touch more easily.

The internet tower was the biggest of our projects, but we also accomplished several other tasks. Harry and Mike worked on curriculum for use during camps, creating materials such as daily devotions to help the kids understand the Bible. Kyle worked on creating software that makes it easier to keep track of ministry supporters and keep everyone up to date on the happenings in Mexico.

On our last day in Mexico, we drove out to Pátzcuaro, a nearby town popular with tourists. There were numerous vendors of hand-made trinkets, clothing, and many other items, as well as a large open food market. For lunch we had real Mexican tacos, followed by ice cream in many different flavors. It was a good way to end our time in Mexico.

We all enjoyed our visit to Mexico, and David was very appreciative of all the things we accomplished. I’m graduating from RIT this year, but I hope to return to Mexico again, quite possibly next year with another group from RIT. In the meantime, I intend to post more stories and pictures from Mexico on this blog.

If you are interested in hearing more about what the Caldwells are doing, you can go to their web site, Thank you again for your support in this endeavor.

Tim Peterson

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A Mexican Curiosity

While we were touring Acuitzio on Tuesday, our guide Moi was nice enough to buy us drinks from a store we passed by. On Cherith’s suggestion, I got Manzanita, which is basically carbonated apple juice. Not bad at all. Here’s what it looked like:

Bottle of Manzanita soda (2009-03-03)

Note the shape of the bottle: It’s a bit thinner and taller than the 20oz bottles common in the US. On our drive to the airport Saturday night, we stopped at a gas station in order to get coffee to keep David awake and all of us alive, and I got some 7 Up for myself. It tasted slightly different from what I remember from the States, though I don’t know when I last had any actual 7 Up. I finished it in the Morelia airport while waiting at the gate, after the baggage-searcher said I should drink it before boarding the flight (not that it would really matter). I tossed the empty bottle in my backpack as a souvenir. (I had considered swiping the Spanish Coke can from the flight in, to complement the Swedish one my dad brought home from a business trip.) When I got home and unpacked, I found something curious.

Squished 7 Up bottle (2009-03-08)

The bottle was now squished, having done nothing but taken two airplane flights with me back to Rochester. The top has been on tight ever since Mexico, and I still haven’t opened it even now, perhaps in case I ever need a sample of Mexican air (not to mention a nice example of physics in action). I pondered why this might have happened for a few minutes, and then asked my dad what he thought. He asked one question, and I suddenly realized what was going on. I wonder, how many of my readers are astute enough to figure it out? (I have no doubt that my physics and engineering friends at RIT will have no trouble with this.)

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Mexico missions trip report

Dear friends and family,

Group photo in gazebo in Acuitzio, Mexico (2009-03-03)Thank you for supporting me in my missions trip to Mexico, with Jess, Harry, Kim, and Ozzy from RIT InterVarsity. We praise God for our safe travel to and from Mexico, a good, productive week of work there, and the fun experiences we had sightseeing. Thanks to your prayers, we were able to raise enough money to cover our expenses and donate the remainder to the Caldwells’ ministry.

David Caldwell founded the Camps International organization to facilitate planting kids camps in various countries and staffing them with nationals to carry on the ministry. Their main focus presently is on the Mexican division called RYCCA, though there are possibilities for starting camps elsewhere in the world. In Mexico they are essentially building a prototype camp, where they can experiment with both how to build camps as well as how to run them effectively. This knowledge will then be used to jump-start other camps in the future. One of their major construction projects has been building a house for them to live in on the land, in the form of several concrete domes. The vision is for camp cabins to eventually be built in the same style.

Caldwell dome (2009-03-01)

We arrived late Saturday night, so our first activity in Mexico was to attend a church service in Morelia the following morning. It wasn’t too different from a contemporary church service in the US, apart from being louder and all in Spanish. In the afternoon and evening we visited the Caldwells’ land near Loma Caliente, where they are building their camp. David took us on a tour of the camp and explained their goals, both so we could get a sense of what we were working toward and so we could videotape David for use in a promotional video.

Camps International logoWhile the camp is located out in the middle of nowhere and lacks power and communication, the Caldwells have an apartment in the town of Acuitzio del Canje. This is where we did all of our work, since there we can plug in our laptops and get Internet access (albeit slowly compared to RIT). One of the first results of our time in Mexico was a new logo for Camps International. Kim, Ozzy, and Jess were our design team, and they went from brainstorming to a final logo in a record time of one day.

In the next few days, the design team branched out and created more materials based on that logo. Ozzy designed and implemented a new Camps International web site and began copying over the information from the old site. Kim and Jess created letterhead, envelopes, and business cards for both CI, the English part of the ministry, and RYCCA, the Spanish component. Jess also came up with ideas for a promotional video, which will hopefully come to fruition in the next few weeks.

Coke can camp stove (2009-03-07)Meanwhile, our lone engineer Harry was at work designing and building things. One project he worked on was designing a structure to keep solar panels pointed toward the sun. He also researched solar water heater designs and how to mount a tank of water on the roof of the domes. His biggest project, however, was experimenting with plans for building a small camp stove by cutting off the bottoms of two aluminum cans, making small holes, and fitting them together with fuel inside. The idea is to have the campers build these stoves based on directions Harry wrote, and cook a small meal on them.

While all of this was going on, I was the resident computer expert. My first task was to improve their Internet connection, by configuring the equipment they had to receive the wireless signal and give them a better connection. I also sorted through decades of old computer equipment to determine what to throw away, including troubleshooting old printers. A lot of my time was spent doing technical support for the Caldwells and the rest of the team. I upgraded and configured Linux computers, helped Ozzy get the web site working, and did many other miscellaneous things. Computers seem to fear me, and my mere presence nearby seems to make problems disappear — we called this my aura.

Street view in Acuitzio (2009-03-03)We worked straight through Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, taking the occasional break to eat Mexican food cooked by David’s daughter Cherith (with help from Ozzy and the others). On Tuesday we spent the morning getting a tour of Acuitzio from Moises, the local theater teacher. Ozzy hails from El Salvador and is fluent in Spanish, so he was our interpreter for most of our interactions with the Mexicans. Moi played us a video of the town from the 1960s, and then showed us around two old churches and the plaza in the center of town before taking us to lunch at a local restaurant.

Over lunch we listened as David talked to Moi and tried to help him see the problems with his living-for-the-present mentality, which included drinking several beers while we were there. This is not an unusual attitude in Mexico, which is one of the problems the Caldwells hope to address with their camp ministry. Please pray that Moises would come to see that life does have meaning and that he shouldn’t squander it.

During our short time in Mexico we saw God bring two more opportunities to light. First, David got a call from a man who has his eye on some land in the Dominican Republic he’d like to buy for camping purposes. This could be the next location for Camps International to start a camp. Second, we got a visit one afternoon from a local official, important enough to have a police escort. He wanted to know if David could use his American connections to obtain an ambulance or fire truck for the town of Acuitzio, because their current emergency vehicle is somewhat lacking. I did a little searching and found that a used ambulance could be had for as little as $6000. We’ll have to wait and see what God does with these new connections.

Statue in Patzcuaro plaza (2009-03-05)We did some sightseeing Thursday evening, out in the touristy areas of Patzcuaro. We visited the first university in the area, which is now a museum. Our designers appreciated the printing shop they had there, which included old-fashioned lithography where artists would draw on flat stones in order to print onto paper. We also visited a former convent, which now contains a number of small souvenir shops that we patronized. We closed out the evening with a visit to an ice cream shop, which featured such flavors as queso (cheese) and tequila.

Group photo on top of mountain (2009-03-06)Our final fun activity was a drive and a hike to the top of a mountain Friday evening, featuring a large rocky cliff and a great view. This is a place they want to bring the kids from camp to go rappelling. We didn’t have the equipment to try it for ourselves, but we took a lot of pictures for ourselves and for the camp. The sun was dropping behind a mountain as we hiked back down, giving us a nice view of the sunset.

We spent Saturday finishing up our various projects, though we each had plenty more we could do if only we had the time. We left the web site ready for David to continue working on adding and organizing the information, though we haven’t made the new version public yet. Around 10 PM David drove us to the airport, and we flew overnight, bounced through Chicago, and returned to Rochester around 3 PM Sunday. (I slept for 15 hours the next night to make up for my inability to sleep on airplanes.)

Sunset while hiking down mountain (2009-03-06)We all enjoyed our visit to Mexico, and David was very appreciative of all the things we accomplished. Upon reflection, we realized that each of us had an important part to play, and without any one of us the team would have suffered. God clearly chose each of us to be there, because before this experience none of us five were close friends with each other. I was even told by our InterVarsity staff worker, “This is the most unlikely group I’ve ever seen.” Regardless, we all worked together well.

I’m graduating from RIT this year, but I hope to return to Mexico again, perhaps next spring. In the meantime, I intend to post more stories and pictures from Mexico here on my blog.

Thank you again for your support.
Tim Peterson

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One week to go

The Mexico trip leaves in only six days! We had our first official meeting with all five of us Saturday morning, though we’ve been corresponding by e-mail a lot in the interim. We’ve ironed out most of the details and should be ready to pack and hop on the plane (once all of our final exams are done, that is). We also spoke to David Caldwell in Mexico for an hour or so via Skype, which was quite useful in helping us to get the vision of what we’re going to be doing down there.

The only remaining issue is money. I still need to raise another $300 to reach the goal of $900, and the team overall is about 50% supported. We need the money by this Tuesday, February 24th, to allow adequate time for processing before we take off. Please pray that God would provide the funds for all of us.

We’re excited to get going, and the Caldwells are excited to have us. Watch this space for more exciting news during and after the trip.

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