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Turn to Jesus (Article)

A New Perspective in Nuevo Durango
Three families decide to give their children a new view on what matters most… and find themselves changed and enriched.

whole group on missions
This year, three families went to Nuevo Durango for the missions.

August 18, 2009. Atlanta, GA. “It was one of those snap decisions,” said Mark Doxtader, who took his family on missions to Nuevo Durango, Mexico with Rick Swygman and his family for the first time last year.

He first found out about the mission while talking with Rick Swygman, the executive director of Pinecrest Academy. With logistical help from Roberto Sánchez, Alejandro Piñelo, and a full-time lay missionary named Juan Manuel Arroyo, Rick had been planning the mission as a family trip. When Rick had shared his plans with Mark, the two men realized that they had similar ideals: they both wanted to share an experience of self-giving in missions as a family. They wanted their children to grow and be enriched, and to have their horizons widened.

That snap decision was one that Mark has not regretted. In fact, the experience was so enriching that they decided to go again this year, accompanied by the Gores, a third family. They plan to return again next year with as many other families as are willing to join them.

This year’s mission took place from August 2-6. As they did last year, the families spent their morning working on building up the local parish. The specific project this year was to build a grotto and a garden dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. After working in the mornings, the families spent the afternoons building relationships with the local people.

Rock time

For Rick Swygman, spending time with the local people for the
mornings spent working
Mornings were spent working on a grotto for Our Lady of Guadalupe outside the parish church.
past two years has been a lesson about life’s essentials.

“They taught me to come back and show delight in others. They lack so many material things, yet they are so joyful and they’re always serving,” he said. “They never complained. They just live their life and they’re happy.”

The adults weren’t the only ones who were strong and generous. He also noticed the hardiness of the children.

“These kids are tough as nails,” he said. “I wish our kids back at Pinecrest could see these kids play soccer on concrete in bare feet. They wipe out, scrape up… and you never see them cry.”

The Nuevo Durango men had their own silent lessons to share. They don’t rush around from one thing to another, trying to keep up with an overstuffed agenda. There is no hurry, no cloud of stress over their heads. Sometimes they just go away and sit on a rock by themselves for a while.

“They have time to sit and just be,” said Rick.

Observing this habit, Rick and Mark tried it themselves: when they got frustrated, they took time out to just go and be quiet, without the distraction of doing anything. To their surprise, it turned out to be just the solution. Now they refer to it as their “rock time.”

“Oftentimes we as parents think we’re doing something for our kids and it turns out to be much more fulfilling for us personally than we ever imagined it could be,” said Mark.


After some days on the mission,
afternoons with people
The afternoons were spent with the local townspeople, building relationships and playing with the children.
Mark sat down with his 16-year-old daughter and began talking about possible ways to help some of the local people improve their financial situation, especially the youth. Would it be best to sponsor one of them to attend Pinecrest Academy or to work in his company? 

Her response was immediate: “No, that would be the wrong thing to do. They are so happy with their life, their relationships, their family.” She had perceived clearly that in spite of the lack of material things, their lives were full and rich in relationships.

 “As a father, it means a lot to be able to have your children realize that all the stuff we attach ourselves to— the nice car, the big house— doesn’t make you happy. When they set up their family and make decisions, they’ll see that some of the things we are attached to can really make you miserable,” said Mark.
Missions or the beach?

Mark’s children liked the missions experience so much that when they were offered the choice to go to the beach or to Mexico for next year, they all chose Mexico.

“That’s one of the main motivations for a mother or father to consider this trip: it’s to give your kids an opportunity to see something new and to spend some quality time together,” said Mark.

Rick’s children also found that missions weighed more in the balance. Last year, the Swygman family had gone to the beach at Cozumel for two and half days after the mission.
completed grotto
A view of the completed grotto.
Before that first mission, the kids were looking forward to the beach as the main attraction, with missions as something to be endured before the real fun could begin. But after that first missions experience, the balance had swung in favor of missions.

To Rick’s surprise, the children spontaneously suggested that they cut down the time in Cozumel next year so that they could spend more time in Nuevo Durango. And this, noted Rick, in spite of putting in manual labor in the mornings, sweating all day long, and sleeping in hammocks at night.

A universal language

Mark and his wife Angie had always wanted to do a family mission for the sake of their children. That was why the snap decision last year had come so easily; it just fit.

At the time, his children were 15, 13, 7, and 4. Rick’s were 16 and 15, with two 5-year olds.

“Obviously, one of the biggest things for me to overcome was my own personal pride as a father, taking my kids into what others might perceive as a potentially dangerous situation,” Mark said. “But one of the biggest things I learned was that God really protects his missionaries.”

Not only have the missions unfolded peacefully, but the missionaries have also formed bonds with the local people. In spite of the language barrier, they were still able to communicate. The language of a smile, a hug, is universal.

Also universal was the sense of belonging to the same Church, the same faith.

“The mission gave me a perspective of the universal Church, that no matter where you are, what you have, how you’re suffering, or how many blessings you have, you’re all united in the universal Catholic Church,” said Mark. “I learned that these people are Catholic just like me, and that’s what really unites us.”

To find out more about next year’s summer mission to Nuevo Durango, contact Mark Doxtader at or Rick Swygman at



Related links

Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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