By G.G. Vandagriff
All Photographs by Vicki McDonald
09/12/01-the day after the World Trade Center Bombing, will remain etched in Kendon Eakett’s mind forever. That is the day that he didn’t die and his whole world began a complete change. A painting contractor by trade, Kendon was doing a lacquer spray job in the basement of a large home in the Provo Riverbottoms. It was past nine o’clock at night, but he was determined to get the job done. He took his son Rob with him, and they arranged for masks, proper ventilation, regular walks in the fresh air-all the precautions needed when spraying such a noxious and potentially lethal substance as lacquer.
Kendon and Rob went down into the basement to finish the job. The next thing Kendon knew, he was lying down surrounded by some brown curtains. His wife was on the outside, crying. His daughter was in the room and, seeing that he was awake asked if he wanted the bishop. He didn’t know what she was talking about, but said, yes, if she wanted to, she could call the bishop. Very disoriented, he finally realized there was something really wrong. He was in his paint clothes. He was in a hospital. He was seriously injured.
His wife, Rae takes up the tale then. She was very worried when Kendon didn’t come home by midnight. At 12:30, she finally knew something was wrong and decided to take two of her grown children with her and go over to the house. When they went through it, they started smelling the lacquer and became very frightened. If they were where the lacquer was . . . they were. Rob was lying with blood all over him and all over the walls. He was barely conscious. Kendon was lying curled up in the closet with the sprayer still on, cold with no pulse. Rae, a nurse, made a split second decision. She told the children to call 911 and then proceeded to get Rob out first because she though Kendon was dead. She had to physically drag him through all those fumes. By the time she came back for Kendon, a large man, whom she hauled by the heels, she was hallucinating with the fumes, believing she was hauling bodies from the World Trade Center.
Finally, the paramedics came and both men were taken off in ambulances to the hospital. They said that if the men had remained in the basement just fifteen minutes longer, they wouldn’t have been able to be revived. The bishop gave a wonderful priesthood blessing, and though Kendon needed to spend two to three days in intensive care, he was going to be all right. It was a miracle. They figured he had been unconscious from the fumes from two to three hours.
Why Has My Life been Spared?
As Kendon came out of the hospital and looked up at the pristine purity of the Wasatch Mountains, he knew suddenly that his life had been preserved for a purpose. He didn’t know what that purpose was, but he knew with complete surety that the Lord had a specific work for him.
He talked on the telephone to his lifetime friend in Colorado, who told him he had been thinking of setting up a humanitarian organization called Family to Family Humanitarian Expeditions. He envisioned families from the states going to some poverty stricken area and devoting their time and means to helping the people-to give them hope. He thought it would work to the benefit of both groups of people. Kendon liked the idea. They decided on Mexico as a likely place as it was close.
He had a new neighbor who was a former mission president and temple president in Mexico, named Nephi Trevino. He thought perhaps Nephi could give him some suggestions where to start looking for an area in Mexico for them to begin their project. Nephi said, “It’s funny you should call tonight. My parents just returned from their mission. I’ll let you talk to them.”
The Trevinos were overcome with his offer to help their people and suggested one area in particular that was very poverty-stricken. The missionaries would have to sleep at one house, bathe at another, and eat at another, because one family was too poor to provide all these services for them. It was a place called Torreon, Mexico in the Monterrey Temple District. Kendon did much checking with the temple president, the mission president, the church humanitarian department and made sure he wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. Everyone told him that Nephi was the best tour guide he could have, because he knew absolutely everyone.
And so it proved. However, once they were down there, Kendon and his partner were much discouraged. Between them they had few resources. They hadn’t yet set up their foundation. They saw poverty in abundance all around them, but no means of alleviating it. There were no vehicles, no equipment, no resources. They felt completely defeated.
Then they went to church in the local branch. It was in an old house with a dirt floor. They held priesthood outside. The Catholic church was ringing a bell on one side of the street and a freight train was going by on the other side of the building. Kendon’s head was reeling from the noise. But he looked and saw that everyone was concentrating on the speaker. He was a visitor from the district presidency and was delivering them the message that “all the Lord requires is a willing heart and mind and the blessings of the earth will be yours.” The spirit told Kendon in that moment that this was what the Lord had spared his life for. He was to help the Lord keep his promise to his people.
The Miracles Start Happening
Kendon still found himself without means or time. However, the mission president took them down to a little village of Bermajillo. He visited with the prosperous owner of a Junkyard and his sons. This man was Brother Casteneda. Kendon later found out that he was a church legend in the area. President Hinckley had even referred to him at General Conference as one of the great benefactors of the church in that region. He and his sons had given land and church buildings to the Church. They were living consecrated lives. They essentially said to Kendon, “Mi casa, es su casa.” All that I have is yours.
Suddenly the expedition seemed possible. They had homes to stay in, equipment to use, vehicles to drive. Of all the people in this whole Mexico experience, Kendon maintains, the Casteneda family has influenced people the most. Through them, he was able to get his foundation going in Bermajillo. He has no idea how he’s done it. He’s a self-employed painting contractor who has taken 12-15 groups down to Mexico in the last three years, pouring concrete floors for houses, building roofs, building bathrooms. He knows it hasn’t been his doing, but that the Lord has prepared the way and made the funds available in every instance. He has been the instrument in the hands of the Lord to give them hope, to raise their standard of living, and to start to break out of the cycle of poverty. One man looked at his new roof, new bathroom, and new floor in his two-room home and said, “Brother Eakett, you have given me my dream home. I never thought I would have anything this nice.”
When anyone wants to go to Mexico with him (he takes BYU students and other families), he always tells them that if they just have the faith to go that the Lord will provide the money. In every case, something miraculous has happened. One student found an old check that had been lost that was the exact amount she needed to go to Mexico. Another student received a back housing deposit from the year before that she had completely forgotten about. Together with the change her father had been collecting for several years, it made up just the right amount for his trip. Other people have been the recipients of anonymous benefactors who approached Kendon and said they would like to make contributions to his project so that people could go down and help.
It takes approximately $75.00 to pour a cement floor for a house. One little widow in his ward saved $15.00 per month until she could save up the money to pay for a floor. It takes a little over $300.00 for a bathroom to be built. This money has been donated as well. Most donations have come as a result of word of mouth publicity. Kendon has not had the money or resources to organize his foundation on a professional scale. The needs arise and somehow the money is there.
The President of the Monterrey Temple has recently made Kendon aware of some needs that exist in the Monterrey area. Widows are still cooking on open fires on the ground for they do not even have ovens. They would like to build ovens. An older man lost his tailoring business due to thievery and hence lost his livelihood and house. They would like to build a new house for him. Also, they are very keenly aware that the way to break out of the cycle of poverty is increase the level of education. Children in that area of Mexico must pay a $60.00 per year fee for education. Their families are not able to do so. The branch president has said that if Kendon’s organization should come up with half of that, the other half could be made up in fast offering funds.
We’re on the Right Track
Goals have been reached. Families have been touched. They were able to build the first bathroom in a community where a family of nineteen was sharing one small house. Another young girl was given a scholarship to a community college that filled her heart with joy. She needed a laptop computer, however, or she would never be able to attend. A family who had been down on a former expedition heard about her need and sent her a laptop that they were going to upgrade. She was ecstatic. Now her dream could come true.
Kendon doesn’t know how he’ll get through the year. He doesn’t know how the miracles will be accomplished that need to be accomplished, but he knows that they will because he knows this is what the Lord has called him to do. People have been very generous in their contributions of time and money.
What the Young Adults say
Aaron Russell, one of the participants in the last expedition said with tears in his eyes: “The defining moment of my visit was the last night we were there when we were having Family Home Evening with the Casteneda family. I saw how happy those people were and I recognized it was from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Alyssa Charrier asked herself the question: “Who is serving whom here? Did I serve them or did they serve me?” She said, “We learned to love these people by seeing them the way the Lord sees them. They served me by teaching me this.”
Barbara Boone asked herself the question: “What makes these people so firm in the faith?” The answer that was given to her was that they had an understanding of who they were and that Heavenly Father loved them, no matter what. It was instilled in her, in the midst of all that poverty, that the Gospel is the only thing that matters.
Aaron Taylor said the reason he decided to go was that he knew the experience would be the equivalent of a short-term mission-a life changer. Mexico was a reminder to him that the necessities of the Gospel are the key to the only true happiness. He said that returning to Provo, it was easy to forget the essential basics of true Christlike happiness, because you become so involved in things that benefit yourself.
Without exception, all the young people felt that they gained far more from the experience than the service they gave to it. It was a reminder of the true principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at their most basic level. Heavenly Father loves everyone equally and we are happiest when we are doing His work.
Would you like to know more about this?
If you are interested in finding out more about Family to Family Humanitarian Expeditions, you can visit the website at FFHE.org or contact Kendon Eakett directly by e-mail. His address is Keakett@comcast.net.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.