High fives and hugs erupted late Wednesday afternoon when 21 people from First Baptist Church of Modesto arrived home, four days after flash floods delayed their return from a Mexico mission trip.
The group, which left Jan. 15 for a week of work at an orphanage near San Vicente, was stranded when bridges to the north and south of them along Highway 1 were swept away in last week's rainstorms.
Matt Billy was in the church's parking lot waiting for his wife, Chris, to return.
"I knew they were safe, warm and having fun," said Billy, who has worked on five similar mission teams. "The only thing was wondering how long it would take them to get across (the ravine)."
Mexican crews working nonstop for more than 48 hours after the raging floods subsided pushed rock and dirt into the large breach to allow traffic to flow again.
"It was amazing they could get it done so quickly," said Ross Paterson, group member and First Baptist's pastor of senior adults and men's ministries. "They opened it at dusk the night before we left (to come home). We figured if 18-wheelers were crossing it, we'd be OK."
He said the worst part of the delay was being isolated physically and from information. Fortunately, he added, group member Stan Risen, Stanislaus County's assistant executive officer, had his laptop, so folks eventually found news reports and could contact employers, cancel medical appointments, get in touch with family members, etc.
"We weren't frustrated," Risen said. "It was like having a little emergency drill. God opened doors to find key medications and food in town. The team was terrific."
The delay also gave the team time to fix storm damage at the orphanage, such as roof leaks, electrical problems and flooded facilities.
"When we had the second Sunday service with them -- we were only supposed to be there for one -- one of the little boys said he was really blessed that the bridge was broken so the group could stay with them," Paterson said.
"The lesson we learned is that as Americans, we want to manage our lives and be in control. But as we read our Bible, we're taught to depend on God. We did that, waiting on God, asking, 'What's next?' "
Part of the next thing was seeing people at the orphanage -- "who hardly have anything themselves" -- raise $1,000 to send to the relief efforts in Haiti.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.