Thursday, November 17, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (32) Three Days To Forever: Build A Home

Or, One Man's Perspective on How to Build a Home

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can't, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

Psalm 127:1

New International Version (NIV)
 Unless the LORD builds the house,
   the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
   the guards stand watch in vain.

Fresh cut lumber is one of my favorite smells. I can remember it from when I was young, being with my dad out in the woods, swamping out a tree for a heat source through the Ohio winters. It also takes me back to the summer that I worked alongside my father and Pappaw as we built a wooden deck outside of my childhood home. It is the smell of possibility, and it readies me for day.

This is not your typical lumbar-yard. Home Depot can keep it's neatly stacked, uniform, treated boards for the urban warrior. This is the real deal. No guards on the blades, and pure raw power. This is how we obtain boards, Guate-style.

So pull on your gloves and fill your water bottle. It is time to go to work. We weave and bounce through city streets, to a two lane highway that climbs its way up the mountains, beyond San Cristobal, and outside of Guatemala City. The road seems to squeeze us as we rise, drawing smaller and rougher with each passing kilometer. After 45 minutes of tough driving, we find ourselves on a narrow dirt trail alongside mountain passes with sheer drops. We leave time behind us as we make our destination and begin our first walk to see the homesite and meet the family.

I still can feel the excitement that filled my lungs and spread through my veins as I stood on that slab and took in the view for the first time. A few Guatemalan men had been employed prior to our arrival to dig out the mountainside, level the earth, and lay the foundation which consisted of: a dug footer, a cinder block base, and a poured concrete floor. All done by hand using only machetes, a pick-axe, a hoe, shovels, a trowel, muscle, grit, and determination. As always, the concrete is produced on the ground by folding together the ingredients of water, sand, gravel, and cement... all which must be carried by hand to the site.

As I reflected on the work that had already taken place, I breathed in deeply to the crisp morning air and listened... really listened to the sounds. I could hear the soft snort and rustle of the piglet as he rooted alongside the path. A rooster and a goat were apparently competing for bragging rights as the boldest herald of the day to come. I could hear the steady swish-thump of a nearby machete being used to clear the undergrowth and level ground. The wind softly lifted the tied ends of the bandana at the base of my neck as I received my first red-dot bug bite on my left calve.

I looked up to see the bug making his taunting retreat after causing me to slap myself, and as my eyes focused on the surrounding skyline, I noticed that the family was gathering to meet us.

This was my first view of Enoch, Ruth, and their two daughters, Leena & Angelina. Ruth is expecting their third child, coming less than a year from the second. The structure behind them is build with hand-made bricks, four small trees for corner supports, and corn stalks. It had a rusted sheet of metal as the roof. It is enclosed on three sides and serves as their kitchen. This is their only structure. At night, they are able to sleep with nearby relatives.

The entire area has just withstood the most devastating rainy season in decades, and much of the landscape and structures are destroyed by landslides. Loss of life has been high as people have been swept away by torrid water or collapsing earth.

We lay out our tools, stumble into each other for a couple of hours trying to figure out which end is up, and then we begin making the first cuts. Soon hammers are swinging, and walls are being raised into the air!

We have two teams on two separate jobs. The Team of Four: Kayci Roh, Melissa Gorrell, Brian Schermerhorn, and me. We were led by Edgar and Diego. The Team of Five: Brent & Joni Ahlers, Melissa Renner, and Stephen & Cameron Mathis. They were led by Ramero. We were often reminded that this was not a competition... and we all agreed, as we worked our hardest to outpace the other team. 

The sun warmed our backs as the breeze cooled our faces as we worked, saw-dust covered throughout the day. Brian and I evolved this unspoken, rhythmical process of cutting boards: shift the board, slide the tape, align the square, mark the line, zip back the tape, rip the board, shift the board, repeat ad infin.

We broke at 1:30 for a 15 minute mauling of our daily staples: PB&J, Chikky Cookies, Tortrix Chips (Barbecue or Lime) and an apple. We worked until dark, struck the worksite, and made our way back to Mimi's House for dinner, a hot shower, and comfortable bunks. 

The food was incredible, the company was amazing as we discussed the day among friends, family, and the incredible atmosphere of the Greene's home and the 10 young ladies who are having their lives rebuilt with the love and gentle calling of this unbelievable place.

On our return to the second day of work... the daylight illuminated the work that had been completed. We resumed our systems and roles refreshed and eager to  catch up (the other team had outpaced us...slightly). And of course... it didn't matter because this wasn't a competition (oh, but it did).

Kayci on the Wall
     Pause that Refreshes!
                                        Edgar & Melissa G. framing up a window.

The children of Cerro Alto had developed quite an interest in both of our teams, and we soon discovered that the non-competitive work could stand to slow a bit so that we could invest some quality play time interacting with the kids!

Within minutes, the boys were high in the trees, and our antics knew no language barrier... it seems slapstick comedy and the humor of monkeys are universal! 

 These four boys were absolutely amazing, and provided endless entertainment as we worked. When I climbed up the tree to join them, they laughed so hard that I nearly slipped and met the earth! They took great pleasure in asking me, ¿Cómo te llamas? 

Apparently, Chad is a difficult name to pronounce. It seems that it sounds very similar to a word that translates to "cheap," and they took great delight in calling me that. And then... they discovered that it also sounds like another four letter word, and for much of the week... my name was a bit... ah, unspeakable!

Even through the hilarity, and maybe even a little because of it... we soon found ourselves approaching the end of another successful day.

And again... as the sun dropped below the mountains, we found ourselves squeezing every last drop of sunlight as we packed up the site and made our second drive in the darkness through the mountain passes and on to Mimi's.

Day 3 was a punch-list day. We needed to finish an interior wall and install windows and doors, as well as receive and set up some basic furniture, supplies, and utensils. We also had some time on our hands due to a broken ignition key that gave us an that incredible, unexpected, miracle of an experience that was our Luna story (see last post).

But before all that could take place... we had three significant events: (1) The Dedication of the Home & Family, (2) The passing of the Key to the home, (3) the hanging of the cross.

This was my third experience of a final day spent with a family as we together built their house. It always starts out with a good deal of apprehension, tension, and awkwardness. It always ends with tears of gratefulness and a total emotional overload. I have stood with my hat in my hand and tears in my eyes as I listened to incredible men give thoughtful, pertinent, and eloquent speeches while an entire village listens in to hear the translated words. I stood at the steps of the house, smiling... ready to experience this for the third time.

And suddenly, the keys were in my hand, cameras were pointed, and all eyes were on me. 

I looked at the faces of these who had travelled 1800 miles with me to lay their lives open to a forever-altering experience. I noticed the difference in every face from our initial walk down that path just a few days earlier. Saw-dust now covered what had once been dirt and a house stood where a hillside had held only empty dreams.

I met the eyes of the men who had worked alongside us... men who knew the realities of these circumstances far better than a rag-tag group of gringos who would fly in with smiling faces, nice shoes, bags of candy, words of hope... and then just as quickly leave.

I turned my face up and looked into the eyes of Enoch. And I held his gaze as my mind flash-forwarded through much of my own life and the steps that brought me to this place. I wondered how I would feel if I were in his shoes. I marveled at his strength. I saw the beauty of his wife and children. I began thinking of the story of their lives from this point on... and I knew that I better begin speaking now... or I would not be able to even form a thought.

And so, with no preparation, no Bible in my hand, and with a village listening to my words... I did my best to express my thankfulness to be a part of their lives, and tell them briefly of the love of Jesus. 

Hilarious... impromptu dedication & video quality... but also immeasurable.

I have watched this video repeatedly. I am horrified by the sound of my voice, I don't like the way I hold my mouth when I form my words, and I think that I missed some great things that could have been said. Even so... the moment was made perfect by the people that were there.

We had come together to build a house, establish lasting relationships, and place footsteps in the earth that gave evidence to the fact that with all of our differences, we are exactly the same. Created in the image of God... with the same needs, facing the same choices, and given the same chance to find our way home.
John 14:2-3

 2In my Father's house are many mansions: 
f it were not so, I would have told you. 
I go to prepare a place for you.
 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, 
I will come again, and receive you unto myself; 
that where I am, 
there ye may be also.

I said a lot of goofy words about beautiful views and safety under a roof... but I did get one small nugget of truth out, and it was stolen from the dedications I'd heard before from Edgar & Fontaine... I told them that this house would meet their needs and give them comfort and safety... but it was not the reason we were here. I told them that we were here because of what God had done for us, and that He gives us all a way home.

Reminded me of a song that is dear to my upbringing...
This isn't my kin... but it might as well be. This is how I was raised.

Words & music by Ira Stamphill

                                                I'm satisfied with just a cottage below 
A little silver and a little gold 
But in that city where the ransomed will shine 
I want a gold one that's silver lined 

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop 
In that bright land where we'll never grow old 
And some day yonder we will never more wander 
But walk on streets that are purest gold 

Don't think me poor or deserted or lonely 
I'm not discouraged I’m heaven bound 
I'm but a pilgrim in search of the city 
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown 

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop 
In that bright land where we'll never grow old 
And some day yonder we will never more wander 
But walk on streets that are purest gold

I finished my prayer, and was handed a small cross that was painted by Julissa, one of the young ladies that is staying at Mimi's House. Julissa is a gifted artist, and she painted this cross that I presented to Enoch & Ruth as I nailed it to the threshold of their house. My prayer is that they look at it daily and remember the events of the powerful week we all shared. 

A week that changed all of our lives.

Team EDGAR: Melissa, Kayci, Diego, Chad, Brian,
Enoch, Ruth, Leena, & Angelina (in the snugi).
Team RAMERO: Joni, Melissa, Estephan, Cameron, Brett

Full Team: Day 1

Full Team: Departure Day

We look forward to our return.
Want to come with?


"If I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home."

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