Building a strong house for Doña Julia First Congregational UCC in Elyria, Ohio
A group of ten youth and adults from First Congregational UCC in Elyria spent five full working days battling fatigue, sore backs, the rain, the sun and the heat to build a strong house in El Salvador for Doña Julia, her daughter, her son-in-law and three grandchildren. They worked alongside Carlos, Carribina, Melly, Cesar, Cecilia, Juan, Roberto and others. Together they laid some 500 cement blocks, mixed a lot of mortar and sweated together to finally complete the 436 square foot home.
There had been almost a decade of peace in El Salvador since the UN-led peace accords were signed to end the civil war. Then, on January 13 and February 13, 2001, earthquakes hit the country. These earthquakes critically emphasized the vulnerability of the poorest communities in El Salvador, especially those sectors that even before the earthquakes were experiencing miserable housing conditions. Not only did thousands of families lose their homes and jobs, but much of El Salvador’s infrastructure-roads, schools, hospitals, churches, etc.-still recovering from the long and bloody civil war, were completely destroyed again.
So, in response to the earthquakes’ devastation, a “Post-Earthquake Construction Project” was developed by the Lutheran Church in El Salvador and by Global Ministries. Our team from First Church would build the 12th house for this project, side by side with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters in Guadalupe, a community devastated from war, then destroyed by earthquakes.
We arrived on Saturday evening in San Salvador without our baggage, which was back in Houston. On Sunday morning we worshipped at Resurrection Lutheran Church at the request of Bishop Medardo Gomez, who ten years earlier was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for his role in finally bringing peace to his country. It was a special service as we communed at this table with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters.
After worship we met with the Bishop, and he acknowledged that much has happened in his country. He recognized that our family and friends back home in Ohio probably thought we were crazy for coming to El Salvador. But he said, “People of faith do crazy things. Because you are people of faith, you have come to El Salvador. It is an answer from God to the people of El Salvador that you have come.”
As a man in our group would say after our return to the States, “It is amazing to me, thinking back how this whole trip evolved. I remember thinking back to the first time Pastor David started talking about El Salvador. I thought there were so many reasons not to go: my job situation, 9/11, the political turmoil that seems to exist in El Salvador and many other parts of the world. Even my family and friends advised against my taking my son to El Salvador. I remember telling Pastor David ‘no’ in the beginning! But ‘something’ seemed to push me to go, and now it is clear that it is because we can (and did) make a difference, not only in the people we met there, but in ourselves.”
On that Monday morning, after we finally received our luggage, we readied ourselves for what would be a long first day of work. We left San Salvador at 6:30 a.m. for the 60 mile (almost three hour) drive to Guadalupe. Soon after we arrived we would meet Donna Julia and her family, whose house we would build. That first day we would work until 6:30 p.m. (which is nightfall in Central America), working along with the men, women and children of Guadalupe to lay block and mortar.
As we walked through the rows of temporary aluminum shacks (referred to as microwaves) along the way to our work site each day, we saw proof of what Bishop Gomez said about our presence being a blessing to the 40 families (some 200 people) who call a former soccer field home until more permanent residences can be built. We all realized each day that we needed to be in El Salvador.
I think it is fair to say today that Marco Gonzalez, a Disciple of Christ from South Texas, was sad to see us leave. Marco is our Global Ministries missionary in El Salvador, overseeing the construction of 110 houses. You see, estimates show that as many as 500,000 people were left homeless from these earthquakes, and the next group from the north would not arrive until August 3. Yet, Marco is poised to help build the remaining 98 homes promised by Global Ministries, even if it takes until September 2004. Yes, it will take a lot of hard work for the church to complete the project, but it will be completed because God will send people of faith to El Salvador.