We did it. In five days, we IRONMEN from Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta built nine simple homes for nine families, some of the poorest of the poor in the world. Back again today to an area near where we have built earlier this week, an area that has been described as the fastest growing part of Guayaquil, where over 400,000 people have settled—many of them squatting in tiny makeshift shacks.

            Today we built in difficult conditions for two families, one home on a relatively steep slope, the other in a virtual jungle (sadly, no details about that family of pictures). At the sloped site, we were very near the site where the homeowner’s brother hopes to build a home, and we ended up using the auger we brought to dig nine homes for his home.

            Most all of us—if not every one of us—woke up feeling the effects of the labors of this week, but we were committed to providing homes for these families. We would like to do more. We want to do more. We wish we knew how to do more. But we remind ourselves that at the end of this week, there are nine families in homes who did not have them, this time last week. And every family has been given a replica of the Ascension Window from the Sanctuary of Peachtree Presbyterian, as a reminder of the Lord who sent us here to try and make a difference.

            We found and went to a Sports Bar this evening, where we ate dinner and struggled to understand how we could have been in such a deprived area this morning and afternoon, only to sit comfortably and watch the US Open and the Braves (believe it or not!) this evening.Sports Planet

            Tomorrow, after packing up and playing tourist a bit, we’ll board a jet and make our way home. Our prayers this week have been not only for those for whom we built, nor only for cloud cover (which came and went today), but also for our family and friends whom we look forward to seeing Saturday.

            We leave this blessed land, remembering the words of Jesus: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (LK 12.48) We may have done a little bit this week, but we will be back, and try to make a difference again.

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Our next-to-the last day of building found us under mercifully cloudy skies, with relatively cool temperatures. Odds are, it was cooler for us here than for our families back in Atlanta.

            Team Ivan built for the “Candyman’s” family—the father of this family with 3-4 children (getting information was sketchy) sells candy on the streets. The build went well, likely the easiest they have had (so they say) with the exception of being distracted by the neighborhood thief, who was not able to get anything from our guys.

            Team Gato built for Betty, a truly tragic situation. Betty is a single Mom with 5 kids, the oldest still in her arms. A native of Columbia, she escaped that country when her family was killed by guerillas. Leaving that horror—and an abusive relationship, she made her way to the north of Ecuador, where she had an aunt. Another child, and another abusive relationship followed, until she made her way to Guayaquil.

            Betty and her family have nothing. She makes “boles de verde” (fried green plantain balls with mozzarella cheese in them—which are quite good), but the family had NOTHING to eat today. We gave her what we ha—some fruit, granola bars, toys for the children, and a little money.

            Today was a sobering reminder that “there but for the grace of God go I.” We are a richly blessed people, who—if we take Scripture seriously—are “blessed to be a blessing.” The men who have taken the time out of their lives, away from their families, and interrupted their schedules have been God’s blessing to seven families so far.

            And will be to two more families tomorrow!

Today, Tuesday, June 15, began with a handful of us here in Ecuador using Skype to call in to the weekly meeting of IRONMEN at Peachtree Presbyterian, and bring them up to speed on our work here. We have built homes for five families, and today was a “day off” from building.

It was a much needed day off, as we were all feeling fatigued, and when we realized that the sun was out and shining all day long, we knew that we would have had a difficult time had we been building. We’re praying for cloud cover again tomorrow.

We spent the early morning meeting with our ministry partners, Hogar de Cristo (Homes of Christ), and learning about all the work they do–it goes beyond providing homes, to include health, schools (we visited one of the schools that Peachtree has helped, which I personally have seen change in 4 years from a bamboo hut in the middle of a field to two concrete block buildings–one added since we saw it two years ago–to being in the middle of a burgeoning neighborhood), to working to help prostitutes get off the street and find an acceptable job. While meeting with the folks at Hogar, we made Luis Taverra, their Social Services Director, and honorary IRONMAN.

After lunch and a brief down time, we played tourist, doing some shopping and seeing downtown Guayaquil. Veterans of this trip will be pleased (shocked?) to know we did the bus tour–the ENTIRE bus tour–today.

Back to building tomorrow–that’s what we came here to do!

Too close to the sun!

June 14, 2010

            The sun came out today. On an ordinary day, that sounds nice. But in Ecuador, when you are 2 degrees south of the equator, which means you are closer to the equator, which means that technically you are closer to the sun, that’s NOT a good thing. When the sun comes out here, it’s not only hot, it hurts.

            Team Ivan built for Sonia, a woman who is 46, and after working for many years as a washwoman, has such bad arthritis she cannot work anymore. She has 4 children, 2 grown, an 18 year old son who the Team said is an incredible worker, and a 10-year old. The build site was difficult, with a steep incline, but the team prevailed, passed toys out to neighborhood children, and actually made it to 2 degrees south (which we learned today is owned by Ricardo, and is named “Las Cabanas.” We prefer 2 degrees!) ahead of Team Gato. The team prayed with Sonia and her family, and gave them a replica of the Ascension window of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which is what we do for each homeowner.

            Team Gato built for Magdalena, a single mother with five children. She is a cook for a street vendor, who leaves the home at 4:50 each morning to cook, returning at noon. Only one of her children attends school, and that child’s education is supported by another church. The build site was blissfully level, but above the slab from a previous home, which meant we had to cut through concrete (when we did, hundreds of roaches escaped from under the concrete, forcing Carroll Jones to perform the “La Cucaracha” dance), and dig out former foundation posts. Magdalena was quite moved when we finished the home, complete with steps, and gave her the Ascension window replica.

            Tomorrow is a day off from building (we’re pretty fatigued, so are welcoming the break), when we’ll meet with the ministry representatives and play tourist a bit.

            Today, Sunday, June 13, 2010, we worshipped the Lord by offering ourselves as living sacrifices, seeking to serve the poorest of the poor here in Guayaquil. After breakfast, we headed out to the fastest growing part of Guayaquil, where many people are squatting and seeking to eke out a meager existence.

            We broke up into two teams today. Team Ivan (named for the maestro that leads the team) was composed of Chris Southerland, Doug Gooding, Chris Hamilton, Bill Meldram, David Bird, and Boli Alfaro (although there is some question as to whether Boli touched a tool!) Boli serves as our expert interpreter, major protector, voice of wisdom and experience, and information gatherer.

            Team Ivan built a home for a couple in their mid-thirties, Herman and Margarita. This couple has five children, and unfortunately were involved in a serious automobile accident about two months ago, with Margarita sustaining several hip fractures, and Herman receiving a head injury. Margarita’s sister is currently caring for the whole family in a tiny space with no electricity.

            Team Gato, made up of Carroll Jones, Willy Wlazlawski, Bill Schaeffer, Paul Davis, and Doug Grady and Chuck Roberts built a home for a woman named Erita who has taken in a young boy named Joel, who has Down’s Syndrome. Erita took him in because no one wanted him, and the two of them live on the $35 a month the government gives someone who cares for a child with Down’s Syndrome. Their worldly possessions are a small grill, one mattress, and a bag of clothes.

Erita and Joel's home

            We are learning that we are a richly blessed people, and at a time of worship this evening—centered around Psalm 127 and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we spent many minutes praying for the people we are privileged to serve.

            INJURY UPDATE: Ivan cut his thumb using the saw yesterday, and is under the expert care of “Dr. Schaeffer.” Gato has a bum shoulder from a fall (about 20 feet?) a couple of weeks ago on a build site. Other than that, no one has anything worse than a scratch. Chuck’s shoulder injury is an old one aggravated in January this year—the orthopedic said “there’s obviously been some abuse here,” to which Lib (Chuck’s wife) replied, “Years of abuse!” We’re all doing well, and enjoying watching the World Cup in the evenings.

            Yes—we DID stop at “2 degrees south” this afternoon.

            Tomorrow: 2 more homes to build!

Day 1–Norma’s home

June 13, 2010

 The “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 men who flew from Atlanta to Guayaquil, Ecuador on Friday, June 11, 2010, arrived with no trouble, on schedule, with all luggage and necessary papers. We were settled into our rooms at the Schoenstaat Retreat Center by midnight, and rested well.

  Saturday, we were restless early, and devoured a breakfast of eggs and bread with cheese, cereal (served not with milk, but with liquid yogurt), and headed out. After a stop at a store–somewhat like an American Super WalMart–where we picked up some tools and water (as well as a few snacks, as we will not eat lunch when we build), we were at the build site and getting started around 11:30.

  Norma is a pleasant woman of indeterminate age, who is caring for her mentally challenged daughter and that daughter’s children. There was no male figure in the picture, beyond a son and a cousin who presented himself to be a very hard worker as he helped us. We had to demolish and remove a good bit of the previous home, then fight incredibly rocky soil as we dug holes for the nine posts that support the home. This home was the highest I have been involved in over four years of building–the floor was a good 7 or 8 feet off the ground, which will allow the family to later enclose the ground floor for more living space, or a small business. We prevailed through the tough conditions, and gathered to celebrate and pray with the family around 4:30.

  We stopped as usual at “2 Degrees South”, the little cantina we frequent after our builds, and had an ice cold cerveza with many of the locals who had come to watch a soccer match on TV. Then it was back to Schoenstaat for a shower and dinner, and reflection on the day. The question for the evening was “Where did you see God today?” and the vast majority of answers dealt with the delight in the faces of children who–despite living in poverty–find pleasure in the simplest things, and seem to benefit from having strong, secure male figures around. The vast–VAST–majority of families here have no men who can be counted on.

In just a few hours, 12 men will gather at the International Concourse at Atlanta Airport, ready to fly to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where over five days of work, we will build homes for nine families in the slums that lie around the city. These homes are nothing grand by any stretch of the imagination–but factor this in. Imagine living in a one-bedroom apartment; you and your family, your sister and her family, and me and my family. By scrimping and saving, by everyone in the family working, you have managed to claim title to a small parcel of property–or maybe you have squatted there for three years (which means you legally own the land) in a makeshift shack of wood, cardboard, and tin. Hogar de Cristo (Homes of Christ) has approved you for a home (more than a house, a home).

  The 12 of us–IRONMEN–show up, in somewhere between three and four hours, build a simple home for you. Nine posts in the ground to elevate the home, a floor, walls of split bamboo, a roof of corrugated tin, two windows and a door. Sure, there is no electricity or plumbing, but it’s home. The owners often “pirate” electricity from nearby wires, and plumbing simply does not happen. There are no municipal services in the areas where we build, so large water trucks drive around honking thier horn, alerting people they are there if they want to buy some water.

We’ll build one home on Saturday, all twelve of us together, along with the guidance of our two “maestros” (teacher, basically a master carpenter who works for Hogar) Gato and Ivan. Sunday we will divide into two teams, and build two homes; we’ll do that again on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. God willing, by Thursday afternoon, we will have put nine homes together for the families.

My own “sound bite” for the trip is that “We’ll work hard, have fun, and change nine families lives for generations to come.”

Just when I thought it was safe, the news from last week’s MRI came in this week. Let’s see if I can capture it all correctly;

  Possible partial tear of the rotator cuff, definite bone spur on the collarbone causing inpingement of the shoulder as well as inflammation of the bursa sac, slap tear of the bicep tendon, and adhesive capsulitis (which is commonly known as “frozen shoulder syndrome.” The good news is that my orthopaedic is convinced this can be corrected without surgery. The bad news is that it takes cortisone injections, powerful anti-inflammatories, Tylenol, and copious visits to the physical terrorist (sorry, Amy.)

  All this a week before leaving for Guayaquil, Ecuador, along with eleven other men, to partner with a local Catholic ministry there called Hogar de Cristo, where we will build nine homes for the poorest of the poor–in five days.

  The home here was from last year’s trip; we built it for Lucy, a single mother with 11 (yes, eleven) children, ranging from early 20s to an infant.

Watch this blog during the days June 11-18, and follow our progress!