Sometimes the reality of human need is simply almost overwhelming.

            IRONMEN began the day with a 7:00 breakfast, and headed to the parking lot to meet our van and truck at 7:45. As they made their way out, they were greeted with the music of Les Miserables, “One Day More.” There was one day more to build, and after a week of hard, hot, physical labor, we were dragging. The sky was clear, not a good sign when one is working two degrees south of the equator.

            We slathered on the sunscreen and bug spray (neither melanoma nor malaria are desired), and headed out.

            Team Ivan was the first out of the truck, and it was no simple task. The build required the removal of several large (subterranean) rocks, but at the end of the day, it was a task well served. The new homeowner, Consuela, has three children-the eldest, Emma, has severe Down’s Syndrome; she spends her time on a foam rubber mat. The family has only a lean-to, and no roof; when it rains, they hand plastic to seek shelter.

            Today, they have a home—a roof, walls, doors, windows, and a floor. Grace was shown in majestic ways as these men accepted a task with the grace and love of Jesus Christ,

            In similar fashion, Team Gato faced a daunting build, with a limestone shelf forming one entire side of the build. The gas powered augers we have brought dow2n in years past-and which were serviced this year-simply can not cut through rock, and we pretty well managed to wreck them this year trying to help people.

            Team Gato was building for Juanna, a smiling women with three sons; Osbaldo, the middle son, is severely physically and mentally retarded. Like Emma, Osbaldo spends his time lying on a bed. When the build was finished, his brother picked him up and carried him out for a picture.

            It is easy for we who live in the lap of luxury-with safe, well-equipped homes, every need provided, and most wants as well, to be blind to the deep human need in the majority part of the world. In reality, if you are reading this, you are likely in the top three percent of the world’s economy. Maybe you have times when there is more month than there is money, but odds are, you wrestle with losing weight more than you do with where your next meal will come from. Water flows from pipes; it is not transported from trucks to a 55 gallon barrel a hundred yards from your home. You have a spacious bathroom when others bathe from a bucket, and have an outhouse.

            In the name of Jesus, these thirteen men have done what they could to help nine families, to smile and serve in the name of Jesus, to stretch themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.

            Oh, yes-we have laughed. We have become friends; we are now a part of a growing fraternity that shares Hogar, Guayaquil, Schoenstaat, and 2 degrees south as common experiences. We have enjoyed one another, but we have been deeply moved by what we have seen, smelled, heard, and done.

            We will return home tomorrow evening. And we will want very much to come back and do this again. It hurts, it is hard, there is sacrifice involved, but believe me, it is darn well worth it.

            “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it for me.” (MT 25.40).

            Today, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, began rather auspiciously, as shortly after our return from the Steak House last night (where we did not really eat an obscene amount of beef, but one IRONMAN did admit to me today that he had overdone it last night), the power went out here at Schoenstaat. That’s a first, and we learned why Boli has encouraged everyone to bring a flashlight.

            By the way, yesterday was the 170th anniversary of the birth of Boli’s grandfather, Eloy Alfaro, who was once the president of Ecuador, and whose service and legacy are revered to this day.

            Mercifully, Schoenstaat is in an industrial area, and thus we were without power for only about 45 minutes.

            We headed out to work today for two different families. Team Ivan built a home for a nuclear family; Jose Luis (who is the father, but was absent all day as he was at work, selling water on the streets. This is such a prevalent work for this year’s homeowners, I will try and get a picture and post it of one of these workers) and Herlinda and their four children, ranging in age from 28 to 18 (I’m confident they are not all in the home). This was an incredibly tight build, blocked in by fence line and another home, complicated by a great deal of rock that impeded setting the posts for the home. Add to that the fact that there was a duck nesting on her eggs which no doubt caused SPCA and other agencies to oversee construction.

            Rest assured that this team worked faithfully and hard, wisely turned down plates of arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) when offered, and finished in time to enjoy a cerveza while waiting for the other team.

            Team Gato built a home in a wide open space on top of a hill, with a great view in all directions, over the site of a home that had burned down. Fernanda Mendoza, a 25-year old single mother with two darling daughters (aged 6 & 3), is a proud woman, with no man in the picture, and no job. The home is truly a gift to her. She prevailed upon the team to add a fence of bamboo, and midway through the build requested a change order, asking that the partition in the middle of the house be moved. Recalling Luis’ words yesterday, we smiled and accomplished the task.

            Curiously, next door to Fernanda is a single Dad, likely in his 30’s, with four children and no job. We agreed that he is indeed a true IRONMAN.          

            Our plan had been to go to the Malecon (the park along the Guayas River downtown and enjoy a stroll, but a late day and fatigued men decided to defer this. Dinner will thus be earlier tonight than planned, and sleep will likely do the same.

            We rise tomorrow to build the last of our planned homes-assuming we are successful, that will bring our total this year to nine families housed.

            Soli Deo Gloria-To God Alone the Glory!

            Today, Monday, we have the day off from building homes (of course, if you read Sunday’s entry you know that a home is being constructed today for Sara, by our friends Ivan and Gato). As typical men, we would “soldier on” if we were building today, but a day to let stiff and sore muscles rest and heal is a welcome reality.

            So instead of working our backs, we worked our minds today. We met with Luis Tavarra, the Social Director of Hogar de Cristo. Luis is a former Jesuit Priest, who has a passion for the poor. He shared with us all that HdC does, not only here in Guayaquil, but throughout Ecuador.

            HdC has it’s roots in Chile in 1945, when a Jesuit Priest, on a cold rainy night, encountered a feverish man shivering. He gave him his coat and invited him to come along to find help. In seconds, the man disappeared—not run away, but simply vanished. Fr. Alberto Hurtado knew than that he had encountered the living Christ, and was called to make a difference in the lives of the poor. From that surprising beginning has grown Hogar de Cristo.

            It came to Ecuador in 1970, and there are currently 4 factories in 4 different cities that create 61 home kits each day (in total, not at each site). HdC thus houses around 150,000 families each year in Ecuador alone.

            Other ministries they are involved with include microlending, working with around 1500 communal banks of 10 to 15 women each. The communal banks first work with trained graduates of the program, who function as social workers, to build up the self esteem of the women (the lending is ONLY to women-men would squander the money, while women invest in their families and communities), and then help the women plan for success. The default rate of the loans is .97%.

            In te area where we are working and building homes, called the perimetral area (outside the perimeter of Guyaquil—we joked about building “OTP”), HdC operates 5 health centers for the approximately 470,000 people who live in the area.

            There are 23 primary schools in this area, serving the population of children. Few teachers are trained, most are simply high school graduates, who are fortunate to have been able to advance that far. Only about 6% of students are able to go “off” (into the city) to High School, and only 2% make it to college.

            In these schools, roughly 1200 children are fed breakfast daily, a soy roll (which we had and was quite tasty), and soy milk (ditto), which are working to reduce what was discovered to be severe anemia some years ago. Since the introduction of fortified soy milk, the incidence of anemia has dropped nearly 50%. In schools where, for one reason or another, HdC is unable to provide this breakfast, anemia is rising.

            Committed to protecting and helping women, HdC also runs the only shelter for abused women on the Ecuadorian coast. We were shocked to learn that while the number one cause of death in women in Ecuador is cancer, the #2 cause is spousal murder. This shelter can house 125 people, to include children (girls to 18, boys to 12). The shelter offers medical and psychological help to the women, and runs a day care so they can get out to look for and benefit from work.

            HdC also has a “materials bank” where local industries give surplus materials, which people use to improve their homes; a process of offering water filters (the primary source of disease here as in many places is water borne illness); a fish farm (tilapia and a freshwater shrimp); and jobs for former sex workers to give them the opportunity to get out of that industry.

            To show that Luis puts his feet where his heart is, he lives in a bamboo home next to the soy milk plant with his wife and daughter. He is truly a man of faith, of passion, and devotion, and we all are impressed with this man.

            A bit of rest this afternoon, then off to the artisanal market for some shopping, then it’s off to the steak house for dinner. If this year proves to be like last year’s, we’ll eat close to an entire cow.

            Back to building tomorrow. As we do so, it is with Luis’ words ringing in our ears: people look to us to see us smile, because when we do that, they see the love of Christ.

The plan today was to build two more homes. The plan did not work out the way we hoped.

  When we arrived at the first build site, after a terrifficly steep drive, we found what our leader Boli termed an “untenable situation.” There was a home that was to be demolished, which had not been done. And the site was contaminated with the remains of “fecal incontinence.” As Boli pointed out, just a little bit of airborne “stuff,” and we’d be laid down, if not in the hospital. We reluctantly left the site, begrudginly, frustrated that we were not following through on our commitment. That was mitigated, as Gato stayed at the site with a volunteer from Spain (Julian), to demo the house. They joined us later.

To compound things, we learned that the intended (and eventual) homeowner, Sara, has advanced MS, fecal incontinence, and some other health issues. She has NO means of support, and two children to boot. In an interesting turn, the community that lives around her arranged for her to get the Hogar home. They advocated for her, and made the commitment to get the site cleaned after the demo today. It is the community that brings her food, and essentially keeps her alive, at the age of 32. Tomorrow, on our day off from building (we will spend a good bit of the day learning more about Hogar and their broader ministries), Gato and Ivan will install the home in our stead; so Sara and her family WILL have a home.

We were able to stop by where Sara is staying temporarily, and present her with the Cross and Ascension window, and pray with her and her family.

The other site was a challlenge, as well. Sandwiched tightly between atwo fence lines, a brick home and a block outhouse, it was a challenge. But with both teams working on this one build, we managed to squeeze the home in and get it built. The homeowner, Maria, is building on land that her mother (also named Maria) has given her–Maria the senior is the owner of the brick home, which had a stove, washer and dryer, and all tings considered, was a relatively nice home.

Maria the daughter did not smile a lot today, despite the fact that she was receiving a home. Mother Maria was not present, as she got a call that she had work today (she is a shrimp cleaner.)

Maria the daughter works downtown, selling bottled water, soda, and candy on the streets. She also has AIDS. This was discovered when she gave birth to her second child, and is also when her husband abandoned her. Yet she is there, she now has a home near family, and she is doing what she can to provide for her family.

We consider it a privilege to be here, to be doing wht we are, and to be the hands, feet, and smile of Jesus.



We’ll play tourist a bit tonight, having dinner at a sports bar that we discovered a couple of years ago. Tomorrow, as I said, we will meet with the Hogar leadership, and play tourist some more.

When we start building at noon, and the skies are clear, and the sun beats down on two degrees south of the Equator, work is hard, and it takes a tremendous amount out of us. Friday night, I think this team all went to bed earlier than normal, especially for a Friday night.

            Saturday morning was a different story; breakfast at 7:00, in the van at 7:30, and at the first home site around 8:30. Interesting that when we arrived at it, neither Ivan nor Gato (the “maestros,” or master carpenters we work with every year, and whom we have come to know and really appreciate), were interested in getting out of the truck. We ordinarily let them choose between them who will work where, and it was a bit disconcerting when neither stepped up. Finally, Gato crawled out of the truck, which meant that team (Glenn Cartledge, Don Searing, Alex Gibson, David Bird Steve Ike, and me) were on the job.

            We built for Rosa and Alexandro, a nice couple of indeterminate age. They have five children between 29 and 9, and are raising one of their grandchildren as well. Rosa makes a living doing washing and ironing, and is occasionally called by a family in the city to work for them, meaning in a good week she makes $25. Alexandro is disabled, having injured his back some time ago, and is effectively immobile. Their oldest son, 29, is a street vendor, selling bottled water, and is on occasion able to give some money to his parents. In this home live the couple, three children, and four grandchildren.

            The build went fairly well, no real problems, and we finished it with a wee bit of energy, thanked the family for the privilege of serving them, then gave them one of the Easter Crosses from a couple of years ago, along with a replica of the stained glass window at Peachtree Presbyterian (we do this for every home we build).

            Team Ivan (Chris Southerland, John Snodgrass, Bill Schaeffer, Mike Elting, Joe Ellis, and Doug Grady) left us, and moved to their build site, where they constructed a home for Nellie and her husband Jaime. Jaime was not at the build, as he has a job driving one of the potable water trucks that prowl the areas where we build. There is absolutely no infrastructure in these outlying areas, electricity is a miracle (that is vampired on a regular basis), and with no plumbing, these trucks drive around pumping water into 55 gallon drums at the homes.

            The build went well for this family that also includes four children between 17 and three. Nellie is a fiercely proud lady who is delighted to move out of her dilapidated shack of a home behind where this home was constructed; as dilapidated as it was on the outside, and even with the sagging floors, it was a neat, well-kept home, and as the team was leaving, one of the children was sweeping out the new home in anticipation of moving in.

            After a stop at out usual watering hole, where we were surprised by a rain shower (quite unusual for this time of year), we made a stop to restock out water and Gatorade supply (you would be stunned at the amount of fluids we consume daily), had a good debriefing session after cleaning up, and ate a dinner of cannelloni, rice and vegetables.

            Looks like tonight is movie night, and the guys are watching an educational film about the evils of gambling. It’s called Casino Royale.

            We will worship with our hands tomorrow, building again before we worship with our hearts and have Communion.

Day 1 in Ecuador 2012

June 23, 2012

Good old hard work. That’s what happened today, as the baker’s dozen IRONMEN rose late (breakfast at 8:00), headed out into Guayaquil to purchase supplies (amazing how we have come to know where the hammers, saws, bungee cords, etc are; not to mention water, Gatorade, and snacks) before heading out to a build site. It was about 12:30 when we arrived at the location, at the top of a ridge. It was a treacherous drive, which at one point forced us out of the vehicles (steep dropoff into an aquaduct on one side, steep bluff on the other, in between, hard-packed dirt with DEEP ruts). Fortunately it was only about a half-mile hike to the site, if even that much. We built a home today for Francisco and Marta. They have owned a Hogar home before, but it had been disassembled, and we were building in front of that site. Suffice it to say that the ground was ROCKY. It was really hard boring holes through the stony soil, and that task alone—getting nine holes about 31 inches deep dug and the posts to support the home placed in them—darn near sapped the strength of us all. But we pushed on, and by about 4:30, we had completed the home. Francisco and Marta have six children; the oldest, a 20-year old daughter, has an infant of her own. One child, a boy named Eloise (?!) has some severe problems; born with club feet which were backward, three surgeries have corrected that problem (somewhat) so that he can walk, but at six he has yet to be toilet trained, and by observation, one can tell he faces other challenges. Please pray for the family! After a cerveza at 2 Degrees South, we returned to Schoenstaat Retreat Center where Nieves served a meal of chicken, potatoes, rice, and succotash. After debriefing, we’re ready to settle in for the night!

But I jolly well better get that way!

Twenty four hours from the time of writing this, I will be at the airport ready to board a flight that will result in landing me and my companions (12 other men) in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we will spend a week building homes for some of the poorset of the poor in the world.

I will be making posts each day while we are there, hopefully adding pictures of the homes we build with the families who will live in them.

In the meantime, I have a few errands to run . . .

The Meaning of D-Day

June 6, 2012

As I sit and write this, it is fifty-eight years since Operation Overlord (the title given the massive operation we have come to know as D-Day) commenced. You can look elsewhere for the statistics to see how many were involved, how many died, and what all it took to begin this massive push to free the European continent.

I was privileged a few years ago to visit Nornamdy, and to tour the batttlegrounds of D-Day with active duty paratroopers from the U.S., Great Britian, France, Germany, and Italy. At each battle site, we were briefed on what took place at that location, how long the battle lasted, how many lives were lost, and what the lessons to be learned for today’s military might be. Suffice it to say that the wars and battles being fought today are markedly different from what “The Greatest Generation” engaged.

There were also men with us on that tour who were a part of the operations of D-Day. With each passing year, their numbers grow smaller, and in a sense, our nation pride diminishes. They are the men who, as boys, did what few today would do: they signed on for a war to fight wrong, not just another country.

And they won. We need to remember what they did, and what they won for we who were not born then.

But D-Day has another meaning, at least for me. Nine years ago tonight, my parents crawled into bed and turned out the lights. Some time later, around 11:30, Dad rolled out of bed; Mom assumed he was headed to the bathroom, when she heard him hit the floor. He did not get up. She got out of bed and walked around to him, and held him in her arms through the night. Just a little shy or their 58th wedding anniversary, she was unwilling to let him go.

We did not ask for an autopsy, as that would have revealed little, if anything. But we gathered a few days later in the church where Mom and Dad raised us, and said good-bye to a man who exemplified charater, integrity, and strength. Dad never stood out in a crowd. He worked hard and faithfully, did what was asked of him (and more), put three kids through college, buried one of them (my older brother died from cancer eight years before Dad), and loved my Mother with a passionate, unwavering, quiet devotion.

Exactly one month after D-Day, Dad walked across Omaha Beach to serve the U.S. Army. A few days later, leading his platoon into battle, he was shot, and captured, by the German Army. He spent the next ten months as “a guest of the German Army,” as he used to put it.

Grover Charles Roberts was not an American hero. But he was, and remains, my hero. The flag given to Mom at Dad’s death, along with the medals he was awarded as a soldier, adorn the wall in my office at home, and I see them daily, grateful for the man.

To me, D-Day means “Dad’s Day.”

Here’s to you, Dad.