Well; we’re back home now (with the exception of Fitz, who had to fly from Guayaquil through Quito to get to a business meeting in England, but he will be home tomorrow), we have begun the process of recovering from a long, hard week, laundry should be clean by now, and we have enjoyed a couple of non-submarine showers.
For the uninitiated, a “submarine shower” is when you get in the shower, get wet, and turn the water off. Soap up, turn the water on and rinse off. Repeat if needed (trust me, in Ecuador, we needed it!)
We’ve had something other than stale bread and peanut butter, along with sliced fruit, for breakfast. And that night’s sleep in our own bed . . .
But for we who were in Ecuador as a part of the mission trip this year, many images remain, and will so, for a long time.
The last day we went out to build, we were just down the street from one another. Gato’s back was still bugging him, so Pepe was back with us again. Team Gato built for Angela, a 39-year old single Mom, her 22 year-old daughter Sara (and her baby), and Angela’s two other children, Matthias (4) and Rumina (2). They were living in an 8-year old Hogar de Cristo home that had not been cared for, and was in great disrepair. Angela with stained glass window The children lived in the space beneath the home—mattresses on the ground. Their new home went in, about six inches separating it from the old home. Fortunately, we did not have to worry about setbacks or zoning variances. Digging through the drain field of their latrine to put two of the posts in the ground, however, was a different story. (The week’s best quote, thanks to Eric Edee, “Don’t eat the dirt,” was oft used.)
Team Ivan built for Maritza (49) and her children Kevin (7) and Christo (17). Maritza works about four days a week as a maid. Christo looks so small for a 17-year old due to malnutrition. But to show what character this young man has, Scott MacKenzie gave him a Powerbar, and he went down the street where some little girls were, and carefully divided it so that they all shared it—he did not eat it all himself.
Maritza family with Team

Showered and well-fed, we packed up and loaded up, and headed for the airport. The trip home was uneventful (if only the trip down had been so!), just mostly sleepless, so we all arrived home pretty tired. But we are home, in spacious, clean, air-conditioned homes, where we have more food than we need, and most anything we want, we can get without trouble. We have great transportation, well-stocked stores, and amazing support systems. All that is more than can be said for the families for whom we built, and there are thousands more—THOUSANDS—that need help.
We did not get to meet with the leadership of Hogar de Cristo this year; we do not know what happened, but the meeting simply did not take place. We heard that the Vice Minister of Housing for Ecuador met with them right before our arrival, and was allowing Hogar to continue their ministry of providing homes for the poorest of the poor, recognizing that Hogar is meeting a need that the government is not able to meet. So keep them in your prayers!
Sitting in the airport Tuesday night waiting to board the plane, Tim Adams commented well: “There were more than nine families whose lives were changed this week.” I looked at him, and he looked around at the group of guys who had just spent a week of their lives and cherished vacation on the trip. Well said. All of us who were there have had our lives changed, as well. May God continue to work in our lives!

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Most of us live in a world in which a nice, sunny day, is a good thing. But when you are two degrees south of the equator, and you are working outside in the heat (and the A/C in the van you’re riding in has died), a sunny day is not a good thing.
Despite our best prayers for cloud cover, and a weather forecast for a pretty good chance of rain, we had a very sunny day today. Did I say very? I meant VERY sunny day. We also switched venues, from building homes in the area around the city of Daule (about 45 minutes north of Guayaquil), back to the community of Mt Sinai, an area that the city of Guayaquil annexed a few years ago, and which is rather close to the offices and compound of Hogar de Cristo, our ministry partner. We drove to HdC and met our maestros, with an added surprise of an old friend and maestro Pepe; he was coming along to help out team Gato, as Gato is still hurting from the back he hurt on Saturday—but not enough to hold him back from being with us.
One treat we enjoyed while we were at the Hogar compound was their flavored soy milk. Several years ago, Hogar started a side business making soy milk, after some visiting nurses from Brigham Young University found alarming rates of anemia in schoolchildren. It turns out that many children only eat when they are at school, and when the kids come to school on Monday mornings, they are famished and fainting. By adding soy milk to the school offering, not only are children getting added nutrition, they are also finding a way to decrease the anemia that is so rampant. We all grabbed a bottle and guzzled it down (we are getting virtually no protein at breakfast, and desperately need it—this helped, just a little.)
Then we headed to the build sites, dropping Team Ivan first, to build for an incredibly grateful and affectionate family (most of the guys got “double-cheek-kisses” from everyone in the family when the build was finished. Maria a single mom, has three children (18, 12, and 11), and helps to care for her 76 year old mother, with some help from her brothers (they are all in this picture). They survive—barely—on the $50 a month stipend from the government, and the occasional $15 that her son can bring in from sporadic work. Maria del Rose family & home
It took about another 45 minutes to get Team Gato to their site, after several twisty turny roads, washouts, and virtual rivers deterred the truck. Here they built for Julia, another single mom and her for children (15, 14, 10, and 4), but Julia has a bit better chance of “making it,” as her father, Rodolfo, is in the picture, and when he can find work as a plumber, can bring in up to $300 a month. When that does not happen, they “survive” on the $50 a month from the government. Julia and her family
Hard to believe, but we will head out tomorrow to build two more homes for two more families, then we will pack up and catch flights that will bring us back home. We ended this evening with a long-anticipated dinner at the Steak House, where we dined and laughed, and celebrated. Five men were inducted into the “Order of the Clavo Pequeno,” (the Little Nail—these were the Rookies on the trip); five others, who have been before, were inducted into the “Order of the Clavo Grande” (Big Nail); and Chris Southerland and Bill Schaeffer were inducted into the newly formed (as all these are) “Order of the Clavo Grande de Oro” (Big Gold Nail)—as they have participated in so many trips, blessing so many families. Boli Alfaro was presented an award with a Gold Nail, for Exemplary Service, for his vision, prayers, tireless work, and passion for the poor of this country.
The real end of the evening came when we returned to Schoenstaat Retreat Center, and celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remembering the ultimate sacrifice made for us all.
“One day more,” as the song From Les Miserables goes—but two more homes to build. Keep us in your prayers as we seek to serve, in Jesus’ name!

Some Days . . .

June 8, 2014

Some days just don’t turn out the way you hope they will. But then again, maybe they do.

Our day began today as it did yesterday, with a simple breakfast, then piling into the van for the 45 +/- drive to the town of Daule, where we have been working this week. While yesterday we were working next door to one another, today turned out differently. We arrived at a build site, where one of the men we work with, Gato, waved “his team” over. We piled out of the van, as the other team (Ivan’s team) headed somewhere else. We’d enjoyed being together yesterday, and separation today was a disappointment.
Team Ivan built in an incredibly tight spot, but as the family they were building for—really only a couple, Guillermo (80) and Maria Teresa (78) are old enough, their build was only about three feet off the ground. The site was so tight, sandwiched between walls, and so gravelly and rocky, however, the augers were unusable. But this team prevailed for this couple who survive—if you can call it that, with no income, and only one meal a day, either provided by or made and delivered by their daughter who lives nearby. No job, Guillermo is unable to work (at 80, one would think SHOULD he?!), survive is the best they can do.
Team Gato had a seemingly nicer build site, next to a pond and marsh, but the site was terribly rock-filled, making sinking the nine posts that must go into the ground to support every home very difficult. Matters were made worse, when Gato turned funny to grab a piece of lumber, and blew out his back. The team was sidelined for the better part of an hour until he was able to operate again, and it took some time before he was moving with any ease. Clemente (75) and Anna (38, believe it or not!), similar to the other couple, have no work, but they have a $50 government stipend they receive every month, and have a sister-in-law nearby who looks in on them.Guillermo and Maria family
The team had to leave the site unfinished (but with Gato and Ivan and two Hogar de Cristo interns there) putting finishing touches on the stairs, as the delay was allowing dusk to move in, and we have been warned by Anna that there was a dengue fever risk from mosquitos in the pond. We parted, with stern words to Gato to rest tomorrow so he can join us again on Monday.
Chuck with Anna & Clemente  family
We wrapped the night up with a trip to Sports Planet, a restaurant we found about four years ago that we frequent every year. But even that experience, as similar as it is to one we would have in the States, is in sharp contrast to the experiences we have had building the last two days. We have been hungry, but we get more than one meal a day, and often we leave food on our plates, when others wish for another spoonful (or more). We have worked to the point of exhaustion, but we rest behind solid, secure walls, in the comfort of air conditioning. We shower daily, while those we build for may have a sponge bath now and then.
We debriefed last night, and talked some about the call of Abraham (Genesis 12.1-9), and were reminded that we are blessed—not by God so we can feel secure and comfortable, but we are blessed to be a blessing. We hope to be able to do that for the families we build for this week.
Tomorrow will be a day off to let our bodies recover to be ready for two more days of building. We’ll play tourist, and take it easy, but only so others can be further blessed.

There is an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child” (sorry, but Hillary Clinton did not coin it, nor her ghostwriter; they merely capitalized on it.) Today, the men on our mission trip proved that it takes a team to build a community.
We returned today to the exact same build site where we were yesterday. Team Gato (Steve Ike, Ed Easterlin, Will Thomason, Doug Grady and Fitz Wickham—oh, yeah, and me) built for a small family, Katarina and Hamilton, and their three children (6, 3, and 2.) Katarina is actually the older daughter of Vincento, for whom we built yesterday. Here is a picture of the structure where they have been living.Katarina's home

Hamilton works as a furniture refinisher, but only when he can find work, which is not that often. Katarina told us that she does not know how much money he makes, or what they have, she merely asks him for money to buy food. When they have no money, they eat one of the chickens they own. Let’s hope the chickens keep replicating—but even more, that their income stream increases. Their home is literally right behind Vincento’s home, and we saw him a good bit today as we built.
Team Ivan (Chris Southerland, Bill Schaeffer, Jamie Bardin, Scott MacKenzie, Eric Edee, and Tim Adams) built for Norma Moran, a 70-year old woman, her son Danny (whom we met yesterday, and who is missing his left arm), and Danny’s daughter (I think) Iliana, a pretty 13-year old girl. This home is right next to Hamilton and Katarina’s home, so the teams worked next to one another all day, teasing and goading one another as the day went on. Norma told us that the only income they have comes from Danny’s sporadic work as a “recycler;” in Ecuador this means that he prowls the streets and collects trash that can be recycled, taking it to a recycling center, and on a good day he makes about $2.00 a day. And there are not many good days.
One of the humbling realities comes at the end of the builds, when we have finished, and we “present” the homes to the families. We give them a small replica of the stained glass Ascension Window at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, and remind them that the home is a gift from God, not from us. We thank them for the privilege of serving in the name of Jesus, and along with the home, give them a food basket that provides them with many, many meals. It is fascinating to watch these families, whose faces express not only the joy of having a home, but the humble acceptance of the home and a chance for a better life. Many times, the men (when they are a part of the family—often we build for single moms) cry, a remarkable reality in this culture.

Presentation to Norma and Danny

Presentation to Katarina and Hamilton
Then the toys and gift come out for the children, and joy starts all over again! Tonight we will all sleep well, the guys who missed out on building yesterday got their chance today—we’re all tired, but humbled, and grateful for the chance to serve these people, in Jesus’ name.
And we’ll be back at it tomorrow!
Here is the “village we built today: what you can’t see is Vincento’s home.
The village we built

Wednesday evening, as Boli Alfaro, Chris Southerland (and our driver Samuel) were eating dinner, I received a text that let me know that the team of men–ten guys–headed to Ecuador to join us for our build trip–were delayed in Miami. Long story short, after several delays, they were told to disembark the aircraft, and that they would be spending the night in Miami. There was a mechanical problem with the aircraft (which was never explained), and their departure was moved from 6:55, to 7:30. To 8:00. Then 8:20, then 8:00 Thursday morning.

Thanks to modern communication, we were talking with them, texting, and tracking updates on an app. So the question became what to do, given the expectation that the earliest they would arrive and be ready to head out to work was 12:30/1:00.

Chris and I decided to head out as early as possible, meet our maestros (master carpenters) Ivan and Gatos, whom we have worked with for seven years, and see what we could get done. We left Schoenstaat around 8:00 AM, about the time the team left Miami. Delivered to the build site in Daule, a city some distance from Guayaquil, we met Gato and Ivan, and started work around 9:15. Here is the “before” picture:

Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We built for Vincento, an older gentlemen who was with us much of the day. He is 75, and has three children–11, 13, and 15, and his wife has left him, because she was younger and she did not like being with an old man. He works when he can, and makes do with that and government handouts.

Geez. Imagine being 75, and having three (almost) teenagers to raise on your own. The good news is that he has an older daughter who lives next to him, who we will build for tomorrow. She can help him. Hopefully more about that situation tomorrow.  Hut Vincent is a good man, and a faithful Christian, very humble and appreciative of what we have done for him. Here is the “after” picture, Chris and Chuck with Vincent, holding the replica of the stained glass Ascension Window from Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which we give each homeowner. Happy Vincento

It was a hot day, with the sun blazing intermittently, and Chris and I, along with Ivan and Gato, worked nonstop-without a break. Guzzling water and Gatorade (we call it GATO-rade), we finished the home between 2:00 and 2:30. In the meantime, the team had landed, processed through Passport and Customs, dropped bags at Schoenstaat and grabbed a quick lunch there, before heading out to Daule-just in time to find us enjoying an almost-cool Pilsner, relaxing after a long hard day.

But a good day. It was not what we planned, as we’d expected to have the entire team to help with the build, but as Steinbeck said, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” Lord willing, we’ll be back on track tomorrow, building two homes.

Boots on the Ground

June 4, 2014

Today is Wednesday, June 4; as I type, there are eleven men headed south to Guayaquil, Ecuador, who by the time Wednesday turns into Thursday, will all be settled in their beds in Guayaquil, anticipating the first day of our building with Hogar de Cristo this year, This is the seventh year that IRONMEN will partner with this ministry, building simple bamboo homes for some of the poorest of the poor in this country, maybe even this world.

I arrived here last night with Boli Aviles-Alfaro, a former native of this town, whose great-grandfather was once the President of this grand country. Boli and I have been meeting todayImage to make sure all the kinks are worked out for our endeavors, and were comforted to learn from our friend Patty that our two trusted “maestros” Ivan and Gatos will be able to work with us again this year. We will build one home tomorrow, then sometime before Friday’s breakfast, we’ll be divided into two teams and build two homes on Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday (before catching a red-eye back home Tuesday night.)

We have eyeballed the gas powered augers we will use on each build, assessed the tools we needed, bought tools, copious amounts of water and Gatorade (pronounced GATO-rade for those who work with Gato!) Now it’s time for the men to arrive so we can get to work.

Boli and I did get a chance to have a traditional breakfast this morning at Senora Tere, a long-time Guayaquil eatery, started by and still run by an old family friend of Boli’s. We did not see her today, but did get a visit with Boli’s brother Chom, who lives here and is a great supporter of our work.

Image

Keep us in your prayers–the work will be hard, the weather hot (we’re 2 degrees south of the Equator), but the families deserving and grateful for our contributions. Boli has been fighting a wicked case of sciatica, but by the grace of God it is getting better every day, and he is here, “large and in charge!”

I hope to post updates each evening after our work is done, adding photos of the families we build for. Stay tuned!