Tuesday, October 20

From cornstalks to cinder blocks: A week in Guatemala

I like my creature comforts.

When I watch TV, it's on a comfy, reclining sofa. I cuddle under a blanket that smells of Tide, and sip a drink from the cupholder on the couch. I surf through any number of channels and often settle on the ones that show me how to make my comfortable home even better. (They suck me in every time!)

The hum of a well-stocked fridge fills the kitchen next to our living room. My kids are in their own rooms, on their own beds, surrounded by too many of their own things. There are two cars in my driveway and three computers in the house.

Blessings galore. I am incredibly grateful.

I was just in Guatemala for a week. I was in Antigua, with a dear friend, to build a house in a nearby village for a family in need via an organization called From Houses to Homes. Antigua is a bubble - a beautiful, internationally protected historical site that is the foodie capital of Guatemala.

It sits in the valley of the "water volcano" and is known for its brightly colored homes, cobblestone streets, and seemingly infinite number of churches and ruins. Tourism is big here, and many visitors choose to hike the volcanos and take canopy tours, zip-lining through the lush forests.

But there's the other part of Guatemala - just 20 minutes away on all sides. The view is much different here.

We built a 13x9-foot cinder block home for a family in El Tejar. When many families in that village watch TV, it's from a well-worn bed that they share with multiple siblings, in a dark, corrugated metal room, with a leaky ceiling and a cornstalk fence. The TV is a relic, sitting among the family's few possessions. The room is tidy, but lacks any of the comforts I mentioned earlier. Getting up to the room itself requires careful maneuvering up narrow steps, like climbing into a treehouse. Sheets cover the window, but offer little privacy.

A beautiful, loving, and generous family with six children (one married with a child of his own, who lives next door) call this home. 

The Tagual Andres family in front of the oldest son's home next to the building site.
This house was also a project from a church that was putting up the corrugated metal homes.
It is spacious and provides some protection, but not enough warmth in the colder
months. It also doesn't have a locking door, or a window that opens.

That week, we got to work building our family their very first cinder block home, with a concrete floor, a window that opens, a metal roof with a skylight, and a locking door, protection from a world of people who have resorted to crime in their poverty.

The work was hard, but so rewarding. Day one was a lot of digging, sweating, and mixing concrete by hand. (Rock, sand, and mix is flipping HEAVY!) We poured a foundation, then spent the next few days stacking cement blocks and mixing mortar to hold everything together. You won't believe what this stuff does to your hands. My gloves look like they went through a war zone - the best kind of war zone, I should add.

Our team! Best ever. Michele and I were joined by Ruth and Silk from Canada. Ruth is from
Guatemala originally and has built many houses here. She has the biggest heart for God, and for His people. Her
voice was invaluable there. Silk is a former hip-hop artist who loves serving God by serving others. And she
has one of the best smiles I've ever seen - true joy! Our new friends also included 3 of the best Guatemalan
workers a couple of gals from the North could ask for. We miss working with them.

During downtime, we visited with families in the village who were next in line for a house (There are 67 families on the waiting list in El Tejar.) Two of them have more than 10 kids. Many of them are sleeping on the dirt floor. We delivered your generous donations of clothes and toys. Their faces were on fire with joy. You would have loved the clamoring over a small Mickey Mouse dress (is anything more American than that?!) Seriously, if your kids do not like hand-me-downs from their siblings, send them to Guatemala. We saw so many of the donated clothes on the kids the very next day - so proud to be showing us their new outfits.

On the last day, we painted and got ready to celebrate (we were also invited to the birthday celebration of a baby who lives in one of the first houses built in that village.) There were firecrackers, a fabulous meal that the family prepared and served in their new home, and the biggest piñata we had ever seen! (Not to mention half the village down there to join in the fun). Our team left pizza and cake with the family, as they rarely get this sort of treat there.

DONE! House number 985 - almost 1,000 houses built by this beautiful organization!
Enjoying a wonderful meal of pepian - rice, potatoes, chicken, and other veggies
in a spicy stew - served with homemade tortillas. So very good.
This is only half of the piñata, people. When it broke up, there was such a mad
dash for the candy that it was impossible to take good photos!

During the week, we also visited a school in Santa Maria de Jesus, the community where From Houses to Homes first started building. The school is for families in the organization's program, as well as others who qualify. It is a gorgeous building that would rival many American schools. School is a huge deal in Guatemala and is relatively unaffordable for many in these rural villages. (Unfortunately, the village where we served is too far from the school, so our family isn't able to take advantage of this perk.)

All families who receive a home also receive free medical care from a clinic that From Houses to Homes built as well. This is another beautiful facility that is changing the game from these families. To have access to all of this is an incredible Godsend.

I encourage you to read the From Houses to Homes story. It is a touching picture of what one
person can do when they strive to change a life for a family - now for about 1,000 families (not to mention
how incredible the experience is for those who come down there to serve.)

I want to tell you much more about what happened this week - about what God did in bringing our team together, about learning Spanish, about playing with the kids, about the beauty of the country.

Life is so very different around the world from North America. We tend to think we are the majority, but we aren't. Most of the people in the world live a life we can't quite imagine. We are the privileged, living in relative freedom and prosperity.

We are people of means. There is much poverty in the US, that is true. And I won't downplay how hard it is to be poor here in the US. But in Guatemala, and in many other developing countries, those without means truly have very little, and even less opportunity to change that. I wonder if it's really feasible to lift them out of that condition without help from us. 

So we heard over and over, "Thank you for coming to Guatemala. Thank you for helping my people." 

Are there any better words? This is a beautiful community of people who care deeply for each other and their culture, but are mired in painful poverty. They work, but it's not enough. (In our family, the dad and two siblings work full-time.) They sweep, clean, and tidy up, but still their floors are compacted dirt. There are not enough beds, not enough changes of clothes. Still, they look their best and give thanks to God in conditions that we will likely never know.

Throughout the week, I couldn't stop thinking that these lovely people watch TV, and they know. They know how we live. They see what we have. They see beyond the cornstalks, dirt floors, broken chairs, bare light bulbs, and they see what must seem impossible to imagine. On such small salaries, even with the older kids working, what they see is beyond their reach. 

So for them, knowing that we care, that even in all our riches and opportunity, there is time to love them and lift them up ... this means everything.

It is a 13x9 house, but it is so very much more, isn't it?

Let's go build some more together sometime soon, friends.