“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.” ~ Romans 12:13a, NLT
While it seemed in my mind like we would NEVER arrive at our destination to start the service part of our trip... we did finally arrive on Monday, July 10th, late morning. Previously I shared about our warm welcome, shared pictures of the dance we shared with them, and how this particular village, Vista Alegre, had not seem Americans in 12 years or more. For Morgan and I, the arrival to the village took us back to our time of service years before in Kingston Jamaica. The work project, the villagers and the children that appeared from seemingly nowhere, while in a new country and new faces, at the same time very comforting. It was awesome that our years of training and service previously had prepared us for the same situation; only 1,830 miles and about 5 years apart and for the first time, found us serving together!
Our work goal for our days in the village was to build a church. The mention of a church brings images to mind of churches we pass on the streets or the one that we worship in. This one was a bit different. There were no glass windows to install, no drywall to hang, no electric outlets to place, no lights to install, no colors to choose for the walls from paint swatches, no decorating committee needed, no permits or codes that had to be enforced. Just some sweat inducing labor was needed! Our hands and feet and willing attitudes!
I digress, prior to getting to the church site and actually working on the construction project, we had to get our tools and supplies to the village and the job site, up a hillside from the boat and then a mile into the village by foot. The team all worked together to transport the paint, varnish, lumber, rollers, cement mix (50lb bags) about 30 bags, tools, and wheelbarrows up the hillside. Remember, there is no Lowe's delivery truck... and yes that is a cement mixer coming off the boat!
As you can see in the above pictures, we just walked up the side of the hill making footholds where we could. This was not an easy task for all of us (well me anyhow) I can't speak for the rest of the team! However one of the things that sticks out the most in my mind from this trip is that while we were all at the village working, one man with a shovel, spent a significant amount of his day cutting in actual steps for us. I do not know who, but his gift of steps was a blessing to us for the remainder of the trip each time we went up and down between the village and the boat.
When we arrived at the location of the church, we found that there had been a team of two men from the church that went before us to stick frame the walls of the church and put on the tin roof. Please know that part of your donations to Morgan and I and our team, went to purchase these supplies for this building. You are part of this village due to your generous giving! This following is the clearest photo I could find to depict our starting point for this project. I would also suggest based on how the Shipibo people showed up to help us on the days that we worked that the two men that put up the frame and roof also had many hands helping them make light work of their part of the job!
We did not waste any time breaking up into teams and getting to work. Three members of the team (myself included) learned from the team how they wanted us to cut the wood planks for the teams that were nailing them to the outside of the frame. They had a generator that ran the chop saw, and each team would bring their measurements to us, and we would cut 5 -10 lengths at a time for them to return to their team to be fitted against the previous board and nailed into place. We did not do more than a few at a time because of course the building was not square... so some cuts would be 93 inches and others 93 1/4... We spent the remainder of Monday and all of Tuesday finishing up the walls and the peaks of the outside. Late Tuesday afternoon a few of the girls on the team began rolling the varnish on the outside. The goal was to have the first coat on the whole outside so first thing the next morning we could put on the second coat and start painting the inside.
We kept to the schedule and sure enough, we were painting Wednesday morning! It was a little tricky for the painters to keep out of the way of the flooring guys and their fresh concrete! As always with so many hands, it is hard to have enough supplies to do the job efficiently, however coconut shells make great paint dishes! When you see how light the paint is, understand that they dilute it with water to make it "stretch". To our way of thinking, it seems counter productive, especially since they desired multiple layers. I am sure however that there is a reason, perhaps paint on as we know it (the thickness) would bubble and peel in the heat and humidity. Again, there are just some things you do their way, because that is how they desire it to be! Flexibility is key!
Speaking of concrete! Well can I say for Morgan and I, it was a definite flashback to our days in Jamaica serving with Bud and Lynda Kay and our teams from East Shore and Lancaster Bible College! Goodness, who can forget 9 buckets of sand, 3 buckets of stone, a bag of cement mix, and a couple splashes of water.... Morgan and our team happily and diligently repeated the pattern, working the sand and stone pile in between loads, in a manner that would make Mr. Lingle proud! We were again rejoicing in the skills that we have previously acquired, and while my body is not as young as it used to be, my girl and I hung side by side working the recipe! What a joy to my heart!
Here are the men from the church team putting the front door on the church. Amazingly, it is my understanding that they got to use an electric planer for the first time! I do not have that documented, but it made a challenging job, I assume much easier!
Thursday before departing on the boat for our four hour trip back to Pucallpa, we got to celebrate with the village church at a dedication ceremony, pose for a group photo in front of the church and shop the village women's amazing handicrafts! What an amazing way to end the trip. Really no more words are required, the photos will say it all!
It is always an amazing time for me as I witness the combination of old school and in this case, tribal ways with new and more modern techniques and resources, which often are still so far removed from the tools and technology that we are used to seeing and using! As always, I walk away from the the experience thinking, "If I sent this, or that item; their job would be so much easier." Or, "If only they would do things this easier, faster way, we could get the job done quicker." But the reality is that these locations in under developed countries, have a great system in place for how they do things. Combining that with the fact that they have a great appreciation for their resources, and take great pride in their work, their way is ultimately is the right way! To join them in co-laboring their way is a huge blessing to them and to us, if we humble ourselves in service to them!
Sometimes as Americans, serving in other cultures, we think our ways are best. They are not if they risk offending the people group that you are ultimately there to serve. How could we brilliant Americans offend, you may wonder? By not listening to their directions and just serving by doing it their way. By not recognizing the pride that they take in sharing with you their skills and abilities. By not understanding the value that they place on their resources. Just because we can get in our pick up truck or SUV and drive to the home depot for some bags of stones or sand, we must not be so arrogant not to realize that the stone and sand available to us for this work, came to them at a cost. The cost of their time and efforts digging the stones and sand, placing it in bags and transporting it on their backs or motorkars to the work sight. Additionally, while we may share a great idea with them, and manage with the language barrier to convey why an item would be help assist in the job, often these items are simply not available to them. Additionally, even if we follow through and send that item that we think they can't live without to them, the chances that they it will never reach them, either getting hung up in customs, returned to the sender or stolen in the process, could lead them to believe that we did not follow through on our promises. I guess all that to say, we can offend them by making promises of things, that even if we follow through on our end and do, may never reach them because of situations outside our control, hence risking our witness and testimony.
Lastly, it is always important to lead by example when you are serving with and for the body of Christ. Hard things are just that, hard. No one ever said they were unattainable.
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35