Several of our St. Mark’s members are currently in El Salvador, building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Elizabeth Skarshug sends us the following update!

Twelve members of our Habitat for Humanity Team arrived in San Salvador on Friday morning, November 7, 2014, and three more team members had arrived by Friday night.  We were all greeted at the airport by the Salvadoran Habitat Team leaders with enthusiasm and genuine hospitality.  Since our actual work at the building site of the two houses we would work on was scheduled for Monday November 10 through Friday November 14, our Habitat hosts took us sight-seeing to welcome us and to show us the highlights of their beautiful country.  (More about that later).

ElSalvador H4H

On Sunday we all went to church in San Salvador at Resurrection Lutheran Church. During the service, which was conducted in Spanish, each member of our Habitat team was greeted by name.  We sang beautiful Spanish hymns. Pastor Gary Petersen, one of our team leaders, and Pastor Jan Ruud, both participated in the worship service. Gary read the gospel lesson in English and Jan helped serve communion. After a lovely lunch at beautiful Lake Coatepeque, we boarded our bus for the work site in Ahuachapan.  The windy road took us past lush tropical forests and pristine volcanic lakes. We were greeted by our local hosts who served us dinner shortly after our arrival.  Then we settled into our hotel rooms.

On Monday morning we stopped in Getsemani to meet members of the local Habitat for Humanity Headquarters. They greeted us with the same friendly enthusiasm and hospitality that we had experienced at Resurrection Lutheran and in San Salvador.

The Work Begins

Because we had toured together as a group for three days, we all had become good friends and were ready to work together as a team on some physically strenuous building tasks. Thrivent Financial Services had donated enough money to build two houses. We divided into two teams.  Each team divided up such tasks as hauling ten wheelbarrows overflowing with dirt from a large dirt pile.  We mixed it with one bag of cement and water to ‘just the right” consistency. This we did with several people shoveling and mixing and pouring all by hand.  We then used wheel barrows to haul the dirt and cement mixture to the house about thirty yards away in order to set the the sub-flooring.

Other tasks included hauling concrete blocks from a pile where they had been delivered to the house (30 yards away) where the mason used a different mixture of cement and dirt to set the blocks to make the walls of the house.   When the walls were set, some people sanded the walls and then used a mixture of cement and water to seal the holes in the cinder blocks in preparation for actual paint.   Other people worked on connecting parallel lines of rebar to be used to strengthen the house.

We dug, shoveled, mixed cement, connected rebar, dug the sewer line, sanded the walls, sealed the cinder blocks with cement mixture, and we sweated for four and one-half days!   We were not alone.   The Salvadorans were right beside us working as hard or harder than we were. All this manual labor was done joyfully and with much laughter and good will between our team and the Salvadoran families and workers. The men and women who would be living in the two houses continued the work long after we had left each afternoon.

During the hard work, there was opportunity to interact with and get to know the family members and the children in the neighborhood.   These were lovely people who were very welcoming, cheerful, and deeply appreciative of all our hard work. We had a great deal of fun getting to know them.   We used our sense of humor to enjoy one another. On tasks that were appropriate, the children were very helpful.   Many were learning English and wanted to practice speaking English with us while performing helping tasks.

Our daily routine included eating breakfast each morning at 6:30. After breakfast, we had our morning devotions and tried to arrive at the work site by 8:00 AM. At mid-morning at snack of fruit was served for about a fifteen minute break. Lunch was served around noon.   We had another mid-afternoon snack and finished our work each day by 4:00 PM. Then, the bus picked us up to return us to our hotel for dinner and some free time.   After dinner, we had our evening devotions and a time to process the activities of the day before turning in for the night.

Blessing of the houses

On Friday we finished our work at noon.   The Habitat team from Getsemani came to participate in the festivities and ceremony to bless the houses.   First, we were served a lovely luncheon in a shady location.   The masons, Salvadoran workers, family members, and Getsemani Habitat personnel all were present.   A third team from the USA was also present.

After lunch, the leader of the Getsemani Habitat Office gave us a moving speech, thanking us for our work.   She expressed joyful and sincere support for the Habitat for Humanity philosophy and she expressed hope and gratitude for the dream of decent housing for people everywhere. Then, we all went to each of the houses.   We each put our hands on the wall of the house and prayed a prayer of gratitude for the dream of decent housing for people everywhere and for our work this past week.   We prayed for the families who would soon be living in the houses. We celebrated the new home and the improved neighborhood, where other Habitat houses were or would soon be built.   We sang “Amazing Grace.”

Then it was time to say good-bye to the families.   This was both sad and happy.   We could leave the sight knowing we had completed our work with faith and integrity.

Time for some fun!

Our Salvadoran hosts were deeply appreciative of our work.   They also are very proud of their beautiful country and wanted to make sure to share with us some of the sites of El Salvador.   For example, on Friday afternoon after leaving the work site, our hosts took us to the beautiful hot springs nearby, where we were able to relax in the warm waters and enjoy the view of the surrounding flora and fauna.   The next day, our hosts took us on a tour of the charming villages of Ataco, Apuneca, and Nahuizalco where we visited the local markets, the beautiful churches, the textile industry. We were able to enjoy the lovely pastel-colored murals on many of the buildings and walls.   We toured a coffee plantation and learned how the coffee is processed from the coffee cherry picked from the tree to the coffee beans in the packages we buy at the store.   On an earlier day, we visited and had lunch at the deep blue Lake Coatepeque.   Some of us took a boat cruise on this pristine volcanic lake.   In San Salvador our hosts took us to The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior, a Catholic church that was visited twice by Pope John Paul !!.   It is also the location of the Tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero.   We also visited the Iglesia El Rosario, a Catholic church with very unique archecteture. The unusual shaped walls are comprised of many colors of glass with a beautiful effect inside the sanctuary during the day me.

We visited the wall with the names of thousands of the 75,000 people killed during the 12 year Civil War from 1980 to 1992.   While visiting this wall, many Salvadorans were also visiting the wall, singing hymns, and putting flowers near the names of loved-ones.   We visited the Ruins of San Andres, which were believed to have been inhabited by 12,000 people between 600 AD and 900 AD. A step pyramid and a large courtyard with a subterranean section were discovered in 1977.

One of our hostess, Francis Padilla, took us to her mother’s home on Pastor Gary Petersen’s birthday, November 13.   Francis’ mother is a business women with many talents.   She had a pastry shop on the street level of her beautiful home.   We all had a delicious treat to help celebrate Gary’s birthday.

Our leaders, Gary and Linda Petersen, worked very hard to prepare us for our trip.   Our entire team is very appreciative of all the work, time, and effort they put in to prepare us and to be with us every step of the way.   For the most part, we remained healthy, safe, were able to do our work, enjoy our leisure, and return home safely.   It was a very good experience!