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At the end of the workday in Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, the House of Hope team climbed out of the buses filthy and tired. The evidence of the three-day house building project was reflected on our clothes. I dug spare nails out of my pants pocket or saw dust caked into my hiking boots.
The work was dirty, but it was also productive. Each day the home in Juárez was ushered further into its final form. Pink insulation was placed into the niches in the house’s interior, the door and the window frames were installed. We shot bolts into the concrete to keep the walls in place and wrapped the exterior with chicken wire.
Next, we spread gray stucco on the exterior and drilled drywall into the walls.
As a reward for our efforts, we traveled several times to a nearby ice cream parlor to eat a frozen fruit bar or sip a rice milk shake. After our frozen treats, we returned to the church. We raced to the bathrooms, praying for a shower that had hot water and then headed for dinner. The church cooks served us mole and stuffed peppers in terracotta bowls. There was Spanish rice and refried beans for side dishes.
With no TV, no computer or iPod within my reach, I sometimes wondered how to spend the evenings; however, the down time was always filled. One night, for instance, two young girls ingeniously grabbed a couple of plastic spoons and a pack of cards to play Spoons. The object of the game, the girls explained, was to get three cards of the same numerical value. At that moment, you could get a spoon and the rest of the players could try to grab one, too. So while some knitted or talked, a group of us sat around a table, furiously passing cards in a circle and eyeing the cluster of spoons – just waiting for the chance to snatch one up.
It didn’t come without a few hiccups. One player, who hadn’t received a full explanation of the rules, missed chances to win several rounds. As payback, she pretended to reach for a spoon, which sent the rest of us lunging for the nearest utensil. We all hooted with laughter.
We were all in Juárez to build a house, but during these evenings I felt something else was also being created. There was a bond being forged between us and each day it tied us closer together. Later in the evenings we all gathered together in the dormitory’s living room for an evening prayer service. We read psalms, selections from Scripture and recited the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.
Some women offered prayers for those back at home and for Juárez itself. For an urban city, the nights were pitch-black in Juárez. But as we turned our attention to the Lord, I felt a glow in that tiny room. A glow that illuminated the night and I felt extreme comfort from the warmth that it radiated.
Not everything basked in this warm light, however. While some slept like logs in Juárez, I wasn’t one of them. I had stacked two twin mattresses on one of the bunk beds and by the final night, they had started to slip off the frame and I awoke in the dead of night to find myself lying on a slope. If that wasn’t enough, the fan in the room made a terrible clanking noise.
So I felt ready on our final morning in Juarez to hand over the keys to the homeowners and head home. The house was finished and even though we talked on the ride home about the additional things we could have done, if permitted, to make the house better, I believe the family who moved in saw the true beauty in its walls. The house was built on pure and good intentions to give them a better life. When we arrived back at the Trinity on the Hill Church late in the evening, we had come full circle. The journey finished where it started. I was excited to be home but even more ecstatic to begin writing about these three days in this column. I had been thinking about what to include since we started the building project. As I commented during our evening debriefings in the church hall, to me one of the highlights, as a journalist, is to be a part of the story.
The best thing, however, is sharing the story with everyone else.