Memorial Day weekend, and a staple of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church is the annual Come Build Hope mission over that Friday to Sunday to build homes and plant seeds of hope for deserving families in northern Baja California. This year, a return visit for Cathy, Torrey and I, perhaps the best ever.
As a once Army grunt, I liken Come Build Hope to a military campaign, with all the strategic vision and copious logistics planning. And similarly, many things go off well, but not without a few glitches and a touch of drama here and there.
Hundreds of us rendezvous at the church campus and are transported by high-end comfortable buses to a pre-staged campsite a short distance from the shoreline near Rosarito Beach. Not just SBPC, but other churches sponsor worker bees, and all of it is coordinated with Amor Ministries, based in Mexico. Amor bulldozes a relatively level site in coastal grasses, maybe 250 yards square, and when we arrive near sundown, the tents are set up, as are the portapotties, kitchen, food serving area, modest solar showers, and a couple of sinks to wash hands and brush teeth with potable water. We travel with our individual work team group, and the site is set up with a designated module for each group encircling a campfire pit, and folding chairs to take in the warmth and camaraderie during evenings and early mornings. The Amor staff has a quiet generator to provide for the kitchen, but for everything else, it is strictly campfires and headlamps. You know, there’s something to be said for the forced quietude of non-electrification.
One of those aforementioned glitches occurred during the Friday arrival, with the group that flies in from Colorado for CBH. They got picked up on time at Lindbergh field, but their bus driver got lost navigating the warrens of Tijuana, and arrived around 2130 military time, long after the gorgeous moonset and chilling time after dinner for the rest of us. Amor kept dinner for them and their arrival was greeted by cheers from one and all.
But it’s early to bed and early to rise. I’m not sure about the healthy, wealthy and wise part of the old saying, but early the next morning we’d get a fire started to take off the chill and nurture the team’s coming together.
There’s always a flurry of activity getting the day started, a teeming mass of humanity as we fill our lunch bags with the sandwiches we make for ourselves, along with chips, granola bars, and fruit and a water bottle. This is followed by breakfast of eggs and sausage, french toast, potatoes, cereal and milk, fruit, coffee, hot cocoa or juice. There are meetings for team leaders in preparation for the day’s labors.
As you can see, Come Build Hope attracts workers of all ages and stripes. Some are not persons buoyed by faith, merely wanting to do their part as citizens of the world. There are Scouts that come as a troop. Old and young, and old that are made young, as well as young that are made mature just by the experience. It’s genuinely lofty stuff. But there’s also the stuff of families and friends having spontaneous fun.
The windup finished, the ball’s on its way.
A solid hit with a spare scrap of wood…
We load up the water and Gatorade, and board the buses for an 0800 departure to the various job sites.
Two teams per bus, each headed to separate sites near one another. We called ourselves the Dirty Dozen, and by the end of the day, the term fit like the proverbial glove. That’s a small team of unprofessional builders to build a house from the ground up in two days, but most of us had been on previous Hopes, and under the excellent guidance and cajoling of team leaders Sandi and John (aka Juanito) we pulled together. Not a slacker amongst us, and the mutual support of other self-igniters carried the day. Okay, days.
This is a human endeavor, and the humanity of it all is everywhere. Our driver, Rosaria had Danna Paola written on her inside mirror with a picture of a young girl. I asked if this was the name of her daughter? No, the name of her deceased young sister.
Glitches and drama visited us on Saturday morning. After dropping off the other work crew we proceeded to our site, only to learn that there had been a reassignment to a new family. The problem was that no one knew the site address nor the name of the family. Torrey and I were the Spanish speakers in our group, and we enquired of those we encountered in the neighborhood, with little success. Eventually phone contact was made with Amor and we were able to navigate to our young family of three— Natalia and two year-old José, then after work, Cesar.
The task is to build from the ground up. Amor prepares the site by pouring the slab with tiedown straps in place. On site await the lumber, nails, tarpaper, roofing materials, bailing wire, chicken wire, cement and sand, sand strainer, windows (two per house) and front door, plus a box with some (but never enough) tools. For safety, and because there isn’t electricity at the site, all labor is manual without powered tools. We returnees tend to bring our own work pouches, with tapes, squares, saws and hammers. And hats and sunscreen.
Team leader Sandi spoke to the dignity of doing God’s work, and in the spirit of “praise the lord and pass the ammunition,” job forman John, gave us a brief overview of the tasks at hand and the division of labor before lighting a fire under us, one and all.
And, then, begins the day’s work.
There were sub teams assigned to framing the two straight walls, the three raked walls and the two subcomponents of the roof. An early challenge was that—surprise, surprise—the foundation was neither flat or rectangularly plumb. John’s internal compass worked out ways to resolve this conundrum in spite of the difficulties it presents to making walls and roof come together agreeably and having doors and windows that function.
Before long, the first wall rose up off the pad where we had framed it, followed soon after with additional walls.
And while some of us began installing the roof framing and sheeting
Others set about crafting the door jambs and hinging up the front door.
There were a few snack and hydration breaks during the day, plus emptying our brown bags—opportunities to catch our breath, stretch out complaining body parts, and savor the sea breeze and the splendid view.
Natalia and Cesar, and abuelo, straining the rocks out of the sand to be used for the next day’s stuccoing, while José (Pepe) supervises.
We finished around 1800, by which time the framing was finished and the bailing wire was wrapped and tightened to about C-sharp, beginning the process of creating a taught and stable abode.
Saturday evening’s al fresco dining by firelight was as wonderful as Friday’s, not withstanding the stiff bodies. Do you sense that I rather like the campfire aspect of Hope?
Sunday morning began with John (aka Juanito) buoying us with the fruits of our labors.
And there was much to do, with everyone doing their part. Two years old and oh so cute.
The overhead work required first putting in bird-proofing blocks along the top of the walls, then squaring and nailing the plywood, followed by stapling on tarpaper, and lastly securing the rolled roofing composite.
Then in an afternoon race with the clock, the tarpaper, which had been stapled in place in the morning, was covered with chicken wire, forming a base foundation to which the stucco adheres. Roofing nails are applied to underlying studs and fire blocks, then with a technique of manually levering with PVC pipe, the wire is stretched tautly over the nails followed by cutting out the doors and windows.
Close on the heels of this, cement and sand in prescribed ratios are mixed with water to create the first coat of stucco, which is then troweled over the walls from bottom to top. This stage is an all-hands project, it being necessary for the stucco to be the right consistency, applied before it starts drying up, and getting it done in one step—no stopping partway through. All this while racing the clock to finish before the day does.
Finally what the entire experience is designed for—presenting the homeowners the keys to their front door, a few mementos of our time together including a framed group photo and bible inscribed by all of us. Even Scrooge would choke up at the beauty to be savored in the moment. Cesar and Natalia, suffused with pride and joy, a curtain sewn by ladies from the church drifting on the afternoon breeze, as she haltingly reads our words of blessing.
After giving our stucco time to dry, Amor Ministries comes back and applies the second, finish coat of stucco, removes the internal braces, and (hopefully) adds insulation and interior wall coverings.
Giving esperanza y amor (hope and love) to a new family, honoring them and the spirit of giving, as we honor those who gave their full measure in service to our country that we might have the peace and freedom to share our blessings with others in this way.
This year we built 14 homes, which brings the total to over 20,000 built under the auspices of Amor Ministries. On Saturday evening, the head of Amor shared a satisfying backstory about Mexican governmental red-tape being cleared out of the way by the mayor of Tecate—who grew up in an Amor home and carries with her the appreciation of what giving can accomplish.