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Holy Week Build in Costa Rica Changes Lives, Attitudes and Traditions

For several years, Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Latin America have organized major building projects during Holy Week because many people have time off from their jobs and are available for a special event. However, doing physical labor during Holy Week has required a new way of thinking. “We are a Catholic-tradition country,” said Maximo Cisneros, HFHI director of Church Relations for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Here in Costa Rica people did not go out of their houses during Holy Week. In fact, they would put nails in the street so that if cars came past their houses, the tires would be flattened. It was a very strict tradition, particularly on Thursday and Holy Friday. You were supposed to stay home for a time of personal reflection.”

However, Cisneros and other organizers of Holy Week builds set about to change tradition. They issued invitations to churches urging people to be a part of building houses with their neighbors in need. “You can either sit and reflect or you can remember what Jesus did to show compassion and come out and help others,” said Cisneros.

On the worksite, Cisneros said he hardly recognized Hernan Artavia, pastor of Leon de Juda. With towels on his head to protect him from the sun and with his work clothes on, Cisneros said the pastor looked as if he were in disguise. “I really love what I am doing here,” said the pastor. “I really needed this. My people needed to see me do this. My people needed to see my hands full of sand and cement. I stand and preach the gospel, but my people needed to see me serving.”

For the first time in their lives, some people worked on Holy Friday. They remarked that this made much more sense than spending the entire day at home, Cisneros said. Churches in four affiliates helped build 16 houses in Costa Rica during Holy Week.

The spirit of God touched the hearts of a homeowner family who accepted Jesus into their lives at a worship service on Wednesday night. They committed to make the area near their new home a “white place,” a location that communities identify as a place to be near Jesus and a place where people will be present to talk about Jesus. The homeowner family will be the ones available to talk about their faith, Cisneros said.

A pastor in San Ramon also experienced a transformation. A family in his congregation had been selected as homeowners, but construction could not begin until a massive retaining wall was built on the property. The family could not afford to build the wall, but San Ramon Christian Fraternity raised the money and provided the labor to get it built.

Pastor Adrian Gonzalez, who had been only marginally involved with Habitat for Humanity, visited the family in their old home. Later, the pastor recounted his feelings of guilt following that visit: “When I went to my house, I was feeling very bad. Why did I have a safe house that kept the wind and rain out and my brother does not? I can’t keep calling myself pastor and brother and not do anything.”

Gonzalez told his congregation that they were not going to accept this anymore—not for members of their church, not for anyone. They could no longer simply preach the gospel. They were going to take a hammer and get to work.

“It was a wonderful week,” said Cisneros. “The church participation was excellent. I have never seen so much love, so many people working together.”