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“We are workers, not master builders”: Lent Build in El Salvador

April 13, 2010




— During the seven weeks of Lent, more than 30 volunteer teams honored families in need of a hand up, the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and their faith by blitz-building 30 homes in Getsemani, El Salvador, during Lent Build 2010.

On Ash Wednesday, two Presbyterian pastors, one from North Carolina and the other from El Salvador, put ashen crosses on the foreheads of some 150 Christians gathered for the Lent Build. Quickly after the ceremony concluded, volunteers set off to work, digging foundation and mixing cement in the community of Getsemani (Gethsemane).

Stretching from February15 through April 2, the Lent Build also recognized the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran archbishop who spent his life defending the rights of the poor and the marginalized. A religious leader who sparked deep political passion in El Salvador, Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating mass. His murder marked the beginning of years of civil unrest in El Salvador, calmed by a peace agreement in 1992. Still, his commitment to serving the poor makes him a hero throughout the world.

Romero’s poem Prophets of a future not our own reminds the reader, “We are workers, not master builders.” This Easter, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador and hundreds of volunteers celebrated Romero’s legacy by actively working to help those who still lack basic needs. They may not be master masons, but they were willing to pick up a trowel and try.

The peri-urban area of Getsemani, near the entrance to the city of Ahuachapan, is named after the garden in Jerusalem where Jesus and his disciples prayed before Jesus’ crucifixion. The 2010 Lent Build kicked off “Strengthening the Getsemaní Community,” a three-year effort of Habitat for Humanity El Salvador in partnership with Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The project aims to improve the living conditions of 138 families in a low-income community through a holistic development project. In collaboration with community leaders and other partners, Habitat will build 90 houses and develop programs in community leadership, values education, community health, cultural exchange and micro-entrepreneurship. Currently, the community has a housing deficit of over than 50 percent, with many families living in shacks pieced together with mud, bamboo and metal.

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that,” the poem reads. “This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

The ashes on the foreheads of volunteers in Getsemani have been replaced by dirt and sweat.

This Easter season and all year round—in a small community in El Salvador, in office buildings in Georgia, and in communities around the world—Habitat staff and volunteers put God’s love in action.

Shelly Whittet is a writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International based in Americus.