A testimony of love: Special events in San Julian -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A testimony of love: Special events in San Julian

By Carlos Avalos

In August 2006, the residents of San Julian awoke to the sight of strangers in orange hard hats gathering in the town center to start the construction of seven houses. In an area with deep Catholic roots, the town’s inhabitants were interested to see how 47 volunteers from Methodist and Baptist churches in North Carolina, USA, would help build new houses for families from the local Catholic church.

Some twelve months before the event, the local parish priest opened the doors for Habitat to promote the event with families who attended weekly mass. Six hundred people listened that Sunday morning about the opportunity to obtain a Habitat house.

Since 1998, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador has understood that promoting special construction projects like the one in San Julian can not happen without coordination with local churches and community organizations. During the annual “Building on Faith” project, volunteers from international and local churches joined those from the local parish to become the body of Christ in action. Together they demonstrated God’s love and sent a powerful message to the world that Christians, independent of their doctrines, can spread a unified message of love.

The first blitz build was held during Holy Week nine years ago when New Horizons Fellowship in Apex, NC, and Altadore Baptist Church in Calgary, Canada, joined with the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Salvador and Habitat for Humanity. Five houses were built in one week in Verapaz.

Today Habitat El Salvador runs three blitz builds annually, receiving on average 15 international teams for their special events. Since the first Holy Week project, 74 church teams have participated in 17 construction events. These volunteers have represented 31 churches from Canada and 18 churches from the United States. Their donations of almost US$450,000 have helped Habitat El Salvador build 225 houses, serving 1125 Salvadorans.

We, at Habitat El Salvador, have learned a lot from these experiences.

The churches involved in the events like to know about the partner families ahead of time. The churches are happy to develop long-term relationships in El Salvador. The churches that we collaborate with have set high goals for us, which we have viewed as opportunities to be more innovative in our development of alliances and special events.

It is necessary to plan the special events at least 12 months ahead of time. The true hosts of the special events are the regional Habitat offices, and the role of the National Office is to provide information for good coordination. We have also learned that the families can bring a lot of creativity to the events if they are involved in the preparation and their ideas are included in developing activities.

Promoting good relations with international churches, affiliates and schools that have local Salvadoran partners has helped ensure the success of these work projects. The advantage of this is that the international teams develop long-term commitments. Habitat El Salvador now has veteran volunteers who have returned to the country ten times in the last nine years. And they have expanded the annual projects into a 5-year campaign to build 500 houses with church support.

It is never too late and we are never too old to learn to work with God as His instruments to help families less fortunate. In El Salvador, Habitat has hope in building a better world with the help of their partners.

Carlos Avalos has been the coordinator of Church Relations and Special Events for Habitat El Salvador since 2003. He was a volunteer at special construction events five years before coming to work for Habitat.