Adventist Teen Helps Ecuadorian
Church Member to New Home
BY WENDI ROGERS, Maranatha Volunteers International
hen 56-year-old Claudina Cholz, the poorest lady in Las Mercedes, Ecuador, learned she was getting a new house, she couldn’t stop smiling. Up until recently, Claudina’s shelter consisted of nothing more than a dilapidated bamboo house on stilts. Holes in the floor teased those who crossed. Large gaps in the walls invited moisture during the rainy season. Claudina slept on a gunnysack and cooked her food—when she had it—in a fire pit.
To earn money, Claudina makes and sells twine rope and hammocks. One hammock requires US$11 worth of materials, takes one month to make, and provides her with US$9 a month. The local community held a town meeting to discuss how they could help her; they didn’t expect her house to survive another year.
|LET'S GET STARTED: (Left to right) Janelle Pierson, Ron Hawkins, and Carrie Hann stand in Claudina's old house.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Janelle Pierson was on a plane to Ecuador with $480 in her wallet. She had no idea why she had taken the money with her, or even why it was that particular amount. But, she says, “I felt God telling me to give it away.”
Janelle came with Ultimate Workout, a mission trip experience for teenagers operated by Maranatha Volunteers International, a Seventh-day Adventist lay organization that constructs urgently needed churches and schools around the world. Janelle learned about Claudina from Ron Hawkins, the group outreach coordinator.
“I formed groups of youth each day to go out into the community,” says Hawkins. “We would ask God to direct us to where the needs were the greatest. I was also in contact with the local [Seventh-day Adventist] congregation to find out what they saw as big needs, and that is how I found out about Claudina.”
Maria Molleda, a Maranatha employee in Ecuador, discovered a Christian organization that manufactured prefabricated houses for needy families. Such a house normally costs about $700.
“Maria came and told me that since [Claudina] was a poor person, they could maybe lower the price down to $350. And I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that,’” explains Janelle. “But then we went through some more complications because they weren’t sure if Claudina was a poor and needy person. So they had to come and see if she really was. But then finally they let us have the house, which was a miracle in itself because there was a huge waiting list for these houses.
“And the cool part about that was that by the end of those complications, it cost $480, and that was the exact amount of money that I had,” Janelle says.
The entire community pitched in to tear down the old house and build Claudina’s new living quarters. The Ultimate Workout group joined in as well, and provided a mattress, kitchen materials and several months’ worth of food for Claudina. Carrie Hann, an Ultimate Workout volunteer who had brought some extra cash with her “just in case,” bought a table and chairs for the lady’s kitchen.
“She was having a hard time taking in everything that was happening,” Hann says. “She seemed kind of overwhelmed with getting so much stuff all at once. She was really happy though and she cried some … It was so much fun being able to be a part of it.”
“I was worried that the community would feel like we were treating [Claudina] like a favorite because most people in the community have so many needs,” says Hawkins. “After seeing the neighborhood get so involved with the tear down of her old house and the construction of the new one, I could see that everyone was behind us.”
|HOME SWEET HOME: Carrie Hann (right) with Claudina in her newly built house.
When the house was completed, the entire community celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and prayer. Claudina was in tears.
“I feel that what we did for this lady will be felt by that little community for a long time,” Hawkins adds. “Claudina is a member of the Las Mercedes Adventist Church but was not a regular attendee. I am confident that our outreach to her has lifted her faith in God and given her more reason to be a regular attendee.”
Janelle describes the experience as life changing. “First of all, [the house] cost the exact amount that I had. And to see this lady have a new house was just like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ She was crying, and she gave me a chicken. That was all she had.”
Hawkins adds, “The cost of the house was $480, and the amount of money Janelle had available was $480. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”