I have been placed on official time-out.
“Let’s get you over there to the shade and let me take that nail gun from you” is all he said.
Loosely translated: you need an easier task.
I am certain to be the first home-building volunteer to be given a time-out. Great. Now I’m just standing here waiting for “further guidance” from the home-building project manager, Vince. He had a friendly tone. However, under a 100-degree sun, wearing a hard hat and a tool belt marked “volunteer,” I am pretty certain it’s a bad time-out. Truly, could my volunteer building days be over before they even begin? They may not even let me hand out water to the folk who really know how to use nail guns.
Looking around nervously, I wonder if I have been forgotten. I spot Vince heading my way. He has the same look my college chemistry teacher had after I accidentally knocked down a Bunsen burner and several “unknown” substances flared up, creating a small fire in the lab. I am the equivalent of an unknown substance here. Vince must be wondering if my lack of expertise is going to burn the whole place down.
“Hey there—I am Vince.” As he shakes my hand I wonder if he is measuring my strength. “Sorry about the nail gun; the folks here didn’t know you were the English teacher.” Ouch. He is aware this is my first time volunteering in a nonprofit home-building project, and he quickly invites me to tour the site.
As we walk, Vince visits with each volunteer. Everyone is excited about Home 1123. Today is a big day for Home 1123.
“Are you a religious person?” he asks, but does not wait for an answer. “I think building strengthens my walk, you know.” I hear him but don’t take in the value of the conversation. I am too busy wondering what Home 1123 is all about.
Throughout the morning I tour the site, learning from Vince. He tells me of his early years volunteering. He says it’s a privilege to work with these structures and shares stories of families visiting the site “just to ensure it’s not a dream, that they will have a home of their own.” He tells me building the structures is the easy part. What happens after is the real lifelong challenge. I get the feeling he isn’t talking about building anymore.
Our tour ends at Home 1123.
I am disappointed! This is not a home! They haven’t even poured the cement! Suddenly my feet ache from walking, my back hurts from the tool belt, and I am no longer enjoying the tour. I was expecting a monumental, completed home! I sigh. Noticing my disappointment, Vince points at the base structure of the “home” and tells me again: “This is what strengthens my walk.” What am I missing?
The afternoon arrives, and I have yet to complete any work. During lunch I listen to moving stories of the joy of building these structures for families. As I listen, I begin to wonder: Why not call them homes? Why use a clinical term such as “structure”? I want to ponder on the verbiage, but from a distance I am suddenly intrigued by unfamiliar faces standing next to Home 1123: a mother and four little girls. The mother is wearing a hat, and the girls have bright-colored ribbons in their hair. There is no doubt: they are here to see the physical structure of their home.
As the cement is slowly poured into the structure, there is thunderous applause, and emotional hugs are exchanged among family and all volunteers. The structure will soon be a home. In my mind’s eye I can see the rooms, beautifully decorated to match the colorful ribbons. I pause. This is only the beginning.
A structure built to stand firm. It is (and has been) all around me: the hope and faith that the structure prepared will have a genuine, God-fearing foundation.
Is this part of Vince’s walk? Smiling, he hands me a paintbrush, then he states the obvious: “You know, those who build on rock.”
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published May 12, 2011.