It began with a phone call.
Two weeks before we were scheduled to leave for Guatemala we found out that the State Department had just changed the travel advisory for several countries—including Guatemala—which meant that Habitat for Humanity and other non-governmental agencies had to temporarily suspend trips to those areas. The good news: the Habitat staff in Colombia could take us on short notice if our group was willing to make the change. As I hung up the phone I had to laugh as I thought to myself, “Well, this adds a new dimension to the journey!”
Our group of 19 people from Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma had spent a year fundraising and preparing for a service trip to build houses in Guatemala; part of the church’s multi-year commitment to partnering with Habitat internationally as well as locally. When they found out about the change of country, every single person agreed that we should move ahead with the new adventure. Thanks to some quick work by Habitat Global Village staff in Atlanta, GA and amazing support from Alex Trettin and his team at Travel Leaders to change all of our tickets, we were able to get everything switched from Central to South America.
We flew from Seattle to Bogota, then traveled to the Quindio (coffee growing) region where we spent the week in the small town of Filandia, which means “Daughter of the Andes.”
Once in Filandia we were greeted by our Habitat Colombia leaders Theodora and Carolina. Over the course of the next 5 days, they trained us and put us to work in two areas: one group working on the rehab of an existing house that was no longer safe for the owner and his family. The other group worked nearby, constructing a new brick house and digging a large hole for a new septic tank. The work was hard, but very rewarding as we saw great progress from our efforts each day.
On the final night, the town sent us off with an incredible goodbye ceremony. Local youth demonstrated traditional Colombian dances and the mayor came to thank us for spending our week helping to build their community and to provide homes for those in need. Two local boys—both named Daniel—had struck up a friendship with our group, hanging out and practicing their English while the team worked. As we said our goodbyes, the boys broke into sobs, sad to see their new friends leave. Pastor Dave bent down, looked them in the eyes and said, “Siempre estas en nuestros corazones (You are always in our hearts).”
Our trip to Colombia was filled with moments of beauty, laughter, tears and of course amazing coffee. We returned with new perspective and friendships. As Pastor Dave Brown reflected on our week together he said, “When we come from our different contexts and discover our shared humanity, learn to be affectionate with people from different cultures, learn to honor stories… there is something that happens that moves us a little bit closer to a full humanity and to a peaceful world.”
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Here’s to a world where everyone has a decent place to live!