My family and the Palacio family met on the eve of a new chapter in their life. We are from different countries. Our life circumstances were worlds apart. But, we came together to make a dream come true. They were homeless and we were in Mexico to build them a home.
The Palacios have 5 children and the youngest child has Down’s syndrome. They were all living outside on a few mattresses tucked under a small steel overhang. They had no running water. No bathroom. No kitchen. No protection from the heat of the Mexican summers or dry shelter during the rainiest wet season on record.
They suffered material hardship and yet, they persevered with courage. They had a loving family. They worked hard. One of their son’s studied at night under a single hanging light bulb and earned the state of Nayarit’s top Academic Award in math and even got to meet the Presidente!
The Palacios didn’t let go of hope. They saved every peso they could spare to go toward the goal of having a home.
Enter Project “Homes of Hope”
Our friend Mario went to the same church as the Palacios. He had a friend who manufactured prefabricated homes that could be put together in two days and still have the structural integrity to withstand hurricane force winds. Pretty cool, huh?
Mario began to formulate a plan to build one of these homes for the Palacios. It was a well designed plan that relied on volunteers to donate their time, money and other resources, yet also allowed the Palacios to participate by working with the church toward full ownership of the home.
Mario pulled together the needed resources in record time. He named the project “Home of Hope”. I shared the idea with my friend and real estate partner, Becky. Becky is one of the most generous people I know. When she hears of of need she gives. Even when there’s no need, she still gives-just because she loves to bless others.
When Becky heard about the opportunity to build the home for the Palacios, she immediately said, “Yes! I can’t think of a better way to give than to use the money our team has earned selling houses than use it to build a house for a family who has no home!” And so, just 2 months later, we all headed to Mexico to do exactly that.
Mario didn’t simply pull together a team to get the structure built. He managed to get it done “Extreme Home Makeover” style. A local resort hosted the Palacio family for a getaway. Two days later, the family returned to the unveiling of their new home. Here’s a video of the big of reveal, complete with chanting “move that tarp.”
Our team was all volunteers and our budget wasn’t nearly big enough for a bus or state of the art design, but we did have news crews and the mayor and a few other surprises as well. Its amazing what a community can pull together when they embrace a vision to help neighbors in need!
The front facade doesn’t look super impressive, but this little bungalow has “luxuries” formerly unknown to the Palacio family like running water, a full bathroom and kitchen with kitchen appliances, furniture and even a washing machine.
When the Palacio’s arrived, they were greeted by more than an austere shelter with a roof and 4 walls. The resort’s landscape team did this in the backyard!
They gave them beauty. A volunteer made sure that flowers were in the kitchen. A tattered photograph had been snagged from a box of the family’s few belongings by another volunteer and placed in a frame. Decorator pillows adorned the beds. Stuffed animals were artfully arranged in the kids rooms.
The volunteers instinctively knew something that the architects of beautiful churches throughout history have known: that beauty lifts the soul up to God and outwards toward love of neighbor. They know that the poor “do not merely need cash and bread…but beauty, ritual and God as well”. As Dr. Holly Oreway said, “Yes, we must care for the physical needs of the weak, the poor, the helpless, but we must also care for their hunger for beauty and meaning, for nourishment for the heart and soul”.
Of course, it isn’t feasible to give every needy family a professionally landscaped backyard. But it IS possible for a church to be a sanctuary of beauty that is available to every man, rich or poor in a similar way that Philbrook serves the larger community. And a church’s beauty offers even more than a feast for the eyes.
Dr. Holly Ordway reminds us of how beauty in a church “reminds us of our own genuine poverty of spirit and of God, who is the source of all good, our Father, who loves us extravagantly and pours out His grace on us in joyous abundance, if we will but turn to Him”. She goes on to say:
“Certainly, all the money used to build a church and make it beautiful could be given to the poor instead — but that would not be feeding the poor in their complete hunger. Yes, we must care for the physical needs of the weak, the poor, the helpless, but we must also care for their hunger for beauty and meaning, for nourishment for the heart and soul.
That’s why after disasters like the earthquake Haiti, the rebuilding of churches even before they rebuild their homes brings hope to people who have lost everything. It gives them place that lifts up their eyes and hearts to something that transcends this world. That’s why throughout the ages the poor have sacrificed to build beautiful parishes.
The trees that were planted around the Palacio family’s home have grown and are flourishing. So has their family. They are active in their church and have a thriving business. I think that the fact that they were also given beauty along with the opportunity to work for the pride of ownership helped provide for them in their complete hunger.