How Are You?

We split into two work groups again today – three of us (the three with the most construction experience) went to the church, while the rest of us went to the school.

The plan was for the workers at the church to pour concrete for the floor of the second story. What we’ve seen so far at Santa Maria Virgen is only the first story, what will eventurally be meeting and classrooms, and two small apartments for visitors. The upstairs, yet to be added, will house the actual worship space. It was the ceiling for the lower story / floor for the upper story that was to be poured. Oakley told us they’d gotten about 20 local workers – some paid, most volunteer – to come help, and there would be a lot of mixing of concrete on the ground and hauling it in buckets up to the forms on the temporary metal roof. It sounded like a major production, in which most of our skills would be no match for the task. So while the three of us with real experience went to the church, the rest of us were trucked up to the school.

(Oakley later described the roof pouring as “a Chinese fire drill” and said that in truth it was far less organized than his first description had suggested it was intended to be. Still, they got a lot done, and it will transform the building.)

Our work at the school was far less complicated, but had its own fire drill aspect. The primary students did not come in this morning, since their teachers had a training to attend, and that made it a perfect time to paint the classrooms. Inside and out. With paint that had to be mixed on the spot, since the store did not have enough paint of one color to do the whole job, and so two colors had to be blended into one serviceable gold-yellow.

Once the paint was readied in a huge garbage can, we dipped out smaller buckets and roller pans and got to work. Several of the secondary students were also there to work, and we quickly discovered we needed more brushes to go around. Eventually more were procured, and then we had a full complement of people painting the walls with rollers and assistants following after to fill in the mortar lines between the cement blocks. The first coat did not look encouraging, the walls’ original blue peeking through the yellow with alarming vigor. But as that coat dried, and the second coat began to go on, the classrooms did begin to take on a visibly brighter and neater look.

It was impressive to see how many of the students came to work on their school. I thought that if I had ever been asked to come paint my high school I would have found it a very odd and objectionable request. But here they were, working side by side with us. We couldn’t always explain to each other what needed doing or what task came next; but painting is not that complicated, and a few words and some select pantomime carried us a long way. There was one student in particular I had noticed yesterday playing with a soccer ball before class – he had some really good moves – and who was part of a small group Lee and Brendan and I had done some bilingual conversation with in the afternoon. Today he had a paint roller on a long pole, and was coating the block walls with almost as much panache as he’d played the ball. Of course, he and a couple of friends got into a little rivalry with the paint, seeing who could reach the highest, and at least a little of that paint went on each other, not on the wall. It was clear they thought the time was fun, as well as doing something to help their school.

Sometime during the afternoon another student who had been part of our conversation group the day before arrived. Before she got her paintbrush and started to work, she made a point of seeking Lee out. She came up to Lee and said, deliberately and carefully, “How are you?”, an English phrase they had practiced. Lee responded “Very well, thank you,” again slowly and with emphasis. Then they both grinned and starting laughing. They’d made their connection, and remembered their greeting. And then they painted.

Caring for well-being is such an important and far ranging thing. It can be as simple as a greeting, and the effort to remember how to greet someone in the new way you’ve practiced. It can be as basic as painting a classroom so the students can gather and learn and grow in a bright and inviting environment. It can be as complicated as pouring a ceiling-floor for a house for the Church. Caring for well-being is the core of shalom, peace, wholeness – a value shared by many faiths and spiritualities. In a sense, our whole presence here is to ask “How are you?” of our friends and sisters and brothers – and then to be part of the process by which they and we can be well.

God is at work in the world, making well-being for all sorts and conditions of people. When we join God in that work of well-being, then we are on the mission.