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Chi Chi and Luis

You don’t have to be the best maker.


A few weeks ago in the Dominican Republic on our family mission trip (highly recommend family mission trips), Lia worked in the medical clinic, she being a doctor and all and having actual skills. I was part of the no skills crew that was sent to do construction.

Day 1 we poured cement. For the morning, I stood on the top of this ladder – ladder probably was not the best word for it: the “ladder” was two uneven sticks held together by several smaller uneven sticks nailed into them at odd angles; these smaller sticks were referred to as “steps;” OSHA would not have approved. But we were miles away from OSHA. I stood on the top of the ladder and poured concrete into holes and onto myself. It was quite wonderful. And by the end of the morning I had completed an entire side of the wall to the house. Never you mind that Luis, the Haitian, completed the other three walls, the interior walls, plus fixing all the mistakes in my one wall in the same amount of time.

Day 2 they moved us to block laying. Step one for the no skills group was to move the concrete blocks from one pile to another about thirty feet away (wasn’t sure why they didn’t put the blocks there in the first place – other than perhaps they needed to come up with something for us no skills types to do). Then Chi Chi, our foreman for the day, taught us to use a pie cutter to slop down cement in rows. Then, he demonstrated how to gently place the blocks on top of the cement. Then, he showed us how to adjust each block to make sure it was in line – front, back, and top with all the others. It was quite wonderful. He laid about six blocks in about two minutes then sent us in teams around the building site to have a go. By the end of the morning, I think we had completed one row of block. Chi Chi had finished six in addition to fixing all the mistakes in ours. I’m pretty sure that during lunch he knocked down all the work we had done and redid it. After all, someone was going to have to live in the thing someday.

I’m in awe of people like Luis and Chi Chi. To think of them as men with no skills is like saying everyone could, if they felt like it, drain 3’s like Steph Curry. These men, Luis and Chi Chi, can build houses. I, on the other hand, can write about it. I ask you, which talent would you most prefer in an oncoming monsoon? Because they work for Mission Emanuel, they get paid about twice the going rate of the average builder, about two bucks an hour.

I learned recently that the word “carpenter” used to describe Joseph’s profession – and subsequently Jesus’ likely vocation prior to saving the world – is better translated “maker” or “builder.” In other words, Jesus and his earthly father built stuff. They built tools; they built furniture with those tools; they built houses to put the furniture and tools in. Likely Jesus had veins popping out of his forearms. Let that image sink in. Jesus was strong. He made stuff. In fact, according to Scripture, he was a creator before he was born and a creator while he lived here on earth; and in the Gospel of John, he tells the disciples he is building a house for us to share with him in heaven as we speak.

Gracie is a friend of mine. Her family spent spring break in the Dominican Republic with us; it was Gracie’s last spring break before graduating from high school; she will be attending my alma mater in the fall – go Cats! We were on the bus one afternoon, talking about being a failure at no skills labor and the good fortune of getting a liberal arts education, when Gracie said to me, “You know, Jesus is a lot like Luis and Chi Chi. He invites us to do the work even though he could do it much quicker and much better himself.”

“Why do you think he does that?” I asked Gracie.

“I guess what matters to him is the relationship that we get to have with him and with others while we work. To him, that’s more important than the thing he’s building. What he wants is our participation, even when it’s messy, because what he is really building is us – what’s inside us.”


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Ned Erickson

Ned is the Founder and Executive Director of the Winston-Salem Fellows, a non-profit dedicated to equipping people to live seamless lives as they grow into the men and women they were created to be. He is the author of four books, including the critically acclaimed novel Clay. He, his wife, two children, dogs, rabbit, guinea pig, turtle, and chickens live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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