Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When Her House Was Scheduled for Demolition

Lucy came home one day in January to find a large red X spray painted on her house.

This was not the work of some teenage hoodlum.  This was the work of government officials.  And the red X meant that her house was marked for demolition.

Because of a lack of city planning for the last 16 years, the new government is trying to make up for lost time.  Hundreds of thousands of people in this city of 5 million are living on land that was never designated for residential use.  Many of them are squatters.  However, many others, like Lucy and her husband, bought their land legally, fair and square.  Maybe it should never have been sold to them in the first place.  But that wasn't their fault.

Lucy cooking for us at her house

Lucy's house is on a flood plain.  She knew that when they bought it, and they have ingeniously built their house to avoid becoming water-logged.  But according to the government, the land is uninhabitable, and needed to be cleared of residents.

Late last year, that's exactly what happened in other parts of the city.  Thousands of houses were knocked down.  The people who lived there don't have anywhere else to go, so many of them are now living in shacks on top of the wreckage.  Lucy told me that many of them committed suicide.  

So on that fateful day in January when her house was marked, Lucy knew this was not an empty threat.  She knew that her house could be imminently be knocked down.  All the renters in the area immediately moved out.  The owners stayed.  For many of them, their house was all they had.

For Lucy and her family, this house represented years of hard work and laborious saving.  In a country where it's difficult to get a loan or a mortgage, she and her husband bought their land with cash.  Then they scrimped and saved again, and they built three rooms and an outhouse.  Even though Lucy cooks outside and buys water by the bucket from a neighbor, they are doing pretty well for themselves.  Just a few weeks before the red X appeared, they paid to have electricity installed.  

Demolition would mean the loss of everything they have worked for.  And here, there are no safety nets, no insurance plans, no welfare programs.  

When Lucy first told me about the red X, a cloud covered her normally sunny personality.  The stress had kept her from sleeping or eating well.  I had no words.  What could I possibly say?  I was weighed down by the utter unfairness of life.

I saw Lucy again a couple of weeks later.  She told me that hundreds of land owners from her neighborhood had made an appeal to the court.  The court promised to let them know in two months if they would get to keep their houses. For two months, anxiety would hang over the entire area.  

Lucy's demeanor, however, had entirely changed.  She told me with confidence, We will be okay.  We are young.  (Lucy is mid-30's and her husband 10 years older.)  We are strong.  If we have to start over again, we can do it.  God will take care of us.  We are trusting him.

Once again, for entirely different reasons, I was without words.  

During those two months, Lucy's faith did not waver.  She told me that she resonated with the story of Job.  God gives and God takes away, she said.  We will bless the name of the Lord, no matter what happens.  

Lucy had already been well acquainted with suffering.  Her childhood was marked by loss.  Her first pregnancy was twins, and she lost them at seven months gestation because of a doctor's error.  But when she decided to follow Jesus, there was no turning back.  And her life has reflected him since then, in how she loves her children, in how she loves her neighbors (she always adds extra rice to the pot to feed a few extra kids), her work ethic, and her joy.  

My kids and Lucy's girls

And now, God is evident in her faith.  Even in the likely prospect of losing everything, her faith in her God did not waver.  And as I listened to her and saw her joy, I couldn't help but wonder if my savings account and my health insurance are keeping me from something I never knew I was missing.  

As promised, at the end of March, the court gave their answer:  They decided to reverse the decision.  The houses would not be knocked down.  

I rejoiced with Lucy when I heard the news, but I couldn't help but notice that she didn't act very differently than she already had been.  She already had her joy; so this good news was just icing on the cake.  

A.M. Royden wrote, Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal.  Colossians says, Set your eyes on things above, not on earthly things.

Lucy helps me see that I still have a long way to go.

Alyssa and I with Lucy on a visit to her house
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