By Carolyn Porterfield
In 2011, the organization for which I worked joined with Buckner International to build a house for a family in Peñitas, Texas. What was interesting about this build was that the team was comprised entirely of women. In full disclosure, I seriously doubted women could do such a thing. The team proved me wrong.
It was my privilege to help build six more houses for precious families whose lives were made better by having a healthy, more stable environment in which to raise their children. Over those seven years, I also saw a community change.
Valuable lessons were learned on those women’s builds. Each worksite became my classroom and the women on the teams my teachers and mentors. As I have reflected back on those years, I realized how important these lessons are as one who continues to grow as a leader and trains others. Let me share my insights.
Choose to be a Learner
No one likes to feel incompetent, especially adults. We get pretty good at faking it in order to maintain a confident exterior. My first women’s build was like that. Inside, I knew I didn’t have any building skills, but I sure did not want anyone else to know! I had a hammer but was not very good at effectively pounding nails until I allowed someone to teach me.
As someone who has trained others for years, it was humbling to be the one needing training. My ego took a beating until I realized what a privilege it is to continue learning. From that first year of learning how to hold a hammer, I went on to learn how to use other tools, install insulation, hang sheetrock, tape, and mud. What a triumph when a friend called last year to ask if I would come to his house and sheetrock a small hole in his laundry room. Along with another women’s build team member, we successfully patched that hole.
Every Task Matters
Building a house is a complicated endeavor and some tasks seem more important than others. Setting the walls, putting the roof on, running electrical and plumbing lines, and installing windows and doors are pretty important. In my first year, I didn’t know how to do any of those things.
My responsibilities revolved around getting tools to the ones who needed them, picking up trash, keeping workers hydrated by bringing them water, and encouraging team members when they were hot and tired. When I was feeling like what I was doing didn’t matter, a wise team member sat me down and helped me see a different perspective.
Keeping a worksite free of trash made it a safe place for the workers. Bringing tools to those who needed them saved time. Keeping workers hydrated and fed gave them energy for the task. Everyone gets frustrated and tired on a worksite. Kind and encouraging words are a true gift.
My attitude changed when I realized that every task matters. I was important to the team because I made the work easier for others when I was willing to do the seemingly small tasks.
Teach Others What You Know
Somewhere in those years of building a house, I moved from being the learner to being the teacher and mentor. My confidence had grown to a point where I felt my building skills were sufficient for the task. With good instruction from others and several years of practice, I was now able to pass on to others what I had learned.
Specialists in leadership studies emphasize the wise idea that you are not successful as a leader until you have trained your successor. Family situations have kept me from participating in the women’s build the last couple of years. What joy to see those I had trained doing the work I could no longer do.
The women’s build has been a continual learning process for all involved. One of the biggest lessons for our teams has been the necessity to involve others. It is embarrassing to admit, but the first year we didn’t understand the need to involve people from the community in building the house. We made a huge mistake in thinking we were building a house “for a family” instead of building a house “with the family” and their neighbors.
God was gracious to forgive our unacceptable views and taught us the critical importance of involving others. Some of our most talented teachers and mentors were from the community. We built relationships with people who have become dear friends. We were enriched by serving together across cultural and language challenges.
What About You?
As someone connected to the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, you are already a learner. You have taken a courageous step of moving from what you already know into a world of new possibilities. I had no idea I could help build a house until I tried. You are learning new things that you are capable of doing through your involvement in CLLI.
Every CLLI participant works on a personal mission statement. Whether you think your mission statement leads to big or small things, know that what you will accomplish will change the world by changing the lives of those you serve.
In my CLLI class, we talk about being a learner as well as a teacher. We consider how the apostle Paul poured his knowledge and wisdom into Timothy. Everyone needs a Paul. But everyone also needs a Timothy. Don’t keep what you are learning to yourself. Pass it along to someone else.
We are part of a wonderful community. There is room for many more to become involved. Invite and encourage other women to join you. Assure them they can do the work because others will teach and help them.
My building days may be behind me but the lessons I have learned will remain with me for the rest of my life, and I pass them along to you.
Carolyn Porterfield serves on the CCLLI faculty and has recently become a member of the CLLI Board of Directors. Prior to retirement she served in various roles with Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas. One of her greatest joys is seeing women develop as leaders.