HBbelize0309 (ran 3-9-00)

 

St. Cross builds 'sister' church in Belize

by Robb Fulcher

It's not unusual for members of St. Cross Episcopal Church to get involved in community outreach, but this time their reach went out to the extended community of rural Belize, where they joined villagers in building a "sister" church that is the only structure of its kind for miles.

Built in one week in February between a rainy season and the approach of hotter weather, the 1,500 square-foot building with cinder block walls and a tin and zinc roof give an aggressive mission priest a home for his services. And the building will do more, serving as a community center and providing protection from pounding hurricanes.

"It was really nice to be able to do this," said St. Cross member and project organizer Dick Reznichek, recently returned from the new church in the village of Selena, which is so small it doesn't show up on travel maps of the country tucked between Mexico and Guatemala.

Reznichek, a retired urologist, got the idea for the church project a couple of years ago when he heard the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles speak about the need for mission support in Ghana, the Philippines and Belize.

Reznichek had a vacation scheduled in Spain with his brother, and talked him into going to Belize instead.

Reznichek and others settled on the church project in Selena, a hilly area of thatched-roof huts and marginal farming on the country's western edge, about 10 miles from the Guatemalan border and a few stones' throws from some breathtaking Mayan ruins.

"We only wanted to give them what they told us they want," Reznichek said. "We didn't want to impose anything on them, or just hand something to them that they didn't want."

Members of St. Cross raised about $20,000 for the project, and 15 church members paid their own way to fly into coastal Belize City and bump down the Western Highway to their destination.

"We were about half men and half women, their were a couple of couples, and some of us were retired but most of us are still working, and took vacations to serve as volunteer builders," Reznichek said.

The construction boss was Dave Garrett, a builder by trade whose tireless volunteerism prompted the Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce to recognize him as man of the year.

"We had a lot of chiefs and not too many Indians," Reznichek said with a laugh. "But Dave had the final say. We call him Pharaoh Garrett now, because he was always up on the roof, giving orders."

Garrett demanded that the builders meet the strictest U.S. building codes, with the roof's wooden rafter trusses secured not just with nails, but with steel plates that are themselves secured by 50 nails each.

The work was done by an equal number of St. Cross members and villagers, who left their farming in shifts to take equal partnership in the project.

By night the St. Cross contingent slept in nearby huts, and returned to the work site by morning.

The church was consecrated in a ceremony with, among others, Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch, Anglican Bishop of Belize Sylvestre Romero and Vasquez, the mission priest.

Before the St. Cross contingent left, they also donated about 1,000 children's books, and have plans to offer further help in areas such as English as a second language.

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a racially mixed country with English spoken prominently, and an especially large influx of Spanish speakers from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. Vasquez, a Guatemalan, speaks both English and Spanish, and had been offering services under a thatched roof and a rough awning for about six months before the church was built.

The new church was named Santa Cruz or St. Cross in English.

"In the U.S. there is no other Episcopal church named St. Cross. There is a St. Cross in England. So this new one is like a sister," Reznichek said. "We have the same name." ER