(first written July 2009)

Faith.

We live by faith – but then, so does everyone. In these bumpy economic times even people with so-called ‘secure’ jobs realise that we all are living by faith.

Sometimes we actively exercise that faith; sometimes we use our faith in a bold and stretching forward way; sometimes we are much more passive in our application of faith. If the truth be told, I tend towards the more passive end.

In the year of our Lord, 2008, by God’s grace, we entered into a housing project here in Antakya – one property which was to accommodate both ourselves and the elder and his family. I guess for me it was not just a ‘bold and stretching’ step of faith but a step beyond anything I had ever done or even seriously considered doing.

Personal confession time, in the past I have refrained from embarking on various projects as I didn’t have the faith to even begin them. Over the years I have witnessed other believers who have boldly struck out and done great things, God providing the wisdom, grace, direction, discipline or whatever was necessary to bring the task to fruition.

Notwithstanding, I’ve have exhibited more limited ambitions, more limited plans and hence, I have exercised more limited faith.

But in the case of this housing project, I was caught up and carried along by the faith of the elder and his wife and the project was summarily begun.

Initially the property (as acquired) had adequate accommodation for one family, it was in need of updating, but it was fully useable in its purchased state. But our plans and expectations were that by the end of one year, it was to modified, extended, expanded and otherwise transformed to be able to accommodate two families.

I had no idea how it could happen and on some occasions, I considered what the consequences were and how we would deal with the situation if it failed to be completed on time.

On the dark days I would rehearse the list of all that was needed to be done within the year and the mounting requirements would be overwhelming. And yes, on the ‘dark days’ somewhat depressing. In times like that, so much for faith. But faith does not exclude doubt – but ultimately overcomes it.

The task was both simple and complex. It was simple in that we needed to create accommodation for either us or the elder and family to live in and by July of 2009 – one year to the month from when we purchased the property. Conversely, it was complex in that there was so much to do to make an additional habitable accommodation.

Was my faith up to the task?

Frankly….er, well, no….

But we had commenced the task, it had begun….

And so, beginning in the summer of 2008, under the unforgiving, blistering Antakya sun, the old walls of a primitive single room on the flat roof were torn down. Other various low level tasks of preparation were accomplished; the water tanks were dismantled and removed – and in doing so we inadvertently undermined the supports holding up the vigorous and productive grape vine which subsequently collapsed and tried to take me out in the process. In the end the grape vine was propped up until the grapes were ready for harvest and once collected, the vine was consigned to the role of fire wood. We built end walls where our property abutted the neighbours – so two block walls were constructed.

However encouraging as all we had accomplished was, with the weeks, and then the months passing, it was patently evident, how little had actually been achieved compared to the totality of all that needed to be done.

In the autumn, we, jointly, and led by the elder, took a major step of faith and contracted to have a roof installed under which, in the fullness of time the proposed flat could be constructed. It was important that the roof go on before the winter rains and so a brother graciously loaned the funds to facilitate the construction of the roof.

Please note I am describing the construction of the roof – there are no walls, no interior walls and no exterior walls save the two end walls where our property adjoins our neighbours. The roof would be constructed where it belonged, steel posts strategically positioned to hold it up. The end walls would act as anchor points – the ridge of the roof resting on these walls. Mind you, the one wall was such that the builder immediately put a steel post running up the wall to provide additional support – not a great confidence builder – mind you, the steel support did introduce a new level of confidence.

Thusly the roof was duly constructed, the flat and prone-to-leaking roof over the lower flat now protected from the winter rains and summer sun. It took some time to reimburse the brother for the funds to build the roof and time continued to tick relentlessly onward. And we departed for our annual sojourn in the UK – three months would pass with no activity whatsoever. The elder and family actually temporarily moved in to our flat at this time as our flat was easier and cheaper to heat than their wonderful, but large modern flat.

It is noteworthy to acknowledge how funny it is how time keeps marching on whether we have time for it or not. The deadline did not and could not be altered – it was fixed as the elder and his family were in rented accommodation and when the contract terminated, it was, well, over. Here many flats are let on an annual basis – you pay a year’s rent in advance.

When we finally returned from the UK in January, there were just six months left to complete all the tasks that needed to be accomplished. In reality, all we had was a roof and a very roughed-in bathroom. All that had been done was great, but there remained so very much more to do.

Ahh…

I sat down and reflected on the task: exterior walls, interior walls, ceilings, insulation, electrics, windows, doors, plumbing, kitchen cabinets, flooring, plastering, painting… and every day that passed brought us one day closer to the time when the elder and his family would have to leave their rental accommodation and move….

Whew…

I’ve always been a sort of “jack of all trades and a master of none” (actually “a jack of some trades and a master of none”) – basically I’ll have a go at a practical task, and try to do it, being a practically minded kind of individual. And so, if I can not afford to hire someone, I would have a go and try to do it myself.  It is something that I’ve enjoyed doing over the years.

So, we ordered Ytong blocks for the exterior walls. Ytong is described as ‘gas concrete blocks’, the blocks are formed in uniform dimensions – in the case of the exterior walls, the blocks were 60 cm long, 25 cm high (standard) and 20 cm wide (this is a variable, you can order in a variety of widths).

The blocks are white, and as gas concrete, they resemble, vaguely, the interior of an Aero chocolate bar – many minute little bubbles. Or you could say that Ytong resembles pumice stone, light with little bubbles all through it. This results in the blocks being reasonably light, easy to work and you can even cut them to size using a normal hand wood saw although there are specialist saws which can stand up to the rigours of (basically) cutting through concrete. An added advantage is the blocks are self insulating, to a degree, and sound insulating, again, to a degree. But in this climate, every little bit helps.

On the negative side, the blocks can absorb water, somewhat like a sponge and in that case they become quite heavy and difficult to cut.

But, by and large, Ytong is a great boon to a novice builder like me for if you get the bottom course level and true, it is very easy to maintain the rest of the wall in that vein.

In this manner I was able to construct the outside walls. I even attempted to plaster the outside as I built the walls. I endeavoured to do this as I built them as we had no ladder long enough to reach the finished product and hence I would be unable to plaster them after they were constructed. Plastering was more than cosmetic as I needed to seal the blocks so they would not absorb rainwater.

Truth be told, I wasn’t overly successful as it was quite a reach, and sometimes my reach was not quite up to the task. But, in the end, there was a form of plaster covering the exterior walls. At the very least, maybe no attractive on close inspection, but the walls were sealed.

We contracted the ceiling work out as beyond the skill set of this ‘jack of many trades’ – that was a trade too far.

The ceiling was to be a suspended sheet-rock (gypsum) ceiling and the chap who had agreed to do it said he couldn’t commence the task until the electrics were in (understand room lights – once the ceiling is up there would be no way to retrofit wiring in the no-access loft.

However, the electrician said he couldn’t do the electrics until the interior walls were constructed – how else will you know where the room lights go, without first building the room divisions.

And so, guided by events and circumstances, I pressed on and ordered a different width (narrower) Ytong block for the interior walls. We had the luxury of laying out the walls in the cavernous space and see, before laying the first block, the layout and size of the rooms. Mind you, one row of blocks on the floor does not really communicate what the room will be like when the walls are full height.

Duly laid out, the blocks were delivered to the flat – that is delivered to the street in front of the main door. First we needed to hand carry all the blocks off the street and into the courtyard. Then we rigged a rope and pully system to lift the Ytong blocks up to the first floor – and we had all the blocks for the interior walls to lift.  That was a lot of blocks. The elder was loading the blocks and pulling them up – I was on the receiving end, getting the blocks and unloading them upstairs.

There were a lot of blocks.

At one point the elder came and suggested that I put the blocks scattered about the floor space to enable them to dry out because this being winter they had been rained on which makes them heavier, harder to work and they really needed to be dried out before construction.

Poor chap. My blood sugar was low, I was hungry, I was tired and it was all I could physically do to unload the blocks and place them relatively near to where I was receiving them. And so I told him “no”, not now, not possible – albeit not in a very gracious or kind manner. He didn’t suggest it twice. Not proud of that.

Later, after lunch, I returned and man-handled all the blocks, as he suggested, around the interior near where they would ultimately but used for walls and in such a manner that they could dry out. It really was a good and reasonable suggestion.

Laying the first course correctly, the subsequent courses rose straight and true – Ytong is a delight to work with. You lay a thin coat of ‘glue’ or so it is called in Turkish, a concrete based mixture. Applied correctly, the block is held securely in place by the suction of the thin coat of glue – it took me a prodigious amount of time to learn how to properly apply the glue. When blocks needed to be modified, a hand saw was all that was required to make very precise cuts and hence the walls fit beautifully together.

Slowly the walls rose to just beyond ceiling height and the rooms thusly divided came into being. The time had come to rough in the electrics.

As a ‘Jack of many trades’, I set about roughing in the electrics, not the important work of connecting it all up, just running the wires where they needed to go from where they needed to come from. So, to carry the power from where the circuit box would eventually being to the rooms I ran electrical conduit through the loft space to all the various rooms and where the ceiling lights would be.

Now my limited construction experience was with wood frame construction and in such construction you lay the wires in the interior of the walls. Here the practice is to lay conduit in the walls and then fish wires through subsequently. I was unaware of that and so, using a wood working router, I routered channels in the Ytong block to lay the wires ‘in’ the walls. I fitted boxes for the wall plugs, switches and such. I made junction boxes where the wires would be connected and distributed.

Once all this was roughed-in, then, and only then the ceiling man came in and created a metal frame partly resting on the newly constructed interior walls and partly hanging from the roof trusses on which to affix the sheet-rock/gypsum.

We had stipulated insulation and he brought many bails of insulation.

Now here there developed a problem between the chap building the ceiling and myself.

I can read.

I can read Turkish.

I can read English.

In both languages and in the most unambiguous of language declared that the insulation was for use in lagging water tanks and was not to be used as a general insulation, full stop.

I said to him, “This is inappropriate”.

He replied, “It is what I always use and no one has complained.”

This was an impasse.

In the end I agreed to pay the difference between the cheap and inappropriate insulation and the stuff that I had used in the past, that was proper insulation. And being the correct material for the task, it cost more than the other insulation.

In this manner the ceiling was installed and proper insulation put in place.

We now had exterior and interior walls, roughed-in electrics and a ceiling.

Absolutely phenomenal improvement – not yet a flat, but promising…. real progress…

But we still required windows and doors. Windows and doors are big ticket items and they are kind of necessary. Without windows and doors, well it really would not be habitable. In any case, the chap who would make and install the windows and doors agreed to do so with no money down and with no stipulated monthly instalments. There was no contract, or written agreement – we agreed the price verbally, what we will ultimately pay and it was so.

Finally, the house is closed in and weather tight. It is still not a habitable flat – there is no flooring, no kitchen cabinets, no paint on the walls – oh and the electrics are only roughed in, no functional electrics, no plumbing. Still much to do.

In the autumn, before we went to the UK, I had tiled the bathroom – it was my first experience in tiling. At the time the plan was that T. and I were to live upstairs and hence I was tiling “our bathroom”. What that meant was if I made a dog’s breakfast of it, it would be us who had to live with it. At the end of my first foray into tiling I will confess that while the walls are fine, the floor is appalling. A “have a go” attitude does not always result in success.

And so when it came time to tile the floors of the rest of the budding flat, I was not keen to do it – let the reader understand. As labour goes, I am cheap (free) but this is only valid if the work that is done is accomplished to an acceptable level. The elder was keen that I do the floors (free labour) and I was determined, even desperate, not to do the floors (the bathroom floor being a constant reminder that floors are beyond my skill set).

Sometimes faith enables us to be able to do something.

Sometimes faith results in the Lord providing someone to do something.

Praise the Lord He provided someone to lay the tiles – a true master tiler – and for a very modest fee. He did the whole flat, expertly, and in one day.

I watched, amazed, at the time, effort and techniques employed – well beyond my skill set.

The tiles for the flat were 40 cm by 40 cm and there was a multitude required for the flat (around 600 tiles). I observed that he hit every tile a minimum of thirty times.

I counted.

Hm, that works out to at least 30 hits per tile times 600 tiles which equates to 18,000 thumps with a rubber mallet – in one day.

But, before he laid a single tile he found the centre line of the flat, not an easy task when the footprint of the flat is anything except square.

I think the word to describe the footprint of the flat would be trapezoidal.

Then from that determined centre line all the tiles in the flat were laid from the line outwards, through all the rooms to the exterior walls. Smooth, flat, a fantastic, wonderful job.

Now, as we had decided that the upper flat was more appropriate for the elder and his family, he would be living with the excellent floor in the flat and the rather less than excellent floor that I laid in the bathroom. Well, when I did my foray into tiling it was never my intention for it to be the disaster it was. We all leave a legacy.

The man who built and installed the doors and windows now installed a full bespoke kitchen on the same financial terms.

In the beginning, my faith struggled to begin to believe this housing project could be done. The depth and breath of the task was too great for me. The lack of financial resources inhibited my ability to see a way forward.

Frankly, simply and realistically, it was impossible.

However, a month before (!) the deadline of July, all the walls were painted, all the floors laid, all windows, doors, ceiling, wiring, plumbing, well, everything in fact was completed. The 90 square metre flat was ready for the elder and his family to move in to.

Another personal confession:  the new flat was much, much smaller than the elder’s rental flat and I wondered if it would be difficult for them to leave the brand new, modern, expansive flat. I think it would have been difficult for some. But no, without the slightest qualm, hesitation or second thought, they enthusiastically embraced the smaller flat and have never looked back.

The flat is a testament to the grace and goodness of God – not the result of my ’faith, but a testament of the grace of God. This was more a ‘faith-building exercise’ for me than a ‘faith exercise’.

God is good.

God is gracious.

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