I have some sad news to share today. We have been away taking courses but while we were away their was a serious accident on building site. We have been building with a special kind of compressed earth brick. The bricks are very dense and insulate better against the Nigerien heat. However they are also very susceptible to water and need to be treated with a special coating or covered with a layer of cement to prevent them from dissolving. A little bit water is not a problem but a lot can be disastrous. I spoke with the architect in May about this since the bricks had not been covered yet and rainy season was about to begin. Not only that, the top floor had not been entirely roofed in but was waiting for the cooling tower. The architect had originally intended to put the tower in earlier around January or February but had shifted to installing the wiring instead. When I spoke to him about this, he said he wasn’t particularly concerned because Niger doesn’t get a lot of rain to begin with.
While we were away their was a huge rain storm that started around 10 PM and didn’t stop until 5 or 6 AM the following morning. The guard who lived on site to watching over the workers equipment had been living on the main floor with his family. Around 8 AM he noticed some of the bricks near the ceiling starting to crumble and realized what was about to happen. He called his wife to grab their small child and get out while he got the workers out of the building. When the others were out he himself went out and found his wife standing alone. He asked her where their three-year-old was and she replied that she was still sleeping inside and didn’t want to disturb her! He chewed his wife out and then finally went back in to retrieve his daughter. He threw the child over his shoulder and was about to step off the front porch when the building came down on top of them both. One worker had remained stranded on the roof of the building but managed to stay on top of it all as it came down, receiving only a few scratches and bruises. The guard and his daughter did not survive buried under the rubble.
Our architect was kept in police detention as a result of the deaths. A preliminary inquest was done to ascertain if the foundation had been properly laid and the initial response is yes, it was dug into an appropriate depth. The architect was known to have had a positive relationship with the guard, so his extended family declined to press charges and he has been released. I spoke with him yesterday for the first time since our return over the weekend. He felt that two things had happened to bring about the situation. First he admitted that the lack of roof had allowed a large quantity of rainwater to collect in the interior of the building. He also felt that the electricians had perhaps significantly weakened certain bricks by cutting into them to run some of the wiring. This observation was based on the fact of where the bricks initially began to crumble and how the building fell in two stages (the front went down first followed by the back end).
I have visited the site where our building once stood. The first floor ceiling and the roof which were made of cement are still more or less intact though bent and twisted but the rubble of the bricks are scattered all around. They even knocked down some of our outer wall and the neighbour’s house that was connected to it.
Our architect has communicated his intention to rebuild and replace what has been lost despite the fact that he has no insurance. When I visited him yesterday, the strain of this ordeal was clearly written on both his face and the face of his wife. The fact that people were killed in this accidence remains with him and he has not been able to sleep. Moreover, the whole affair has been on local television news including an interview with him about the bricks he has been using to build. (We were not the first to use these bricks; he has already built a couple of homes, including his own, as well as a hospital for another Christian organization—all of which are still standing).
The first job over the next few weeks is to begin to clean up the mess, which may not be easy. In the mean time we will be reconsidering our building plan. The architect is concerned about the negative press that his bricks have received and would like to make some changes. I have suggested a structure where cement posts hold the weight of the building with perhaps the red bricks functioning as insulation rather bearing the load of the building. Connected with this of course is the public perception of our property in the neighbourhood. To rebuild exactly the same building may not inspire confidence and safety among the neighbours and community we would like to reach.
We invite you to pray with us for this building project and the ministry initiative that it represents. We know that God is able to take our tragedies and our failures and use them to accomplish his will and mission. We invite you to pray particularly for our architect who is not only a brother in Christ but a church planter, with his own congregation. Pray also for the grieving who have lost loved ones. We also would appreciate your prayers for Jennifer and I. We have both been taking courses this summer and have assignments yet to complete. Jennifer is actually still in Germany as I write completing her last classes before her return on Saturday.