Chapter 16 – Building The Lodge

blocks third row wideI knew a large building serving as the main lodge and centrally located was necessary to a camping program.  It would provide adequate space for cooking, dining and meetings.  I also knew where such a structure would be located on the property.  And I had already determined that it would be built with cement blocks.

foundation dug

Foundation carefully measured and dug

Right from the beginning of the planning stages, my mind had been mulling over a number of design ideas and gradually an architectural concept began to emerge.  I drew up plans and even constructed a cardboard model. I estimated the number of blocks it would take – between four and five thousand.

My goal was to have the building up and ready for the first camp by Christmas, 1972.  By June the block-making crew had stacked a large pile of block sufficient enough to get started.  By August I had poured the foundation and layed the first three tiers of blocks

foundation poured

Foundation poured and stabilized with re-bar

lodge - blocks halfway

The walls are climbing upward.


The Wheelbarrow

ready mix

My “Ready-Mix”

Working with a crew of men who had never before handled construction tools was quite an adventure.  Especially the wheelbarrow!  Borema caught on to it fairly quickly, but the others eyed it suspiciously.  I think it was much like a person who has never seen a bicycle before and was asked to ride it; very wobbly and tippy, going in directions not intended.  This was what happened to those who gingerly grasped the hand rails and, much to the hilarity of the other men, tried to manoeuver the beast in the right direction.  In a few days this hilarious spectacle was the ritual for any person’s first day on the job.  The surrounding forest echoed with loud cheering and laughter.


Oh No … The Pliers!

walls near completion

The building is taking shape.

Another interesting event highlighted the day when the walls were about window-top height.  I had a unique pair of pliers with cutting jaws above the pincher instead of behind them.  This provided a convenient way to cut the wire I used to connect the re-bar together.  Wouldn’t you know it …. it slipped out of my hand and fell into the cavity of the cement block I had just positioned in place.  My heart dropped as I heard it go clunkity-clunk down the dark hole to the ground level some seven feet below.

Then I remembered that I had been given some Public Address speakers with fairly strong magnets attached to the back.  I climbed down the ladder and found the dusty speakers in the storage shed.  I detached one of the magnets and tied it to a string. I then went back up the ladder and slowly lowered the magnet down into the opening of the cement block center until I heard a click.  The pliers had attached themselves to the magnet.  Hurrah!

By this time all the workers had gather around.  They were aware of my distress in losing my tool, but now what was I doing?  I lifted the string with the pliers dangling from the magnet.  They had never seen anything like this before!  As I lowered my “catch” toward their upturned faces, they looked and asked, “Where are the teeth?”  How in the world was I to explain this phenomena?  I took the pliers off the magnet and handed it to one of the men who happened to be holding a trowel.  It so happened that his one hand with the trowel came within inches of his other hand clutching the magnet.  As the two clanged together, he yelled with horror and threw them both high in the air.  What a commotion ensued!  Everybody now wanted to try it.  I was still up the ladder, wishing I had my camera.  Finally one of the fellows declared, “If the white man can do this, then he can also create life!”  That’s when Alemu, our evangelist, stepped forward and launched into a sermon on how it’s only God who can create life.  Needless to say, it was some time before the commotion died down enough for the men to return to their work.

But then progress was interrupted by other projects that could not wait.  The four bridges needed repair and the road in from the highway required attention.  A barb wired fence around the property was completed.  Getting building supplies in became increasingly more complicated and time consuming.

So Christmas came and went without a camping program being remotely possible.

The Scaffolding

But we kept at it!  Slowly the walls began to rise higher and higher.  It was when the rows of block reached to about the height of my nose that I realized I had a problem.  Standing precariously on a plank strung between two saw horses was reasonably safe.  But at this new height I needed to come up with a better scaffolding system.

There was no building expert to consult and no instruction books at my disposal.  What should I do?  I discussed the situation with Betty and we decided to pray and seek God’s wisdom.  I began placing 2×4’s of various lengths on the ground when a pattern began to emerge.  Thank you, Lord, I murmured as it became clear to me how to construct a safe scaffold.  We used this system for the remainder of the project.  Interestingly when we were home in Canada a year later, I was showing pictures of the building project when a building contractor asked me where I obtained the configuration of the scaffolding.  With great satisfaction a told him how I thought it came from God!


Note the scaffolding on the back wall.

Early in 1973 we learned that we would be returning to Canada for a three month furlough beginning in June.  Could it be that I would be able to finish the lodge construction before then?
Despite delays with other important projects to keep me from the building site, the crew and I were able to lay the final block by the end of March.

The rafters

All this time, I was building the rafters that would span the 45 foot distance between the main walls 15 feet from the ground.  I fabricated the first one on the ground and used it as a template to build the remaining rafters one by one on top of that.  These rafters where extremely heavy requiring ten men to move them into position still on the ground at the base of the wall.

How in the world was I going to lift them 15 feet up?  I was able to find a couple of sturdy poles about 25 to 30 feet long.  I stood them up in an “A-frame” position next to the wall with a block-n-tackle attached to the top.  Then another strong rope attached to that same top stretched down to the Land Rover’s front bumper.  As the Land Rover was moved in reverse, the rafter in an upside down position slowly raised to just higher than wall height.  At that point I slowly drove the vehicle forward which allowed the wobbly rafter to move forward and downward until it’s two ends rested on the walls opposite each other.  This operation was carefully guided by men holding other ropes attached to the rafter.

But that wasn’t the end.  These heavy monsters had to be moved into position and then flipped upright.  There was much shouting and yelling of instructions to the point where I had to stop the procedure and, in no uncertain terms, let them all know that only I would tell them what to do. It took all day.  I went to the house totally exhausted … but extremely happy to see that job successfully completed.


By April the rafters were up and the tin roof installed.

In the next few weeks I installed the corrugated tin roofing.  This left the structure secure and ready for our departure for furlough in Canada in May.  Then I would tackle the finishing of the building with concrete floors, windows, painting and necessary furnishings.

Building the lodge was my primary activity but as 1973 rolled along other concerns occupied my attention.


near finished west side

The main structure of the lodge nearing completion.

Oh … Those Roads!

There was always road repairs to care for.  One particular river gorge presented a challenge.  During the rainy season, water erosion created deep ruts in the steep grade.  One had to be careful not to allow the front wheels of the vehicle to skid into one rut while the rear wheels slid into the other one.  Sliding sideways down the slope and around a fairly tight corner to the bridge below could be a scary experience!  During the dry season I took a crew of 15 men, two wheelbarrows, picks and shoves to the site where we carved away the bank on the high side of the roadway and dumped the light volcanic-like soil over the edge of the bank on the other side.  A deep ditch served to mitigate erosion during the rains.

No Money for a Decent Vehicle

All this activity in preparing the camp site was not only taking time, but the finances to continue construction was rapidly depleting.  We had prayerfully found sponsors for our personal financial support before coming to Ethiopia, but now we were also expected to raise what was required for the camp’s construction and operation.  Fund raising was not a strong point with us.  With the shortage of funds, there was no money to purchase a proper vehicle.

The loan of the Brant’s red VW camper came to an end when they returned from furlough.  Then we were able to borrow an old worn-out Land Rover from the Sheshamanae station.  But we couldn’t keep on using it indefinitely.

Finally we were able to purchase a German Opel sedan for very little.  It didn’t take long to find out why we were able to get a good deal!  It was not designed for back-country driving.  On several occasions it broke down on our way out to Sheshamanae.  I usually needed to dismantle and clean the air filter.  One time Borema and I were stopped by a great hissing sound and steam billowing out from under the hood.  To my dismay, the water hose had ruptured.  Here we were, out in the middle of the semi-arid desert area of the road with no water to refill the radiator.  With no container in the car to fetch water, we removed the bowl-like shaped hub caps from each wheel and made our way back to the river we had just crossed about a quarter of a mile behind us.  There we filled each hub cap and carefully made our way back to the crippled car.  I wrapped the hose with black electrical tape and filled the radiator with that precious water.  Later the car finally died.  We left it at Sheshamanae and went to Addis Ababa where I picked up a jeep that Des and Lillian Meed said we could use while they were on furlough.


Good news arrived at the end of March.  We had been hoping for another couple to join us in the work here.  And they did come!  Steve and Elizabeth Van Nattan and their three year old daughter, Mary, came to Ethiopia with Langano in mind.

Steve was a tremendous asset to the next stage of Langano’s camping preparation.  Our skills complimented each other’s; he couldn’t do much with the hammer and nail but was very good with pen and paper and also expressed good insight into needs, problems and solutions.  I worked hard to prepare the cabin for them with kitchen counter, cupboards and wardrobe.  Before long two tractors arrived from Shesemane with trailers loaded with their belongings.


Now with the Van Nattans there to help I still hoped that we would be ready for a camping program by Christmas time.  But would that be possible?  Finances for building supplies were exhausted and we still faced the costs of furnishing the camp with sleeping cots, bedding, kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, etc, etc.  Added to that was the understanding that some of the mission leadership was not in favour of a camping ministry … especially the logistics of transporting and feeding groups in such a remote location.

We were anxious to get home to family and friends; to thank those who had so faithfully prayed and supported us.  But on May 22nd we flew out of Addis Ababa with that cloud of discouragement weighing heavily on our hearts.  Would there still be a future for us at Langano?

Little did we know it, but God had quite a surprise in store for us during our stay at home.

8 Responses

  1. Pearl says:

    The suspense is building . . . (no pun intended!)

  2. Lois Pegg says:

    The details of building this site are a way over my head, and I marvel and am so impressed at the mind God has given you to design all this (water pumps and electricity included) and then build it. No wonder you could figure things out so quickly computer wise when we worked together. That brain of yours. …only a great and awesome God could have created that! 😊

  3. Lois Pegg says:

    PS I love the plier/magnet story!

    • Norm says:

      Good to hear from you, Lois. Thanks for giving God the credit. I am just so glad He allowed Betty and me to have a part in it. As the story continues I hope people will see how God had a “master plan” in bringing the Langano ministry to the place it is today. Speaking of building walls ….. what about that one I hurriedly constructed in the office with a window I could open and there you were at your desk and always willing to help me to spell a word that had me stumped!

  4. Lois Pegg says:

    Yes, how well I remember that little window. It had a lot of wisdom going back and forth through it! 😁

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