The Key Ceremony

Image from “dreamstime.com”

Shelter Canada” provides the opportunity for more than building houses in El Salvador, it provides connection and relationship. It is no small thing to provide a clean livable space for a family who may have lost theirs to no fault of their own – who may not have the wherewithal to start again. But a house on its own is merely material; a home is full of life.

Recently friends of mine returned from what is becoming their annual contact with people they have come to love.  One of the events at the end of building a home is what is known as “the key ceremony.” In one sense it completes the project, but in a more profound sense, it is a touching observance that sets the stage for the family’s next chapter of life:

The Key Ceremony by Krista Scott

Without a doubt the key ceremony is my favorite day of the week with Shelter. Typically taking place on the Friday of the week, some time has passed between meeting the families, building for the families, and reuniting with the families at the key ceremony. Often times this is the only time that every individual who will be living in the house is present with the teams. Because it is a significant day, people often try to get a day off work or come in from the field to receive the keys for their new home. Each family shows up in their best attire. It’s fun to see the girls in their dresses and sparkly shoes, the boys with hair slicked back or spiked up, the moms in their good blouse and the dads all cleaned up and looking somber and official. The gravity of the situation is punctuated by these small formalities.

When our eyes meet there is a recognition, a familiarity that instantly rings of friendship. Kids come running with hugs. Moms give warm smiles and dads stand and nod. Hands are extended and ‘Dios te Bendiga’ is exchanged among new friends. The community leaders buzz around ensuring that each family has arrived. The local church sets to work sweeping and setting up chairs, a children’s program is assembled, amps and instruments are plugged in and mics are tested. There is an excitement about what is to come.

At the front on a table rests 8 bibles, each topped by a set of keys.

Worship music erupts in Salvadoran decibels and everyone takes their place. Worship. A good message preached by Sister Fatima on loving your neighbor. She defines the moment by recognizing that Canadians don’t come build houses because we are all multi millionaires. We are not. We come build houses because Jesus has invited us to love our Salvadoran brothers and sisters. She asks who will invite Jesus into your new home? Hands go up. Prayers go up with them. English prayers. Spanish prayers. All speaking love with no translation required.

And then we are all at the front. The Canadians lined up on one side of the table holding ‘the wisdom book’ [Bible] and the keys. During the ceremony a member of our team will speak to a family before presenting the Bible and keys. The family also speaks to the team. One husband said thank you for the house – but the real thing of value is ‘the wisdom book’.  I couldn’t agree more. Perspective.

The translator is front and centre. Each Bible and keys are handed to one of our team and we take turns speaking truth to one another. English. Translation. Spanish. Translation. Smiling. Nodding. Crying. Hugging. Shaking hands. Bibles and keys are presented. The message that we hear time and time again… ‘Gloria Dios’, ‘Gracias’, ‘Dios te Bendiga’. We smile and say ‘You’re welcome’ because that’s polite. We know our place. Because of their grateful hearts, God gets the glory and we get the thanks. It is as it should be.

We are all called together for prayer and consecration of the home. Sister Fatima brings out a bucket of goods. There is one for each family. She begins to go through the bucket, taking out items, speaking of the provision and protection of Jesus:

The house, she explains, represents God. We are always the safest when we are with Him. The keys then, she explains are Jesus. They work only for your own personal house. Your keys cannot open your neighbor’s house. They are very important. You must not lose the keys. The Bible is the manual. For the house, for life, for everything. We must read it if we want to know how to live fully.

More prayers. Spanish. English. More hugs and handshakes. Buckets are distributed and children run to burst piñatas as our hearts explode.


For more information go to: “Shelter Canada.

For more on the simple homes that are built see: “Shelter Canada: Home.

To gain insight on how your well-meaning helpfulness can actually be hurtful, see this brief and pithy video: “Helping Without Hurting.”


Krista Scott works in her spheres of influence to enrich her communities for the common good and for the glory of God. She is a host of relationships, including a friend, and she is among the most articulate people I know.

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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