Shelter: Making a Difference

 In 2002, a group of 10 men headed to a tiny makeshift village in the mountains of El Salvador, just outside the city of San Vicente.  A massive earthquake had struck this part of the country in 2001, killing over 900 people and displacing over 100,000 others. 

Newly formed communities like these popped up in rural areas with families living in meager structures made from sticks, mud, plastic sheeting or rusty old pieces of aluminum siding. The men spent one week and built 3 homes. 3 families now had shelter from the torrential rains, security for their few possessions, and safety from predators. But would it make a difference? Could it make any kind of difference?

What started with a desire to do something, slowly began to grow. First, through World Partners Canada (then director Paul Brander with Jim Noble), the mission arm of the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. Over the next 10 years, a few teams of Canadians would head to El Salvador for 8 days at a time. Each team would build a handful of houses, until another team would arrive. As Canadians came and went, they felt good about what they had done, but was it making a difference for the people in El Salvador?


Our team from Sarnia joined the movement in 2009, captured by the need, and attracted by the relative simplicity of travel and the practical outworking of our faith in Jesus through the provision of homes for people living in extreme material poverty. We were one of six teams. While our team was in El Salvador, there was a ceremony for 100 home owners in the little town of Las Brisas.  Members of the military lined the highway and the bumpy, winding road into the community. The President flew in by helicopter. The occasion: to present each of the families with a certificate of ownership of their homes! It was a grand celebration…but were we really making a long term difference?


The reality is, that when the teams weren’t there the work stopped. Yet, buoyed by the strength of a growing number of volunteers in Canada, one thousand homes were built in those first 10 years.  The work was growing greater than our denomination’s capacity to administer it effectively.  As a result a new organization was birthed, Shelter Canada, through which the work would continue to grow, through the building of more homes. More significantly, the work began to grow through the empowerment of Salvadoran nationals getting more and more involved.  But was it making a difference? Could it make any kind of difference?


Having just returned from our first post-pandemic in-country trip to El Salvador on the occasion of our 21st year of work in this breathtakingly beautiful country, the answer seems to be a resounding, yes!!  One of our translators was named Jose. He is a bright and engaging young man of 22 years. He has graduated university, educated as an English Teacher. As we began to get to know one another, he shared that he was from a little town outside of San Vicente. A town called Las Brisas. 

“Las Brisas?!”, like the town where all the houses are Shelter houses, I asked. 

“My house has a “World Partners” label on it.”, he replied. 

“World Partners, was who built these houses before we became Shelter.”


He knew that little piece of info. I think he wanted to see how significant it was to me. I asked him if he remembered the day the President came. He did. When we realized that we were both there together, thirteen years previous, the answer to my question became incredibly clear: yes, building these homes, with these families, is making a difference! A difference that no one could have anticipated!!


In February 2020, the United Nations declared a first ever resolution to address the homelessness of over 1.6 billion people worldwide.  They appealed to governments and the social sector to forge together to address the issue.  Safe housing is now a global need. When Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount, he concluded by using the imagery of a man building a home, either on a solid foundation or on a sandy foundation.  Jesus’ words that invite learning and action, take for granted that everyone should have a home. Safe housing has always been a priority for God.  


with directors from IJM El Salvador
The provision of a home is an act of justice (according to International Justice Mission El Salvador): When people sleep without having to worry about cold and rain, they are healthier.  When people are healthier they relate better to their neighbours, they are more consistent in their school and work.  When people have secure homes, then they can leave their few belongings to attend school and work.  When people have safe uncrowded homes, then physical and sexual abuse will decline. 


translators: Jose (centre), with Rebecca and Odalys

As of January 2023, Shelter Canada ( has built approx. 4,700 for Salvadorans in need.  If each household has between 4 and 5 people, then that means that almost 25,000 people have been impacted by the practical application of the Gospel through word and deed. Currently, the work has grown, establishing its own in-country foundation (Fundacion Refugio), and employs 50 Salvadoran staff on a year round basis.  As a result, through the two years of pandemic restrictions, the work has grown because of the creativity and initiative of national staff.  The work has also deepened in its commitment to share the life and truth of Jesus with everyone connected with Shelter, through every stage of the process of receiving a home, and throughout the whole organization. 


meeting Jose's mom at her booth in the market

Jose would go on to tell me that when the opportunity to work with Shelter was presented, his mom encouraged him to take the position, because she knew how much a difference receiving a home had made for their family. A home of shelter, security and safety had provided a future. And now Jose stands with other families, bringing a much deeper understanding about the significance of the work of Shelter. 


Now Shelter Canada is seeking to bring glory to God by engaging in this Kingdom-oriented work with a compelling vision, to build its 10,000th home by the year 2027.  This means that Shelter will trust the Lord for the resources (human, material and financial) to do more in these next five years than in the twenty years previous.  The early indications are that God is creating the incentive, carving out new paths, multiplying partnerships with a goal to fulfill the next chapter of this work. 

A Kingdom difference is being made, where in country resources are being discovered and mobilized. Together,  through long term relationships, self sustainable goals are being achieved. I am thankful for the difference it has made in my life, the life of my family, our church family, the teams of people in Canada and most importantly the immeasurable difference it continues to make in the lives and communities of El Salvador!


  1. Thank You Deve for this information. Shelter Canada is such a inspiring story and I appreciate the commitment from all the volunteers that work so hard to make this organization such success. Blessing to each of you. Frank Kaiser. Airdrie Alberta.


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