Thursday, July 2, 2015

Building for the Hernandez Family

Blog post written by Geoff Youd

Geoff was moved to write a letter to the Hernandez family today and we have chosen it for a blogpost. It will be translated into Spanish and delivered to their home this week.  The Crean Lutheran High School team will be completing and dedicating the home at the end of July and I can't wait to be there to praise God along with the Hernandez family. - Jenni Ramsey

Dear Miguel,

This past week my son Ryan and I had the pleasure of contributing to the work on your house.  When our team was first introduced to your family and you told us that you were 38 years old, I instantly felt a connection because I too am 38 and have 3 children.  My wife and I have three boys, Ryan (who was with me on this trip), age 10, Eli, age 6, and Owen, age 3.

I wanted to write to you to tell you how much you impressed me as a husband and father.  Even though the language barrier and frantic work schedule kept us from having a conversation, I learned many things about you while watching you over the past two days.  The way you smiled so proudly when we were introduced to your wife and daughters showed me how deep your love is for them.  It is obvious that you are a caring man who loves and is proud of his family.  The stories told to me by Kurt and the others about your work about Casa De Mi Padre orphanage, how you've worked there faithfully for many years and how you ride the bus for several hours each day, showed me that you are a faithful man who puts the needs of others before yourself.  The way you worked tirelessly, putting up with our unskilled labor and showing us the proper ways to dig a trench, lay a foundation, or begin a block wall, showed me that you are a hardworking man who will persevere through whatever difficulties you may face in life.

You may think that the team from the United States and Sus Hijos were a blessing to you and your family, and by God's grace, I hope we were.  But you were truly a blessing to me.  As I return to California, I will take back with me the beautiful example of a father, husband, and man of God that you showed us all.  I pray that as God blesses you in your new home you will continue to bless and serve your family, those with whom you work and your community.  Thank you for inviting us into your home and for giving us the opportunity to serve you.

Sincerely,  Geoff Youd

At the end of our building project, the team had the opportunity to deliver food and Bibles to the community that surrounds the Hernandez family home.  Team members had the privilege to pray for families and were amazed by the warmth and hospitality that they received at every home.  Please pray for the Hernandez family as Sus Hijos continues to work at the homesite.  We learned that the oldest daughter, Jennifer, will turn fifteen next week and were thrilled to invite her and the entire family to attend the quinceanera that our second team is throwing next week.  I look forward to seeing this precious family all dressed up for the celebration! - Jenni

Dancing with the Stars

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

"Let them praise his name with dancing." - Psalm 149:3

One of my favorite things to do in El Salvador is to visit the San Martin special needs adults center. As our bus pulled into the facility this morning, we were greeted by residents who were grinning from ear to ear and begging to dance.  The team received a tour of the facility, where they were met with hugs, kisses and shouts of glee.   We eventually moved to the grass area where team members interacted with the residents, played soccer and danced, danced, and danced!

It's hard to describe what it feels like to experience the pure joy of dancing at San Martin.  The residents live simple lives with childlike faith.  Their disabilities range from minor to extreme, and it is comforting to know that they are well cared for in this government run facility.  Sus Hijos has supported this center in significant ways, and recently provided desperately needed new mattresses for many of the residents.  I was invited to dance with the residents over and over again and loved every moment.  The scorching ninety degree sun was intense, but I wouldn't have traded anything for those sweet moments of exuberance.  The song repertoire ranged from Michael Jackson to Spanish pop songs and line dances and the residents loved each and every one.  What a day!

One of the highlights of my day was spending time with Sandra, a precious, young woman who has experienced horrific trauma in her life.  I met Sandra three years ago and her story pierced my soul. Last year Sandra was moved to the San Martin home, where she is thriving.  Her smile is absolutely contagious.  The team from Crean Lutheran High School will be throwing a quinceanera for the special needs women on July 28 and my heart beats in anticipation of picking a gown for Carla and dancing the night away in her arms!

In the United States, people often receive recognition for their outward appearances, and the inward beauty is often overlooked.  The residents of San Martin are in no way glamorous by the world's standards.  But they are some of the most beautiful people that I have ever encountered. Their affection, gratitude and love envelopes me. They are my "Dancing with the Stars" winners and I will never forget them.  

"The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." - Psalm 34:18

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Building Their House on a Firm Foundation

Blog post by Mike Langdon

Our team set out early Tuesday morning to the beach town of La Libertad, which is about an hour outside of San Salvador. We were anxious with anticipation in meeting the Hernandez family of five (including three precious girls ages 14, 11 & 5) and building them a 20'x20' solid and secure concrete house, a new home. Their current house is a wood slat shack that has poor insulation, subject to rot in the sub-tropic environment and does not compare in stability to the concrete block construction. Our team would be building this three room home from foundation to the peak of its roof.

I did not realize the time it would take for the entire team to be invested in the digging and preparing of 1-meter deep, four-sided 'footings' of the house. Over the first four hours in 90F+ temperatures (and equal humidity), our team of 20+ motivated & unified missionaries & translators dug and removed by shovel & bucket brigade over a ton of dirt and rock from the construction site. Meanwhile, another dozen team members cut, bent, twisted and wrapped rebar with hand tools to manufacture the cages that would be placed in the bottom of the footings. Trenches deep enough and laid with meticulous detail, the foundation was ready now for the loads of mixed concrete to be wheel-barrowed and poured into the footings - the key component of any structure's solid construction if it is made to last for any duration.

Jesus himself used the analogy of the importance of a home's foundation in demonstration of of the parable of the wise and foolish builder. In Luke, chapter 6, he is quoted, "Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it."  We heard this verse used on Sunday morning at Iglesia Monte Calvario. The pastor was using it as reference to standing on the rock of God's Word in spite of the commotion and upheaval of our culture. Only through a firm foundation in Christ and the Bible will we be able to stand fast during the storms of life that will be upon us.

A few times through the hot day, I watched Mrs. Hernandez in the doorway of the wood shack, her daughters leaning on her, all intent on watching us and all the activity right outside their door. Although they were smiling and readily engaging our workers, I was wondering if ever they might be anxious about the actual job we were doing for them: would the new house be a home in which they would be proud? Did these people really care about the quality of their work? Would the walls and roof of the home contain a safe place for many years of storms and earthquakes (a pretty regular occurrence in El Salvador)?

Oh the importance of the foundation - the foundation for our life or for a small family's home. I am confident in the diligent work our team did for the Hernandez's home foundation. Let the picture of those deep concrete footings be a ready picture on how we can and should rely on Jesus and His Word for our lives.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Serving Alongside Friends

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Our team this week is very dear to my heart for many reasons.  Not only do we have many returning team members and leaders from The Village Church of Irvine.  We also have two incredible families from our neighborhood in Irvine whose kids are close friends with our boys. It's been a dream come true for Jordan and Aidan to serve alongside their buddies in El Salvador this week.

In addition, our lifelong friends, Guido and Julien Hajenius, are serving with our team.  Guido's wife, Katie, is one of my best friends from college and we've supported each other through our weddings, the birth of our children and years of life and ministry.  Katie and Guido's son, Julien, is one of Aidan's best friends as well.  Guido serves with iEmpathize, an organization that seeks to eradicate child exploitation, engage the culture and empower kids.  To learn more about iEmpathize, click here.

This week Guido has been given four opportunities to present his materials on sexual exploitation, empathy and empowerment.  His presentation connects the hope of the Gospel with practical tools that empower young people to make the right choices.  Sadly, the majority of the children that we serve in El Salvador have experienced extreme trauma and abuse.  They are desperate for healing and Guido's presentation has given them incredible tools for their futures.  Mike and I have loved partnering with the Hajenius family and iEmpathize for many years and it's truly a gift to serve together in Central America.  My heart has been overflowing as I've watched the Lord use both Guido and Julien over and over again this week.

Serving the Homeless on the Streets of San Salvador

Blog post written by Sammie Evans

On Sunday evening our team had their first experience feeding the homeless.  We set up the assembly line and filled the bags with sandwiches, chips, apples, juice and cookies.  I was on this trip last year and will be spending 5 weeks in El Salvador this summer.  Feeding the homeless on the streets of San Salvador is always emotional and tonight was no different. We see many things while out feeding on the streets.  On Sunday night we saw kids sniffing glue to ease the hunger and take away the pain.  It was heart wrenching.  We also saw prostitutes, cross-dressers and many small children, including babies.  It was devastating to encounter a young, pregnant woman living on the streets as well. I thought that I would know what to expect since I've done this before, but it wasn't any less painful or heart breaking.

We handed out bags in one particular area and one man wanted to thank me personally.  He reached out to shake my hand along with a few others, so I shook it respectfully.  We have been talking every day about the power of touch in serving others.  It was hard to see such beautiful people living in such horrible living conditions. Sus Hijos feeds the homeless community regularly, but my heart just wants to keep giving them more.  

We also had the opportunity to feed the homeless on Monday. We headed to a different area, where we once again encountered broken people.  I love the fact that Sus Hijos doesn't discriminate with who they feed.  The meals are distributed to everyone who has a need, whether they are on drugs, inebriated or "ladies of the night."  Jesus touched and healed the lepers and prostitutes that came to him, so we do the same.  

One moment stood out to me while serving on the streets.  After handing a gentleman a bag of food,  I was expecting a "gracias," but received something completely different.   The man looked me in the eye and began to speak in perfect English.  He said, "Thank you, I love your country!" I was shocked.  Because I was so shocked, all I could think to say back was a simple, "Thank you."  As we drove off, he shouted, "I love your country!"  I have been so blessed to feed the "least of these" these past two nights and look forward to serving this community again on Thursday evening. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hope and Purpose in Suffering

Blog post written by Hilary Cook

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” - Romans 3:5

In the two days that our team has been in this country, we have been in directed contact with many people who have suffered much. However, we've been overwhelmed by the fact that the Salvadorian people are people of great character and perseverance. This morning our team loaded into the bus and the back of Kurt Ackermann's (Founder of Sus Hijos) truck to visit another orphanage.

I had an opportunity to get to know one of the women who cares for the kids. The kids call these ladies "tias" ("aunt" in Spanish). With the help of one of our translators, I learned that the orphanage has been around for many years.  Many of the kids in the center get taken in off the streets or are placed here after being deported back to El Salvador from the States.  Others are rescued from abusive home environments or prostitution. When I asked this “tia” why she decided to work for an orphanage, she answered simply “Amo a los ninos"  ("I love these kids"). Because she loves the kids and because she is a woman of character, she has been working in orphanages since she was 18 years old.  I was touched by her love for the kids and her hope in the midst of suffering.

This morning one of our team members gave a presentation on sexual exploitation to fifty girls as well as the orphanage staff.  It was a powerful and interactive time. Please pray that their lives are impacted and that each young woman is empowered to make the right decisions for their future. 

We had a delicious lunch break at The States Diner, a restaurant which was opened last year by Sus Hijos to provide employment for kids from the orphanages.  I loved meeting the servers and seeing the hope in their eyes.  When kids turn 18 in the orphanages of El Salvador, they are kicked out of the centers.  The Sus Hijos transition program provides housing, jobs and life skills for kids who would otherwise be hopeless. 

This afternoon we toured a special needs center for children who are not able to thrive in other orphanages. Again, I found myself overwhelmed as immense suffering met great character. The men and women working there were so kind, patient, calm, loving and joyful as they cared for, cleaned up after, and loved on those precious children. I found myself constantly in awe of their strength to continually serve the kids day after day. I was there only for a few hours and it broke me.

During our morning devotional, we were asked a question that so many people want an answer to… Why is there so much suffering in the world?  I believe there could be many answers to this question. Maybe it’s because we live in a fallen world where horrible things happen. Maybe God allows suffering so that we build up endurance, which builds character, which produces hope that one day Jesus will return and take all the pain away.

However, there is a question I find myself more frequently asking… Why am I not one who suffers like some do?  I have had my fair share of trials and struggles, but it doesn’t seem fair that I have been blessed with such a privileged life while others wonder if they will even eat today. When I asked God this question today, the answer was clear. The reason that I was given a salary job with benefits and vacation days in Orange County is so that I can come to El Salvador and serve the least of these. It’s this trip. Every comfort, commodity, gift, and talent I posses was given to me for the sole purpose of glorifying God by using them to love and serve His children.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Working For The Lord

Blog post by Jenni Ramsey

His Hands His Feet is honored to partner with Sus Hijos, a non-profit foundation serving children in El Salvador.  The tag line for Sus Hijos is "Working for the Lord, working for His children!"  We definitely had the opportunity to work for the Lord today.  We worked hard and it was a very full day of ministry.  We are tired but our hearts are full!

Monte Calvario Church

This morning we had the privilege of serving at Monte Calvario Church.  It was "Family Day" at the church and we were so thrilled to encourage the congregation, serve in Sunday School and worship alongside our Salvadorian brothers and sisters.  The pastor gave a powerful message on the power of the family and the importance of a firm foundation in Christ.

Pollo Campero

After church our group of forty North Americans and Salvadorians invaded Pollo Camperon, the popular fast-food chicken chain in Central America, and had an awesome time of food and fellowship!

A Catholic Home For Boys

It was such a joy to spend the afternoon with nineteen precious boys who live in a Catholic home. We got to play soccer, frisbee, make balloons, enjoy snacks and share the hope of the Gospel with these beautiful, young boys.  Guido shared his testimony of a broken childhood and how Jesus dramatically changed his life.  The kids listened intently and we pray that their hearts were stirred. We were deeply touched as we prepared to depart and many of the boys took the time to publicly express their gratitude for our time together.  Please pray for these boys and pray for Sus Hijos, as they consider a long-term partnership with this orphanage.

Visiting the Hernandez Family

In 2013 The Village Church of Irvine built a concrete home for the Hernandez family.  The family had used their entire savings to pay for cancer treatments for their son, Eric.  They were living in squatter.  We fell in love with their family that summer and were so thrilled when a family from The Village  Church donated funds for a home addition in the summer of 2014.  Sadly, Eric lost his life to cancer shortly after the home was completed.  Although they continue to grieve, their joy, faith and eternal perspective is contagious.

Today we were honored to see the completed home.  Oswaldo and Irma were beaming with joy and pride as they gave the team a tour of their home.  My heart was touched as I saw pictures of our former team members displayed on the walls.  Oswaldo has begun working as a builder for Sus Hijos and he will build alongside our team this week as we build a home for another family.  We were overwhelmed as we prayed over their family and home and look forward to a continued friendship with their family for many years to come.

Feeding His Sheep

The team was honored to prepare meals and feed the homeless at the end of the eveing.  It was an emotional and humbling experience for many of the teams members.  Blog post coming soon.