Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeding The Homeless

Blog post written by Roberta Keenan
Village Church of Irvine, CA
First trip to El Salvador

After a full day and a tasty dinner for 20 prepared by our hosts at the Mission House John and Judy, our team started the process of preparing meals for the homeless.  After doing this for many years, the organizers have this process down pat.  An assembly line was created and 150 sack meals were prepared in about 1/2 hour.  Many hands make light work.  These bags were loaded into the back of Kurt's truck along with as many people as possible, and we set out to bless those much less fortunate than us.  

We were only on the road for a couple of minutes when we made our first stop.  Kurt honked his horn to alert us that he spotted a homeless person, and the guys on the back of the truck jump out to hand out the sacks.  My grandson Stephen was one of the guys in the back.  It was such a joy to watch him approach people with bags of food.  He wasn't shy at all.  He was not only blessing them with food, but gave many of them big bear hugs.  They weren't the most pleasant looking or smelling people, but it didn't matter.  He still approached them and placed his arms around them with a shout of "Dios the bendiga."  We were all there to be Jesus' hand and feet to bless these hurting, struggling people and it felt incredible.  

We continued this process for the next 30 minutes until all of our sacks were delivered.  One stop was at an abandoned train station.  Everyone in the back of the truck was able to get out and deliver the meals personally to people who were sleeping on cardboard boxes.  This was an eye opening experience, especially for first timers like me.  The people were so grateful and expressed their love and appreciation over and over again.  I'm so glad that I finally had the privilege of being part of such an amazing ministry after hearing about it for so many years.  

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for  me." - Matthew 25:35,40

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Katie Knepper's Quinceanera

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

"Arise, cry out in the night, pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.  Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children." - Lamentations 2:19

I am still marveling at the fact that the Lord brought me to El Salvador this week to celebrate Katie Knepper's quinceanera (15th birthday celebration).  In the summer of 2009 I met the Knepper family while serving at a Calvary Chapel sponsored orphanage in San Martin, El Salvador.  I had no idea that a lifelong friendship would blossom between our families.  The Kneppers were sent out as missionaries by Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa and they return to So Cal every year for a furlough.  We have been honored to partner alongside their family for many years in El Salvador and have also enjoyed precious memories during their furloughs in California.  In the summer of 2013, Kathy was able to attend our daughter Hailey's adoption finalization and I was so thrilled to be part of Katie's quinceanera this week.  

Kathy and I have shared many heartfelt emails, conversations and prayers over the years, crying out to the Lord for our children.  Katie suffered a serious injury in 2011 and served with my El Salvador team that summer with a smile on her face in her wheelchair.  The Lord has been faithful in many areas of her life and she has become like a daughter to me.  

As the dream to attend Katie's quinceanera began to develop last year, three dear friends decided to join me for the special event.  Valerie, Stephanie and Roberta were also honored to celebrate Katie's quinceanera and it was such a joy for the four of us to be there with the Sus Hijos ministry team.

Two moments from the quinceanera ceremony touched my heart.  The candle ceremony was extremely emotional.  Katie lit fifteen candles, representing fifteen significant people in her life. It was a beautiful expression of love and gratitude for the people who had impacted her deeply.  I was moved to tears when Katie called me forward to express her love and appreciation for my leadership in her life.  It was truly a moment that I will never forget.

I was called forward later in the ceremony to speak on purity and to sign Katie's pledge to remain pure for her marriage.  The Lord had given me a beautiful picture of Katie to share at the ceremony.  While praying for Katie, I saw a little cocoon that had fallen and broken on the ground. Although it had once been shattered, the butterfly emerged gloriously and it was breathtaking.  This image represented Katie's transformation into a beautiful, young woman.  I nearly burst into tears at the beginning of the evening when I walked into the event and saw decorate butterflies placed throughout the room.  As I shared this picture with Katie in the ceremony and admonished her in God's Word, she began to weep.  It was a powerful and emotional moment with an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit.  I am so proud of Katie and the challenges that she has overcome.  There is nowhere in the world that I would have rather been than celebrating her quinceanera this weekend. Congratulations Katie.  I love you!        

"Don't let anyone look down on you because of your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." - I Timothy 4:12

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friends, Food and Fellowship

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

The rest of the gringo team arrived today.  I was so thrilled to welcome Valerie Anderlik and Stephanie and Roberta Keenan as my mission house roommates.  Valerie and Stephanie have served with me in El Salvador and both have a deep passion for this country.  Roberta Keenan (Stephanie's mom) has served with me in Guatemala and is experiencing El Salvador for the first time.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the States Diner, which employs young people who are transitioning out of government orphanages.  There is often a sense of hopelessness when kids in these orphanages prepare to turn 18.  Tragically, they are kicked out of the orphanages and many of them end up on the streets on their 18th birthdays.  The States Diner and Sus Hijos transition programs have given these children hope, training, real life skills and the possibility of a future.  It has been absolutely incredible to watch the vision of the diner come to fruition and the restaurant is improving and gaining more customers each month.

The entire Sus Hijos staff joined us this evening to celebrate Stephen Keenans' 20th birthday. Stephen recently moved to El Salvador for a year of ministry and was sent out by our home church, The Village Church of Irvine.  We enjoyed celebrating Stephen together on the lovely Olive Garden patio at the "World Trade Center," San Salvador.

It has been such a gift to spend time with the Sus Hijos staff this week, partaking in their daily lives and ministry.  Without the intense demands of leading a team I've been able to sit, listen and observe many things.  I am so grateful for our long-term partnership with Sus Hijos and continue to marvel at the powerful impact they are having on the people of El Salvador.

Washing Feet

Blog post by Jenni Ramsey

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

Today is a day that I will never forget.  It's difficult to put words to the fulfillment and joy we experienced while serving at the national girls (ages 13-18) prison.  The Sus Hijos staff did their best to prepare me for the day.  I learned that all of the girls in this facility are involved in gangs. The inmates are separated in sectors by their gang affiliations and needless to say, they each have heart wrenching stories.  When we entered the prison we were frisked and asked to leave our ID's and personal belongings with the guards.  To be honest, I was a little nervous.  I had no idea what to expect as I entered the run down facility, but the presence of the Lord was strong.

My gang member stereotypes quickly dissipated as I met the girls.  They were sweet, friendly and generously offered me warm embraces.  As I began to share my testimony and purpose for coming, I was moved by how they responded through their smiles and even tears.  We talked about the fact that brokenness exists in every part of the world, whether in gangs, terrorism, famine, poverty or even affluence.  I shared how Jesus filled the holes in my heart as a teen and asked them to consider what's filling the holes in their hearts today.

We discussed the humility, gentleness and servant-heart of Jesus.  There is nothing else as powerful and transforming as the Gospel of Jesus.  I challenged them between the difference of joining a gang (which requires criminal activity) and "joining" Jesus (becoming a servant).  We read through John 13 and discussed how the King of Kings chose to wash his disciples' flithy, dust covered feet. When they realized that we were preparing to wash their feet, they began to giggle and squirm.   Suddenly they became nervous and I was completely at peace.  Many refused to have their feet washed at first.  However, we felt the strong presence of the Holy Spirit as we began to cleanse and caress their feet.  The director began to play worship music and a peace came over the room.  One by one they allowed us to wash them.  One girl even asked to be washed a second time.  The act of cleaning their feet was a powerful reminder of how Jesus can cleanse our hearts and make us new. We closed our time arm in arm, huddled in prayer, thanking him for forgiveness, hope and new life.

The girls also had the opportunity to write out prayer requests.  We prayed over their requests this evening and laid their burdens at the feet of Jesus.

"I only want to give you thanks for this and say many blessings and that God will bless you." 

As the girls left the room today, they thanked and embraced us.  I gazed into their eyes and saw glimpses of hope.  Please pray for these young ladies, who have many battles ahead with court dates, family issues and challenges unfathomable to those of us living in the First World.  Pray that they will always remember the cleansing power of the Cross and choose Him over darkness.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be set free." - Isaiah 61:6

The photos in this post were taken and approved by the prison psychologist 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Unexpected Miracle

Blog posted by Jenni Ramsey

Yesterday was beyond amazing.  I was exhausted, functioning on 24 hours without sleep.  I was invited to attend a program for teens called "Cambia Tu Vida" (Change Your Life).   I had no idea what the Lord had in store.  At the least minute the staff asked me to share my testimony.  It was an immense privilege to share my journey of healing.  These precious teens were clearly moved as I spoke and they were bursting with questions.  Many of them shared their stories and I was able to point them to Jesus over and over again.  We talked about the horrors of abuse and I urged them to stay away from pornography.  We also discussed the hope of forgiveness, healing and redemption.  This group typically meets for an hour and then they break for sports. But our 90 minutes flew by and we never left the room.  At the end of the program many of them thanked me for being "brave enough" to share my story.  I told them that they had blessed me more than they would ever know and that they were the brave ones, sharing vulnerably in front of their peers.  It was truly an unexpected miracle on my first day in El Salvador. 

Last night we had a "girls' night out" at Tony Roma's with some of the Sus Hijos missionaries.  I was so blessed by the laughter and silliness that filled our booth.  But I was even more blessed as they opened their hearts and shared their struggles and challenges of daily life in ministry.  We were able to encourage one another and it was a very special evening together.  Needless to say, I crashed last night and had a wonderful need of rest.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Posting from LAX

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

This post is being written from Gate 23 at LAX Terminal 2 as I prepare for my first red eye flight to El Salvador.  I'm flying two days ahead of my team.  My beautiful team members, Valerie Anderlik, Stephanie Keenan and Roberta Keenan will depart on the same red eye flight this Thursday evening. My heart is filled with anticipation as I prepare to serve in one of my favorite places in the world. This week has been crazy.  Honestly, it's been beyond crazy.  My days have been filled with nonstop preparation as I've shopped for groceries and pet food, completed bills and projects around the house, confirmed kids' schedules and prepared an extensive flowchart for Mike.  Leaving my family is hard. I'm so thankful that Mike and my mom are so supportive and that our kids are able to thrive while I'm away.  I've been reminded of my weaknesses this week over and over again.  The Lord placed this verse on my heart as I walked through the corridors of LAX...

"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I am well aware of my weaknesses tonight.  But I am even more aware of His power, His purposes and His unbelievable grace.  I carry these truths in my heart as I prepare to serve.

Please pray for our team this week.  We will be sharing the Gospel in a women's prison, ministering to young men and women living in transition homes, visiting government orphanages, feeding the homeless, speaking in a local church, celebrating Katie Knepper's quinceanera and encouraging our missionary partners.  It's going to be an incredible week and we treasure your partnership in prayer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reflections from 2014 Team Members

Corinne and Elise Schroeder were part of the mother/daughter team that served with us in June 2014.   I recently received a copy of the thank you letter that they sent to their donors and was deeply touched by all that they shared.  May their words encourage your hearts...

I am writing to thank you for all that you did to partner with Elise and I in our time of service in El Salvador, and to share some of our experiences that God so generously orchestrated.  

Our week was full of tears and smiles and beauty and pain as we were introduced to 90 girls living in four different orphanages.  Our team of 16 moms and daughters from Young Women of Vision, along with Jenni Ramsey and her team of 10 from The Village Church, combined with wonderful “translators” living in El Salvador who interpreted for us.   As we drove to our first destination on our first day, I reflected on the words from our morning devotion given by the youth pastor, David:  “Just as ‘Jesus looked up’ and saw into peoples’ hearts and souls, we too want to see the hearts of these girls and to listen to their stories.”  

We were given that opportunity as we each took different girls to choose their perfect dress from the 200 dresses that were donated by our wonderful community here in Orange County. I will never forget my time with Eva, a beautiful girl full of kindness, poise and strength who chose a black and cream dress and then a pair of leopard shoes!  When I had the opportunity to sit and talk with her through the help of a translator named Lilly, I learned that she had only been at this center for a few days (brought there by the police after an argument with her aunt).  Through tears she asked for prayer that her parents would choose to come and pick her up from the orphanage that Sunday.  Sunday was the day of our quinceanera.  God chose instead for Eva to remain at the orphanage and to then participate in the quinceanera.  

One of our team members shared her story of childhood abuse and spoke these words of Scripture from Psalm 27:10 to the young ladies, “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”  The Lord was there pouring out His love on these girls.  They were so full of gratitude and joy from the first moments to the last as many of them were preparing for and then experiencing their very first birthday celebration in this 15th year birthday celebration that holds such meaning in their culture.  I wish you all could have been there to watch them as they proudly entered the ball room at the Holiday Inn with an escort on their arm, full of hope if even for just that evening that one day they might grow up to go to college, or to get a job and to live in a home, or to be married to a man who would love them and care for them.  

I wish you could have heard them scream and jump up and down with delight as each new song began on the dance floor.  And I wish you could have watched them walk through our tunnel of mothers and daughters at the end of the evening with tears rolling down their faces as they were given a parting gift and a goodbye hug.   Please know that your prayers and support resulted in something much bigger than a birthday party for these 90 abandoned girls and that because of the scope of this event, the First and Second Ladies of El Salvador attended and afterward, asked Kurt Ackermann (founder of Sus Hijos and full time missionary in El Salvador) to head up the spiritual formation of all government run orphanages in El Salvador.  

Gabrielle from the main government center shared with us the day after the quinceanera, “I believe that you desired for us to feel like princesses. I want you to know that this is just how we felt.” The girls also expressed that they felt like we were moms to them.  Our eyes were filled with tears as we realized that God had done such a beautiful work in both us and in them.  We had felt His love for these precious girls and they had been able to experience the deep love of our Heavenly Father through this week that we had together. 

There is something that Jesus said to me towards the end of this trip.  He led me to the verses in Psalm 27 that follow those that Jenni shared at each of the centers: “I am confident of this.  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  Psalm 27:13, 14.  Will you join me in praying with persistence for the people of El Salvador and for these abused and neglected children, that they will see the goodness of Jesus in the present, and that they will  live with hope and joy here, on earth, even before they reach their true home?

Hi this is Elise, I just wanted to share one way in which I was specifically impacted by this trip.  The day after the quinceanera we went back to visit  the girls  for the last time.  Many of them shared how we had impacted them.  I will never forget when one girl from the orphanage said how lucky we (the 8 of us YWOV girls) must feel to have the moms we do.  She shared how she couldn’t imagine having such an amazing mom as we all do.  After reflecting on what the girls had shared, I realized how incredibly blessed I am to not only live in Newport Beach, but to have the loving parents that I have been given.  I take my parents for granted and I had never thought about how blessed I am to have them prior to this moment.  Those girls helped me to understand what a privilege it is to have parents who love me unconditionally, support me, and who would never kick me out onto the streets.  My life is truly a dream come true in the eyes of these girls, and now I am able to see through their eyes and learn to appreciate all that I have been blessed with.

Thank you again for helping to bring the Kingdom of God to this area of His world.  Elise and I have been forever impacted by this very special mission experience.