Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reflections from 35,000 miles in the air

“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” – John 14:18

Blog posted by Jenni Ramsey

Our team is now 35,000 miles in the air and the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign. We are all processing the incredible week that we shared together. I felt a deep sense of pain in my heart as we ascended into the air. But that pain was mixed with the excitement and anticipation of what God has begun to do in our hearts through our life-changing week together.

One of the highlights of our week was serving alongside the Ackermann family. The Ackermanns have lived in El Salvador for seven years and serve in numerous orphanages throughout the country. They have a deep burden and passion for the Salvadorian people. God has given them incredible vision and dreams for this nation that resound in all of our hearts. We are each praying about how God will lead us to partner with them in the future. Their mission home was a “home away from home” and they truly have the gift of hospitality. Kurt Ackermann told us that there are over 5,000 orphanages / children’s homes in El Salvador. This number is astounding since El Salvador is such a small nation (the size of Massachusetts). But this tiny little country is gripped by poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and sexual oppression. Clearly these issues deeply affect the children of this beautiful nation and we were blessed to be HIS HANDS and HIS FEET among them this week!

During our week of ministry we experienced extreme contrasts. We were broken by stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment, hunger and helplessness. We were brought to tears by the heart breaking backgrounds of the children in the government orphanage. As I shared in the blog post on Monday, the first child that I held was black and blue because of the abuse he suffered from his mother . His story was very disturbing and we all wanted to “rescue” these kids and bring them home. We heard other stories that are too gruesome and difficult for me to recount on this blog.

However, we also experienced hope, redemption, healing and the beautiful sounds of laughter from the Salvadorian children. We will never forget the hugs and smiles that we shared with these children and the sense of joy that we felt as we brought gifts to the orphanages. After serving in the government home, we were relieved to experience the contrast at the Calvary Chapel home (Potters Field). The children at Potters Field are blessed to be part of an extremely loving family. They are welcomed and embraced in this home unconditionally. They have many “tias” (aunts) who care for them as well as a “madre y padre” (the pastor and his wife) who live on the property and consider them their own. When we invited Pastor Alejandro and his family to join us at the beach, their response was that “they are a family of 21!” and we’d have to bring them all! They don’t go anywhere without all of the boys in the home. This deeply touched our hearts and spoke clearly of their love and commitment to the boys. This was a drastic contrast from the government home and a powerful testimony of the transforming love of Jesus. We were challenged and sobered by the incredible opportunity that the Church has to care for “the least of these.” The Potters Field staff and all of the missionaries that we served with this week are truly serving the fatherless and we were honored to serve alongside them.

We were all impacted by our time with David and Kathy Knepper, Salvadorian American missionaries (from So Cal) who serve with Calvary Chapel. David and Kathy were asked to host our team at Potters Field at the last minute since the orphanage director had emergency surgery. We all believe that our time with David and Kathy was a “divine appointment.” The Kneppers have a deep heart for the children of El Salvador, and are seeking God’s possible plan for their family in adoption. God is doing some exciting things in their lives and we look forward to keeping in touch with them and seeing what God has in store for their family.

We also heard incredible stories of family reunifications and adoptions. Emily and I had an encouraging meeting with government officials and were honored to visit two children who have been matched with families in our adoption agency. It was an incredible experience and I loved wearing my “adoption agency worker” hat! We also distributed meals to 150 homeless and brought temporary relief and warmth to their hearts. I will never forget the smiles and shouts of “gracias” that we received. We held abandoned babies, played soccer with forgotten children, shared our personal stories of God’ healing in our lives and were honored to serve alongside American missionaries and local believers who labor endlessly to change their nation.

One of the greatest highlights of the week was leading the teenage girls to give their hearts to Jesus at the government home. Their hearts were open and they were clearly touched by the testimonies that our team members shared. One of our concerns and prayers was that God would provide ongoing follow up and discipleship for these young women who were so hungry for truth. We were praying about this specifically on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday night we invited a Salvadorian American missionary (Noemi Moore) to join us for dinner. I had connected with Noemi a few months ago through another American family that is waiting to adopt in El Salvador. To our hearts’ delight, we discovered that Noemi is working specifically with the group of girls that we prayed with. The government orphanage has allowed her to meet with these young women and she is teaching them a curriculum on sexual purity. She is also discipling them in the things of God and had actually met with ten of these girls that very afternoon. We were so encouraged to know that God had already placed His people in this desperately needy center to minister to these beautiful girls.

(Noemi Moore with Jenni, Emily & Kylie Ackermann)

The kids on our team did really well and I was so proud of them! Stephen became very close with our driver (Santiago) and he loved playing sports with every child and teen that he met. Many of the kids were encouraged by Stephen’s life and faith after hearing Stephanie’s testimony of raising Stephen as a single mom. Nico also loved playing sports and I was so blessed that he shared his testimony with almost 100 kids! Julia made many, many yarn bracelets for the children. It touches my hearts to know that these kids will remember us every time they look at Julia’s bracelets. Both of the missionary families that we served with have 4 children. The kids on our team became close friends with their kids, and we enjoyed listening to their laughter and watching them run and play together each day.

There is so much more to share, but those stories will come in the days, weeks and months ahead. Thank you again for all of your support, love and encouragement. Our team felt deeply supported and we were blessed and honored to deliver your sacrificial gifts to the children and missionaries of El Salvador.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! We could not have experienced this amazing week without your support!

Please continue to check the blog for future team updates and trip dates!


Jenni for the team

“Learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless.” – Isaiah 1:17

Friday, July 16, 2010

Feliz Cumpleanos at the beach!!!

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

I still can't believe that today is our last day in El Salvador. This week has been absolutely amazing, and the days have gone by so quickly! We are still processing all the things that God has done. We all sense that many of His plans and purposes for this trip will be revealed in each of our lives in the days, months and even years to come.

We started our day today by visiting the tourist open air market. We purchased lots of souvenirs and treasures to bring home. With the encouragement of the team, I purchased a beautiful Salvadorian dress for our future daughter. I have never purchased any clothes for her and it was an exciting step of faith for me. I will keep it in our daughter's room as we wait for the day when we finally meet her.

We arrived at the beach around 11:30 a.m. with 25 total in our caravan! Our group included our missionary host family (the Ackermans), the missionary family from the Calvary Chapel home (the Kneppers) and our three amazing translators (who became close friends and partners in ministry).

The Knepper Family, Calvary Chapel missionaries from So. Cal.

Stephen, Brittany, Christina & Chris (one of our translators who has a deep passion for the children of his country)

Orsy (the funniest translator in all of El Salvador). He gave our team unforgetable moments of laughter.

Kurt Ackermann (our host missionary) & Adrian Martell (one of our translators) who helped Susan and Jenni lead a teenage mom to Christ.

We had an incredible day of R&R at the beach. There were some amazing conversations and connections that God divinely orchestrated. Those details will be shared in the days to come. Needless to say, God was moving even as we relaxed and processed our week together at the gorgeous beach resort. We truly enjoyed the pools, restaurant, playground and breathtaking ocean and surf at the Club Salvadoreno in El Sunzal.

One last photo with Christina & Brittany before sending them off to Christina's Salvadorian family. They will be staying in El Salvador for 10 more days and hope to minister to the handicapped kids along with Kurt next week.

We also celebrated Stephanie's birthday today. Kurt purchased a cake for Steph and we brought it to the beach as a surprise. Even though many of us met for the first time this week, it truly felt like one big family celebrating together. I know that I will be back here again soon, and many of the team members want to come back as well. It's great to know that we can continue to serve alongside these missionaries (and translators) in the days and years to come.

We ended the day at a local "pupusa" restaurant. Pupusas are a native Salvadorian dish (like an American quesadilla cooked in a thick, rice flour tortilla. The food and fellowship was awesome. We enjoyed the Saladorian mariaches and the soothing evening rain.

The exciting night life at the mission house (checking emails & Facebook)

We are packing our bags and preparing to leave the mission house at 6:30 a.m. I hope to post more tomorrow.

Thank you for all of your prayers, support and encouragement on our amazing adventure!

Jenni for the team

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another day in paradise

Written by Emily Mathews

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” - James 1:27

The team served for the second day at Potters Field. They had a great time sharing testimonies, providing arts & crafts, soccer games, flying kites, and making bracelets. While the team was working with the children, Emily and Jenni R. attended a meeting with the adoption attorney from All Blessings International at OPA. This meeting was covered with much prayer. The Ramsey family needs to submit one additional document and then their case is expected to be released from review. God also opened up a door for Emily and Jenni to visit two additional children’s homes where they met with two girls in the process of adoption. They were able to take photos and interact with the two girls and will be able to give updates to their adoptive families. What a blessing! Emily and Jenni returned to Potters Field in time to join the rest of the team and children for piƱata fun. The kids loved the candy and proudly showed off their individual photos that they glued to a decorative folder during craft time.

(Jenni & Emily dressed for the meetings)

The team is looking forward to spending the day at the beach tomorrow. We have invited two missionary families we have been blessed with this week as well as the pastor of Calvary Chapel and our translators. It will be a great day to process the incredible week, but more importantly to spend this time with those that made it possible to serve God’s children.

(Potter's Field Center)

(The Cancha)

(The boys eating lunch, can you find the gringo)

(The craft we made with them, they rarely get pictures of themselves)

Written by Jenny Gorcoff

Like Emily said, we spent another beautiful day at Potters Field. We couldn't wait till the neighborhood children came for the afternoon activites we had planned. It was my turn to share my testmony of being orphaned after my birth mother died. Then I shared how God provided a place for me when I moved in with my aunt and uncle (who brought me to church). I now have the blessing of raising my children in a Christian home. The proudest moment came when Nico gave his testimony of accepting Jesus in his heart at four and getting babtized at seven. The kids also had a chance to hear Julia, Christina, and Stephen's testimonies. They sat wide eyed as they listened to kids their own age share their story of salvation.

(Giving our testimonies)

(The streets of El Salvador)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God's mercy on the most dangerous streets of El Salvador

Written by Susan Clark

Tuesday night God provided an amazing last minute opportunity to serve in a way we had not planned. Our host missionaries, Kurt and Susan Ackermann have a burden for the homeless in San Salvador and regularly take meals to them. When they asked us if we might be interested in doing this while we were here, everyone on our team gave a resounding,"yes!".

The rain started right about the same time we formed our assembly line to create 150+ meals consisting of ham sandwiches, apples, chips, cookies and a juice box all tied up in white plastic bags. With rain pouring, we loaded ourselves into the back of Kurt's pick-up truck at about 9:00 pm with a large tarp covering our laps and our precious meals. Our destination: some of the most dangerous streets of San Salvador.

At the beginning of the evening, it was difficult to find people because they had taken cover from the rain. We drove under bridges and by the railroad tracks. Whenever we would see a homeless person, someone from the truck would yell, "Comida!" and the person would come running. They greeted us with a smile full of gratitude. At one point, under a bridge several of the young men had bottles hanging from their noses. Kurt told us that they were sniffing glue. This provides them with a one dollar high and helps to numb their hunger. Several times we found a group of people asleep under shelter, and some of us would jump out of the truck to gently wake them and offer them their meal. Those of us who stayed back would whisper prayers of hope for these hopeless. It broke our hearts. These were truly the "least of these", forgotten by their familes, their country, but not their God. It was an amazing priviledge to be used in this very small way to provide a meal for them. In the back of the truck I was wet, cold and uncomfortable, but I was going back to a warm home and a comfortable bed. These people were going to sleep in the cold and rain, not just that night, but only God knows how many more nights to come.

We finally came to downtown San Salvador where we found a large group of people. We handed out our remaining meals so quickly that they were gone in a matter of minutes. We were so saddened because not everyone in this last group got a meal, so we started handing out the boxes we brought the meals in. They gratefully received them. "Dios le bendiga" ("God bless you') was all we had left offer them.

I have never experience anything like this and it has impacted me deeply. How can I return to my large home in the United States knowing that this is going on, not just here in El Salvador, but all over the world? I am grateful for the Ackermanns whose hearts have also been broken for these precious people. They have a dream of a mobile feeding truck where they could drive through the neighborhoods and provide hot meals for these people. Please join with us as we pray for this ministry to become a reality for them. In the meantime, the Ackermanns will be taking their family or other mission teams out in the back of their pick up truck because what you do for the least of these, you do for Jesus.

We were asked not to take any pictures of this event for the privacy of the people we were serving.

What a difference a day makes...

Blog written by Brittany Langdon

John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

The day began with the hot “wintery” sun shining down on us as we awakened and began to prepare our hearts to serve at Potters Field Kids Home. Potters Field Home is home to 18 energetic boys from ages 2 to 14. These boys come from government run centers, abused homes, or extreme poverty where the families just cannot afford them. What a difference there was from the first government run center to Potters Field. It was so encouraging to see that there are places like Potters Field for kids, but it was also heartbreaking as we thought of the kids we were with at the government run center. The first and major difference is that Christ is the center at Potters Field. There is a pastor who is their “Papa” and his wife who is “Mamma.” And a large Christian staff who loves and cares for each and every one of these boys. When we arrived the boys were outside doing chores. The presence of the home was very clean and neat.

(Christina & the youngest boy there)

Once we arrived (after we opened the door and threw out the 5 soccer balls we brought) the language barrier did not matter anymore because we were able to connect through the amazing game of soccer. There is a passion for soccer in El Salvador that is more than just a past- time, and is rather a way of life. These boys know how to play. Immediately Stephen, Nico and I made our way down to the soccer field, and played “futbol” till we were called up for lunch. The joy of soccer filled all the boys’ faces at every touch of the ball. As I was here with the boys on the soccer field, with little communication except for yelling “Pelota! Pelota!”(Ball! Ball!). It was such an awesome reminder of why I am able to play soccer and who I play for, which is only Christ.

The home also serves as a center for kids to come to after school to get tutored and learn the Bible. We broke up into three stations. The first station was Christina, Emily and Jenny painting nails and doing face paint. One girl ran down the hall after her station showing off her nails. Steven and Nico were doing the sports or “soccer” station while the girls enjoyed the pampering. Susan and Julia led a crafts stations that the kids loved. And Jenni, Stephanie and I were blessed with the opportunity to share our testimonies with the kids. Many of the kids asked questions about our lives and we deeply enjoyed it.

Futbol is more than just a game. I was blessed with the opportunity to share my story about how the game of futbol affected my life. It was such an awesome way to see how I can use my story to witness to little boys who love the game as much as I do. Blessed by their joy earlier by playing soccer with them, I was excited to share my testimony with the kids about just trusting in Christ, in the good times and the bad times because He has a plan. Stephanie and Jenni shared their stories and drew questions and eyes of engagement from the girls, by focusing on the peace that they found in their lives through Christ. The verse that Jenni shared with the kids was John 14: 25-28 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
We left the kids with the excitement to play more futbol tomorrow and to just create relationships with each of these boys and to just love on them.

Please pray for Jenni and Emily as they go tomorrow to OPA (Office of Adoptions) to meet with the adoption attorney. Pray for favor and for open doors for adoption in this beautiful nation!

Con much amor,
Brittany for the El Salvador team

(Our bedroom at the Mission House)

(Stephen & Santiago our driver for the week)

(It's all about Pinata's here)

(Jenny and one of "her boys")