Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trip Report and Team Video

Today our team spoke about our incredible trip to El Salvador during the service at The Village Church of Irvine.  Tanya Eason shared about the modern day miracles that we experienced through the quinceanera.  We are so grateful to our church family, friends and supporters for all of the donations, financial gifts, prayers and support that we received!

We also showed our trip video today, which was made by Colleen Bowen.  Colleen did an amazing job showing the highlights of our week.  Thanks Colleen!

The next All Blessings Intl. orphan outreach trip is scheduled for July, 2013, in El Salvador.  Dates are TBD.  Jenni Ramsey, the Outreach Director for All Blessings, will be taking a few months off as her family assimilates and connects with their new daughter from Korea.  They hope to travel to Korea to bring her home this September.  To read more about their adoption journey, visit their blog at  Please continue to follow our blog for updates!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Final Blog Post From Our Team Leader

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair." - Isaiah 61:1-3

As our United Airlines flight travels westward into the darkness of the horizon, my thoughts are filled with the unforgettable moments our team experienced this week.  I have been journaling and remembering the miracles that we witnessed and am overwhelmed by the hand of God over our team, our travels, our ministry and most of all, the quinceanera.  Without a doubt, the quinceanera was one of the most incredible events of my life.  When Stephanie shared her vision for the quinceanera with me and our team last summer, I had no idea what God had in store.  I am so proud of Stephanie, Amanda, Tanya, and the amazing team members who worked endlessly to create such an unbelievable evening for these precious young women.

Here are just a few of the miracles that we experienced as we prepared for and celebrated the quinceanera:

(1)          One family from CA purchased fifty pairs of shoes for the girls and they absolutely loved them!  For many, it was their first pair of brand new shoes.
(2)          Two women from our church made necklaces with heart pendants to give as gifts to each girl.  They treasured these gifts, and will always have them as keepsakes.  On the day after the quinceanera, we realized that we had exactly enough necklaces remaining to give to all of the female missionaries and translators who served with us!  They were thrilled!
(3)          We received costume jewelry as donations and there was exactly enough for each girl.  Each set of earrings, each ring and necklace matched the girls’ dresses perfectly.  We could not have planned it better if we had tried!
(4)          We received $1500 in designated donations specifically for the quinceanera.  The final budget for the quinceanera?  $1500!
(5)          One of the girls at the orphanage was a young woman that Jordan and I had met 2 years previously (in another orphanage).  She was deeply impacted by the quinceanera & we later learned that she had arrived at the government center 2 weeks before the quinceanera.
(6)          In previous years, there have been many challenging girls in the orphanage who bullied and threatened other girls. Miraculously, all of these girls were recently moved to other centers, which created a sense of peace and hope that we had never experienced before among the girls.
(7)          The girl who inspired the vision for the quinceanera last year was still at the center.   “Lady X” was able to shop for her own dress (see previous post entitled “Lady X”) and to our surprise, she stood up and spoke on behalf of all of the girls at the end of the quinceanera.  She spoke with confidence and conviction, and seemed like a different woman.  Lady X eloquently expressed the girls’ immense gratitude for all that they experienced throughout the week.  We were nearly speechless to see this previously withdrawn girl, who did not fit into any of the dresses, rise up as a leader, speaking confidently into the microphone and expressing herself so passionately. 
(8)          On the night before the quinceanera, the ministry team decided to reserve a samba band for the party.  This entertainment ended up being one of the highlights of the night!
(9)          The singer deeply engaged the girls with her angelic voice and love for the Lord.  She had them dancing, singing and worshipping God and the joy and freedom we witnessed as they sang together was indescribable.  We later learned that she was a last minute replacement as another singer had to cancel.
(10)      Two of the translators, Lilly and Steve, decided to “MC” the party, just minutes before we began and they set the tone for the evening.  They hosted the event like professional hosts, bringing laughter, joy and passion into all that they did.  They spontaneously decided to interview the girls throughout the evening and asked them to share their impressions of the night.  Needless to say, their comments were unforgettable.
(11)      To our shock, we collected enough dresses for every girl, their “tias” (caretakers), all of the missionaries, translators, and even the women on our team.  I had not packed a special dress for the quinceanera, and it was such a surprise gift to be able to pick a dress that fit me perfectly!
(12)      Tanya decided to purchase some last minute decorations for the quinceanera at a 99 Cent Store.  The decorations matched the colors and theme (unbeknownst to her) and added a special touch to the party.
(13)      It is currently the rainy season in El Salvador and the rain poured hard before and after the celebration.  It just “happened” to stop for the entire length of the quinceanera.  While the guys were setting up for the party, the rain was pouring.  They decided to build a “backdrop” with a tarp and stage at the last minute, and it created the perfect setting and ambiance, which would not have been created if it hadn’t rained.
(14)      One of the Salvadorian missionaries, David Knepper, just “happened” to have a background in floral design.  The flower centerpieces were gorgeous!
(15)      A family that has been in the process of adopting their daughter from El Salvador was able to participate in the week’s events.  Maria, the adoptive mom, was able to assist with cooking the dinner since Susan Ackermann (our gourmet chef) wasn’t feeling well.  Aly, her adoptive teenage daughter, was able to pick out a dress and participate in the quinceanera.  I met Aly two years ago while visiting her on behalf of All Blessings Intl. Adoptions.  It was such a blessing for their family to participate in the quinceara, and Maria and Aly finally flew home to America today (at the same time that our flight departed).  Congrats!!! 
(16)      The director of Children’s Welfare and Social Services for El Salvador shocked everyone with his attendance.  He addressed the crowd and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the government for all that we did for the girls.  Wow!
(17)      One of our team members, Colleen, was able to produce an iMovie, highlighting the events of the week, in less than 24 hours!  There were last minute cable issues, but we were somehow able to show the video and the girls loved it.  For many of them, it was the first time ever seeing themselves in a video.
(18)      I was honored to speak at the church that we visited on Sunday morning and shared about the quinceanera.  Although the members of the church are poor, the pastor challenged the members to collect an offering so that we could purchase a cake for the girls.  We were humbled as we watched one woman with no shoes donate the coins from her pockets.  We had just witnessed a "modern day widow's mite."  They collected $35 and it was a beautiful, heart-felt gift. 

My journal is filled with many other miraculous stories that we experienced together this week.  We have been humbled and privileged to be part of God’s transformative work in these girls’ lives.  We are returning home with an increased sense of hope, faith and the powerful reminder of God’s redeeming love for every man, woman and child.

On behalf of the team, I want to express our deep gratitude for the incredible amount of support that we have received throughout our journey.  Thank you for your prayers, gifts, financial support, words of encouragement and for believing in us.  We have been changed but more importantly, 43 girls in El Salvador are new.   Former prostitutes, gang members and criminals have finally understood their value and purpose through the eyes of a loving and healing God.  They are no longer ashamed to gaze into the mirror, for they know that they are truly beautiful.  These young ladies have been unified through their magical night together and the spirit and attitude in the orphanage is entirely different.  We may be returning home to California tonight, but we have each left a piece of our hearts in El Salvador this week.  

"Bible-Sized" Miracles!

Post written by Colleen Bowen

As I sit here on the plane and try to put my thoughts into words, there are so many thoughts running through my head that I’m finding hard to concentrate. The pilot’s voice just announced that there is turbulence ahead due to weather in the Houston area, so we need to be seated and to fasten our seatbelts.  Gracey immediately started to panic and cry. You see, on our flight down to El Salvador we had a pretty rough time coming into El Salvador, as we landed during a lightning and thunderstorm.  She and I sang praise to our Great God, which helped to bring us both peace, and by His grace, we landed safely.  So again, we prayed earnestly to our Great God and began to sing and worship the only One who could help as even the winds and seas obey Him. (“And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and seas obey him?” Matt 8:27).

I am reminded of what a good Father He is as the skies have cleared up and we’ve started our dissent.  We just landed in Houston and yep, you guessed it, we had NO TURBULENCE, the sky is partly cloudy and blue as we land!!!  I pray this will be just one of many times Gracey sees how powerful her God is and it grows and encourages her faith. 

While filling out the application for El Salvador, my prayer request was that I’d see God work in ‘Bible sized’ ways as I’ve heard and read stories from missionaries sharing the powerful work God does to help them.   God mercifully gave me another Bible-sized miracle as we landed here in Houston.

This was our family’s first missions trip and I confess that I don’t know why God has so lavishly blessed us to be a part of what He’s doing in El Salvador (I’m still ‘processing’ that, I guess.)  You see, many on this team had been planning the quinceanera for a year, and I felt a bit lost from time to time.  I didn’t really ‘get’ why this party was such a big deal, but by Tuesday night, seeing the girls in their dresses, looks on their faces, dancing, laughing and clearly feeling so special it all came together and made perfect sense.

My ‘job’ on this trip was as the photographer and watching the girls transform from Sunday to Tuesday night through my camera was something only God could do.  They were truly like flowers blooming right before my eyes.  I don’t know what more I can share that hasn’t already been shared about this amazing night, but God was exalted and I pray these girls know that their Creator is unlike anyone they’ve ever known and cry out to Him in their lives, through both the difficult and joyful times.

Wednesday was one of my favorite days as when we arrived to say good-bye to the girls, their joy and gratitude was so evident on their faces. The more somber faces which I photographed earlier in the week were replaced by radiant smiles from ear to ear; it was hard to say good-bye.  Another reason Wednesday was a special day was because our daughter, HannahGrace, connected with a precious little 6-month-old girl.  Whenever she or her brother Joshua have been scared, I’ve always sung “Jesus Loves Me” to them.  I was so touched to hear her sing “Jesus Loves Me” to this baby, then hear her announce how she was going to pray for God to heal her all year and wants to come back next year to visit her. 

Wednesday night and Thursday we served at Potter’s Field and WOW, what a contrast to the poverty we’d seen in the city. It’s such an experience to drive down the street with homes made from cardboard boxes, trash, banners and metal roofs with barbed wire (to protect themselves as it’s a dangerous country), and then these cross through huge, green, metal doors and feel like you’re in an oasis.  Potter’s Field has beautiful green grounds and fruit trees everywhere.  The radio tower broadcasts Christian radio throughout Central America.  The work they are doing for these orphan boys, families and the surrounding community is clearly kingdom minded.

I loved it when our team led their mid week service in “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” and loved serving these little ones Thursday during their after-school program.  I got a good laugh when a boy came running up to Joshua, tapped him and yelled, “Mika!!!” Joshua and I looked at each other, then my smart boy quickly figured it out that the boy wanted to play tag! Mika means tag in Spanish. Joshua joyfully agreed and the game was on!

Friday was our R & R day.  We got to visit a private black sand beach, and if I thought the contrast between the government orphanage and Potter’s Field was a WOW – this area was a triple WOW, WOW, WOW! I had no idea that there were such beautiful areas in El Salvador.  We felt truly blessed to spend such a great day with this team of faithful, hard working servants and were blessed to pray for all of our translators and missionaries that afternoon.

We’ve seen so many miracles while in El Salvador and met some wonderful people.  We have heard some amazing testimonies of what God is doing in El Salvador.  My prayer as I return home is that I don’t forget these miracles and fall back into the routine of life unchanged.  I always want to remember these servants, who work on the front lines day after day faithfully serving our Savior, who is worth it.   We are so grateful to have experienced “Bible-sized” miracles this week and will never forget all that we have seen!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Day in Paradise

Post written by Jenny Gorcoff

As I sit on the front porch writing this blog, I'm watching our team play soccer with the boys from the orphanage.  The current score is 7-7!  The armed guard is standing near us guarding the main gate into the property.  Every restaurant, office and neighborhood in El Salvador is protected by armed guards.  It's funny how quickly we have become used to this over the week.

Today was our last full day of ministry.  It was very productive with everyone having a specific job to do. As you can tell, we spent the first part of the day painting the boys' play room, which was a challenge because the boys wanted to play.  There were leaves to be raked, drains & gutters to be cleaned out and wood piles to be moved. If you ever want to see a two foot long lizard with a black body and red head, just come to El Salvador.  They're hiding in the wood piles!

Dave and Robert using their construction skills! This bungalow will house the elderly who are homeless.

Molly's perspective:  "Everyone is so kind and a girl here knows English and Spanish. WOW!!!!
And here I am playing softball!"

"Tiempo para comer"- time to eat! We have been enjoying some authentic food prepared by a local Christian who works endlessly, not only cooking but cleaning as well. I'll definitely need the recipe for beans with plantains!

We spent the afternoon doing stations for the neighborhood after-school program. I loved watching these sweet kids decorate paper crosses with stickers and LOTS of glitter. Since everything revolves around soccer here, you must have a soccer game constantly in play. When the older girls  came to the craft area, I made an instant connection with one girl then realized she looked familiar. I had the translator ask her if she was here two years ago and she said "yes!"  I knew it, she was the same girl I connected with the last time I was here. What an amazing day in paradise, praise our Savior for another unforgettable day of ministry!

A Child's Perspective on El Salvador

Post written by Jordan Ramsey (age 10)

Today we spent the day at Calvary Chapel.  I helped with raking and carrying wood.  I also helped with the kids and played tag.  In the afternoon I helped act out a Bible story and I was a disciple who didn’t want the kids to go to Jesus.  Joshua was also a disciple and we said “No ninos!”  (“No kids” in Spanish) to Jesus.  Joshua’s sister, HannahGrace, was a kid who ran to Jesus and their mom, Colleen, was Jesus.  My mom was the narrator.      

We shared our testimonies with the kids and asked them questions.  The kids goofed off a little but they seemed like they were paying attention.  They liked the acting out.  The message of our story was that anybody, even kids, can trust God. 

They were selling clay crafts and my mom and I bought a plate to help us remember El Salvador.  The money went towards their ministry.  The kids from the orphanage challenged us to a soccer game and we accepted.  We will play at 7:30 tonight.  Wish us luck!

The Morning After the Quinceanera

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

Yesterday we returned to the government orphanage to spend a few last hours with the girls who participated in the quinceanera.  We were literally mobbed when we arrived, the girls were so happy to see us!  Many of the girls told us that they didn't sleep after the quinceanera, and those that did said that they dreamt of the quinceanera all night long.  It was so precious to see their dresses hanging around the property (and a few of the dresses were laying on their beds).  These girls own almost no material possessions.  Needless to say, their dresses have now become their most treasured gifts.

It is truly impossible to describe in words the intense transformation that has taken place this week.  When we arrived on Sunday and began the eyebrow waxing, the girls were clearly uncomfortable looking at themselves in our mirrors.  None of them even owned mirrors, and we had to bring hand mirrors along with us.  Throughout the week we continually reminded the girls that the quinceanera was a gift from God.  We were the "deliverers" who were blessed to bring the dresses and accessories, but it was their Heavenly Daddy who gave us the vision to bless them.  Everything that we did for them this week was a picture of their beauty and value to God.  On Monday we decided to purchase a full length mirror so the girls could see themselves as they prepared for the big event.  By Tuesday, they couldn't resist looking at themselves and it was incredible to see the transformation through their pride, laughter, giggles and desire to gaze at themselves in the mirror.   They were finally beginning to understand their worth in light of a loving, forgiving and redeeming God.

I was thrilled to see so many of the girls wearing the necklaces that they received as gifts at the quinceanera.  Two women from our church had approached me a few months ago and asked if they could make hand-made necklaces as gifts.  There are so many heroes like these women who contributed significantly to making the quinceanera such an unbelievable evening. The girls were so grateful for the necklaces and it is difficult to describe the deep connection that we formed with these unbelievable young ladies through their week of transformation.

I brought my laptop along with us so the girls could see the photos of themselves in their gowns at the quinceanera. They giggled as they saw their photos and it was priceless to see the looks of pride on their glowing faces.  We also showed them the iMovie video, which Colleen Bowen produced for the quinceanera.  They asked to see the photos and watch the video over and over again.

Throughout the morning we were able to talk and pray with some of the girls before saying our good byes.  Many of them opened up and shared personal stories that even our ministry leaders in El Salvador had never heard.  We learned the heart-wrenching story of one girl, who was raped by her father and had a baby at age 11.  Amidst her tears, our team members were able to share their own personal experiences of abuse, trauma and healing.  These were irreplaceable moments of tears, hugs, prayers and words of encouragement that will never be forgotten.

A few of the team members were able to spend some time with the babies in the morning as well.  My favorite moment was watching HannaGrace, who is 8 years old, sing "Jesus Loves You" to one of the abandoned babies, who suffers from Hydrocephalus.

While these babies' stories are heart breaking, the presence of the Lord is so real in this place.  I will always treasure these memories in my heart.  It is difficult to describe the sense of awe of what God is doing here, and we have been reminded again and again that "The Lord is near to the broken hearted" (Psalm 34:18).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ministry at Potter's Field

Post by Dave Eason

What a blessing this trip has been so far this week! God has been doing some amazing things through our group, as you have already heard through previous posts. It is Wednesday night and the rest of the team has arrived in San Martin at the Calvary Chapel "Potter's Field" orphanage. It is always such a blessing to be here for me personally. As some of you may already know, my grandparents were missionaries here and purchased this land 40 years ago to build a Christian radio station. So much ministry has been done on this land that the Lord gave my grandparents so many years ago!

Today there is still Christian radio being broadcast, an orphanage with 16 boys and a church with an after-school program that reaches out to the kids in the surrounding community. Since Monday the guys on our team have been working hard on a house that will be used for the elderly and another house that will be used for students coming from the states to study to be missionaries.  It has gone very well so far. We have completed almost all the steel stud framing and set the windows. By tomorrow we hope to have the siding on and the electrical completed.

My son Micah and Stephen have found time in between working to play soccer with some of the orphan boys. It has definitely been a very productive week! Tonight we participated in the Wednesday night service that is held here on the property.

Half the team helped with the youth group and Stephen and Jenny G shared their testimonies in the service. I had the privilege of sharing the message tonight out of 1 Corinthians 13 (with my dad translating). What a great highlight this was!

Tomorrow the girls on our team will do some painting in the morning and work with the kids in the after-school program in the afternoon.  We will have a soccer competition with the kids at the orphanage tomorrow night.  We definitely have felt your prayers and appreciate it so much.  I look forward to sharing more stories when we return.  God bless you all!

Transforming Hearts... the Quinceanera!

Post written by Amanda Deal

As I reflect on today's activities, I am overwhelmed by the abundant gift God gave our team.  After one  year of excitement, preparation, anticipation, praying and collecting donations, the group quinceanera finally took place in San Salvador.  It was not what we expected.  It was far beyond our wildest dreams and expectations.

Our day started at the government orphanage, where we finished pampering and transforming these precious girls.  Upon our arrival, ten of the girls in protective custody (recently rescued from trafficking), were dressed in their gowns, eagerly awaiting our arrival.   The minute I saw them I began to cry (it was more like blubbering, I completely lost it)!  I kept thinking that "I am so lucky!"  Out of everyone in the world, God chose me and a team of 18 other volunteers to throw the quinceanera for these unbelievable girls.  He knew about the quinceanera before we did.  He knew which dress would perfectly fit each girl.  And He knew that His plans would blow our plans out of the water.

This afternoon, Tanya and I fixed all 40 girls' hair. As I brushed, braided, straightened, and curled, I not only felt their excitement, but also their gratitude. These girls have been abused, neglected, and abandoned. They never had a dad tell them how beautiful they are or a mother to nurture them or brush their hair. God used us to give them the attention and love they have always deserved, but never received.

After we finished each girl's hair, makeup, and nails and passed out jewelry and shoes, we headed back to the mission house to prepare for the party. I walked up the endless staircase to the park above the Ackermann's home.  When I saw the decorations, tables, centerpieces, and lights, the transformed park took my breath away. It was better than anything I could have imagined. The party took one year to plan; countless prayers, multiple participants, hundreds of donations, and countless hours.

The girls arrived shortly after 5pm. We rolled out the red carpet, gathered around the entrance, and watched as our awesome men (Micah, Robert, Dave, Stephen and Jeff, along with the rest of the missionaries, volunteers, and translators) escorted the beautiful ladies into the party. I kept thinking that finally these young ladies were blessed to be in the presence of Godly men as I watched them being escorted.

As the ladies entered the red carpet, we presented each of them with gift-wrapped necklaces.  Each necklace was handmade by members of our church and had a breathtaking heart pendant.  During the evening we encouraged the girls to remember the quinceanera and God's great love for them every time they looked at their necklaces.

Once the girls were seated, the fiesta began. We had the best MC's in El Salvador--Lily and Steve. We opened with words from Kurt and Oscar, our ministry leaders, the Director of Children's Social Services of El Salvador (who showed up unexpectedly), and Jenni spoke on behalf of the team and blessed our meal with prayer. We were blessed by Kurt's wife, Susan, who prepared an amazing meal for all the guests.

During dinner, I tried to stop by every table to talk with each girl and see how their night was going.  All I kept seeing were HUGE smiles. Next, we had a local worship singer lead the girls in several songs. She got the girls up and dancing, praising the God who gave them this incredible gift.  At the end of the evening, we learned that one of the girls had never had a birthday party.  She is 15 years old.  No one had ever remembered her special day.  Needless to say, tonight was an unforgettable evening for her and the rest of the girls.

Throughout the night, we experienced several "Super Surprises." The first was "Pastel" (a beautiful pink three tier cake) and next, my favorite, Samba! A group of 10 young men entered the party banging on drums and swinging fire--they were the entertainment. I had so much fun celebrating God's gifts of music, dance, joy, and life with "mis hermanas" (sisters).

The next surprises were donated gifts of clothing for each girl.  Then Stephanie shared some closing words of encouragement.  She painted a perfect picture of true beauty and self-worth by illustrating the similarities between the girls' value and the value of pearls and diamonds.  She explained how both of theses gems require time and work in order to "open up." Just like a diamond begins as a piece of coal and a pearl lies within an oyster, these girls also began this week as something different--something in need of transformation. We provided their physical transformation with the help of makeup, dresses, and hair products, but the transformation Stephanie spoke of was the ultimate transformation: the power of the Holy Spirit.  Stephanie spoke of God's ability to use evil for good and the value behind each girl as a princess of the King regardless of past hurt and shame.

The girls responded better than we could have hoped for to these words and our actions. Two girls--Lady X (from previous blog) and her friend--went on the stage and thanked us for everything we had done for them, but more importantly they gave thanks and glory to their Heavenly Father. This meant more to me than anything!

During my time here last year, God began to reveal my purpose in life, and tonight I felt purposeful. I felt as if I were exactly in line with God's plan for both myself and for the girls of El Salvador. I know God was smiling upon the laughter, tears, dancing, and rejoicing that took place tonight. The final surprise of the evening was a slideshow, which Colleen worked on relentlessly throughout the past two days. The video included pictures of the girls' transformation (nail painting, waxing, hair, etc).  They loved watching their faces on the "big screen" for the first time in their lives.

Tonight God completely overwhelmed our team and reminded us of how truly AMAZING He is.  As we returned to the mission house and reminisced over the evening, we commented on how difficult it will be to communicate the magical fairy tale that we experienced together.   I am so grateful to be part of this team and to have had the honor of participating in the most unforgettable quinceanera celebration.  Tomorrow we will spend the morning saying good bye to the girls at the orphanage celebrating all that God did in our midst.  In the afternoon we will move to the Calvary Chapel orphanage and join our construction team.  Thank you for your prayers and support!