Friday, July 26, 2013

Reflection, Rest and Re-entry

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

It's hard to believe that we are flying home tomorrow.  This week has gone by so quickly and we are filled with emotions as we prepare to say good bye.  Today we spent the day relaxing and enjoying God's creation at a rental house on the beach.  David Hughes, the youth pastor for The Village Church of Irvine, has done an incredible job leading our devotions each morning.  Today he challenged us to remember how Jesus rested in the midst of unending needs.  He also encouraged the team to spend the day processing and reflecting on all that we experienced this week.  Throughout the day I saw many people sharing stories of their week together, crying and reminiscing over the life changing moments of the trip.  We also had opportunities at the beach to encourage and pray over our missionary partners.   

At the end of the day we sat on the patio as Kurt and Susan Ackermann, our missionary partners and founders of "Sus Hijos", shared the testimony of God's calling to El Salvador.  Their stories of sacrifices, struggles and immense joys were nothing less than inspiring and it has truly been a privilege to serve alongside them this week. 

We finished the day enjoying a traditional El Salvadorian pupusa dinner at a restaurant nestled in the hills of San Salvador with a stunning city view.  We enjoyed dancing to mariachis, trying new food and laughing and reflecting with our new El Salvadorian brothers and sisters.  We have only been here for one week, but the relationships that we have formed will never be forgotten.  

It is hard to believe that this is my seventh trip to El Salvador.  Every team has been unique as I have watched God work powerfully in the life of each team member.  This week I have observed teenagers caring intimately for children with special needs.  I have watched a doctor and nurse lovingly nurture others.  I have seen an American home builder come alongside a humble Salvadorian man, strategizing and sweating with him as they labored together.  I have listened to the women on our team share stories of healing from victimization with teenage girls who have been taken advantage of, abused and forgotten.  Their redemptive stories brought immense hope and comfort.   I have loved watching each team member step "out of their comfort zones" in serving the impoverished, orphaned, homeless and abandoned.  

Our team has been reading David Platt's book, "Radical" as part of the trip.  In chapter 1, David asks these piercing questions:

 "Do we really believe Jesus is worth abandoning everything for?  Do you and I really believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying, and so rewarding that we will leave all we have and all we own and all we are in order to find our fullness in him?  Here we stand amidst an American dream dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism.  For the sake of more than a billion people today who have yet to even hear the gospel, I want to risk it all.  For the sake of twenty-six thousand children who will die today of starvation or a preventable disease, I want to risk it all.  For the sake of an increasingly marginalized and relatively ineffective church in our culture, I want to risk it all."

Needless to say, we have encountered deep suffering this week as we have served impoverished communities and orphanages.  We have been challenged by the gratitude, contentment and joy that we have encountered in the midst of poverty.  We have also been provoked with the awareness of the privileges and resources that God has given us as Americans.  As we return home tomorrow, we are challenged to live differently in light of all that we have experienced.  Please pray for our re-entry.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Look at photos.  Learn from the experiences that God has given us.  

"Angels From Heaven"

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

This afternoon we had the privilege of visiting the community near the Hernandez family.  While half of the team continued building, the other half loaded into the back of Kurt's truck and headed down a dusty dirt road.   

We partnered with believers from the local church to deliver desperately needed provisions, Bibles and stuffed animals to impoverished families.  We were greeted in every home with warm smiles, grateful hearts and open arms.  Although we were strangers, we were overwhelmed by how these families invited us into their homes and shared their lives with us.  We were privileged to pray over each family and were often amazed and humbled by the emotional responses we received.

One of the teams was a direct answer to prayer for a struggling family with a newborn baby.  The father had been out of work for one month and there was literally no food in the house. They had been crying out to God for the past few days and asking Him for provision.  When our team entered the home, the family was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude and called them "angels from Heaven". The picture below shows Amanda praying over the mother, who was moved to tears.  We were so privileged to be the hands and feet of Jesus today in this beautiful, remote village of Ahuachapan.

As I stared out the window on the drive back to the mission home tonight, I was overwhelmed by all that God has done this week.  Each day has been filled with miracles, heartaches, laughter, redemption and joy.  We have changed lives and our lives are changed.  This incredible team of 19 has been one of the best teams that I have ever led.  Every team member has been easy going, willing to serve, flexible and selfless.  Tomorrow we will spend the day at Costa del Sol beach with the missionaries that we have partnered with all week.  While we will definitely enjoy some R&R, the purpose of the day is to process all that we have experienced and to connect and pray over our missionary partners.  We'll end the day eating at a traditional pupusa restaurant.  I can't wait!

Not a House But a Home

Blog post written by Philline Qian (Senior at Northwood High School)

Today was our second to last day serving in El Salvador and our team was excited to continue working on the concrete house for the Hernandez family.

As usual, we woke up bright and early-- leaving the beloved mission house at around 7:45 AM. The good news: we were woken up with the scintillating smells of frying bacon and pancakes (the food this week has been AMAZING thanks to chef Cameron), it was like a real California breakfast!  The dads on our team (Ron, Thomas and Jeff) decided to cook a special breakfast for the team, what a treat!

After leaving the house, we made a pit stop at Walmart to purchase about 280 bags of food to deliver to the people of Ahuachapan (see Jenni's blog for more!). We made the world's greatest (and most cramped) assembly line on the bus to prepare the bags of food.  God has led our group to have excellent teamwork and a positive attitude and it's made the whole trip the best it could possibly be.

As we listened to several testimonies from our translators on the bus ride to the construction site I started to realize the incredible way that God moves uniquely in every person's life, no matter their situation. I learned that often God's plan is revealed in the most unexpected ways as he rewards our patience. I think everyone was really thankful that our translators were open and courageous enough to share these personal stories with us.

When we finally reached the construction site our team was pumped and prepared to put everything we had into building the house. We focused on cutting bricks, laying bricks, mixing cement, shoveling dirt, cutting wire, and of course playing with the adorable Hernandez boys. Although it was the fifth day of serving, God blessed our team with boundless energy and enthusiasm to serve Him and it showed in the positive attitude exuding from the entire group as we worked hard and fast. In the end, we did not finish building the whole house (it will probably be finished in the next two weeks or so), but knowing that we played a small role in building not a house, but a home for an incredible and godly family is a victory in itself.

We ended our day by dedicating the house. Because of generous donations from several North Americans we were able to bring the family things like toothbrushes, soap, detergent, toys, clothes, shoes, dishes, games, food, and so much more. As we prayed over the house we asked God to bless the the home with the Holy Spirit and to allow it to be a place of growth, learning, worship, and above all, joy as the Hernandez family prepares to move in.

By supplying the funds and providing the manual labor to make the building of this house possible, I believe that our translator Jenny was totally right when she said that by God's grace we made it possible for a Salvadorian family to dream big-- the Hernandez sons can now focus on their studies, their relationships, and most of all just being the children God created them to be. The Hernandez parents can save for opportunities to slowly build up the way they live (with electricity, televisions, flushable toilets, etc.)  It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve a family who taught us more than we could ever teach them or ourselves-- I can't wait to see what the future holds for the Hernandez family.

Last important part of our day: Kurt just surprised us by picking up McFlurries from McDonalds. It was another great day in El Salvador.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slides, Waves and My Friend, "Lady X"

Blog written by Stephanie Keenan

Today is our midway point and the trip has been amazing! But in my heart I have been waiting for this day from the beginning because the center we were visiting today is where "Lady X" lives.  You may remember me writing about Lady X last year.  She was the girl that started the whole quinceanera idea and we were so excited when she was able to be a part of it. I had heard that she was still at this center so I had been anticipating this day all week.

Today was water park day.  We were going to pick up all the kids (from babies to teen moms and some with special needs) and take them to a local water park. I think we all had some apprehension about what a water park in El Salvador would be like, especially with a big group like ours. The first stop was to the center to pick up the kids.  We were not allowed to go inside and had to wait for the kids to come to us. My excitement quickly faded when were waiting, more and more kids were coming out and there was no sign of Lady X.  I asked Kurt if she would be coming and he said no, she goes to an outside school and would not have the day off.  My heart sank!  I picked myself up and put on a happy face for the other girls. The line of teenage girls began to come out of the center and I smiled recognizing a few of the faces.  Then all of the sudden I saw a face smiling running towards me, there she was, my Lady X. She got special permission to take the day off school:) I thought she would never stop hugging me, it made my day!

This photo was taken last year when I took Lady X and another girl to shop for their dresses.

We quickly loaded the buses and headed to the water park. It was much nicer than I had imagined. We split up and took kids to different areas. I was quickly whisked away to the wave pool with Lady X and some of her friends. The wave pool is a little different than what I have experienced in the past. It's a bit crazy and there are no life guards telling you what not to do!  It was an awesome experience, followed by some much needed rest in the lazy river, where we passed all the special needs kids with huge smiles.

After lunch we moved onto the big purple slide, where my life was almost taken from me.  Sorry Mom and Stephen!  It was crazy and the entire team can't stop talking about the first drop!  We finished the day in the wave pool.  Almost all of our team was in the pool this time with most of the kids from the center.  It was full of laughter, screams and waves, huge smashing waves!

Before leaving the water park Jenni was able to share her testimony with all of the kids and staff.  Although everyone was tired, the kids were very quiet and attentive as she talked about God's healing through painful times in her life. Jenny (the translator) translated and it was a powerful moment as the kids were reminded of why we came to serve them, because of God's great love and compassion.

When we were almost back to the center to drop the kids off,  Lady X pulled a translator over and asked her to translate for me.  She wanted to tell me something.  She said that she was so thankful that the Lord let me come visit her again and that I took care of her all day, not leaving her side.  She had been asking Kurt all summer when I would return.  It was as special for me as it was for her. I am blown away that the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to serve these girls for the last four years and pray that he will allow me to come again.  I'm not sure what I would do if I never got to see Lady X again.  She has been at this center for 4 years, as long as I've been coming. Our lives have been intertwined and our hearts have been made full by God's deep love for each of us in bringing us together. If she were adoptable, I would have her in a minute.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tangible Joy

Blog written by Michelle Lam, recent UCI grad

Today was a day near and dear to my heart because we had the opportunity to spend time with kids and adults with special needs.  Our morning started with a devotional about having "ears to hear" like Jesus by taking the time to listen to people's stories and trying to better understand what makes them who they are.  

With open minds and open ears, we set off for our first stop of the day: a home for children with special needs.  As Kurt, the missionary we are serving with, gave us a tour of the facility, we were greeted with smiling faces, laughter, and hugs.  I don't know if I’ve ever seen such excitement in someone's eyes to be visited by a group of strangers.  I loved seeing every single person on my team jump right in and engage with the kids immediately.  They didn’t waste any time loving on these kids and it was beautiful to watch.  The majority of these children have been abandoned by their families because of poverty and the lack of resources in this country.  Many of them have both severe mental and physical disabilities and all of them are craving physical touch.  

Some snapshots that I was blessed by today were: a dad on our team running while pushing two wheelchairs up and down the sidewalk and making sound effects (I heard he even did wheelies with them); a child giggling nonstop as one of our team members talked to her and tickled her; and another team member swinging with one of the children in his lap.

We also visited a center for adults with special needs today.  Again, we were greeted with this tangible, genuine joy and many, many hugs.  I can't fully describe what it feels like to walk into a place like this with so many people who have this uncontainable joy.  It's such a blessing.  While we were there, different people on our team played futbol, danced, and did face painting with the adults with special needs.  I had the opportunity to have "ears to hear" as I talked with one of the employees.  She just started working there two days ago, and already she is making plans to make the facility more cheerful by painting murals and Bible verses on the dorm walls.  To her, this is not just a job; this is a chance to make a difference, a chance to love people who have been told they are not wanted and not loved.  It was so encouraging to see her deep compassion and sincere love for these people.

Throughout the day, we heard stories of abuse and mistreatment more horrific than we could ever imagine.  I cried more than once and even got sick to my stomach when I heard one of the stories.  At moments, I felt angry and hopeless.  But in the midst of all of this pain, we have the greatest hope of all in Jesus.  Despite their circumstances, the people I met today reminded me of this hope as I watched them take joy in the Lord and delight in what He has blessed them with.  I am so blessed to be a part of this team and I am thankful for what the Lord is doing not only in the lives of the Salvadorans, but also for what He is doing in our lives.  We are blessed to be a blessing!