Monday, June 30, 2014

Quinceanera Reflections From a Salvadorian

Blog post written by Steve Portillo

I cannot share about the party without telling you first my insight on the amazing team of people that surround me in what I call “my job”. Now, bear in mind that “my boss” and I were in charge of lots of details like the hotel arrangements, sound, music, food etc. But I want to tell you about the “gringas” and “gringos” who came to this country with the goal of making a party for all these girls.

It always amazes me to see how God can pour his grace and love into people’s heart. Again, from my Salvadorian perspective, how in the world can a team of 26 come here just to do that? I know they are donating time and energy, and of course money, but what melted my heart was what I saw when I walked upstairs at the hotel on the day of the event. The room upstairs was going to be used to dress the girls, but the girls from the centers hadn't arrived yet.  I needed to deliver a message to the team leader and when I arrived there I saw the leader and a few other women from the team praying over the event, and crying out to God for healing for these girls.  I stayed there for a while and was reminded that the love of Christ is real here on Earth!  I was reminded that he was in charge of all of the details and that prayer is more powerful than planning, details and schedules.

When we finished the event, the manager of the hotel was surprised to learn how this team of missionaries had come to do this party for the girls.  He mentioned how "good" they were for doing it for these ladies. But listening to them praying made realize that they didn’t do this because they were  “good people”.  God had placed his heart in them and it was his Spirit moving through them.  This is what he shows me over and over again as I serve in El Salvador.

The party was awesome, and that is an UNDERSTATEMENT if I'm allowed to say. God put all the pieces in order and took care of everything, even those steps in which we might have “dropped the ball” I can tell you how He was miraculously there to help us.

I can’t help but remember 1st Corinthians 13, in which we find the Apostle Paul explaining about how love is first, then we are able to do works. And I feel confident that at the party last night, Jesus was there with all of us, loving on every girl; leaving a MARK OF LOVE in their memories. And on all of ours too.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Feeding the Homeless

Blog post written by Katie Flattum

I imagine that when most Americans think about feeding the homeless, a soup kitchen with a line of hungry people comes to mind. This is precisely the image that I had before my trip on the streets of El Salvador last night. I never would have imagined what I saw.  

Preparing for the trip was easy due to the "organization and efficiency freaks" that we Americans are. We set up an assembly line and quickly prepared 200 meals.

And then we were off. Speeding off into the darkness, those of us in the back of the truck, facing sideways and backward, quickly became disoriented. 

We twisted around corners and stopped suddenly at an underpass. As it was just minutes after we had set off, many of us wondered why we had stopped. People began to appear out of nowhere; men, women, and children creeping out from bushes or from under rags on the ground began running towards our truck. Kurt had told us to keep out eyes open but we clearly had not. We could not see these forgotten people, these, hiding in plain sight. Handing out bags and muttering "Dios te bendiga", we considered the attitudes of those we had come to serve. Some were clearly simply starving, some were quite aggressive and tried to get two bags, some were clearly under the influence and dazed or confused. And others were extremely grateful. Clearly appreciative of what was a small effort on our part, these individuals did not cease to smile and shout their thanks. 

A quote that was shared today comes to mind: "What we take for granted is someone else's prayer." We continued to race the darkness through the streets, meeting and feeding children no older than 9 years, prostitutes, and a pregnant teenager who had been a part of the quincenera two years ago. But these people are regulars and know the sound of the truck, not having to wait for the shouts of "comida!" before they started running towards it. We were consumed by apprehension when we arrived at the train tracks, the spot where Kurt told us we would be getting out of the truck to hand out more dinners. Again battling the darkness, we maneuvered though sleeping bodies, belongings, human waste, and trash. The sights, smells, and sounds of poverty were all consuming. Around 50 people lying scattered upon the ground in the dark is a scene that will not be forgotten. Feeding the homeless in San Salvador was an experience that caught me entangled between fact and fiction. Poverty in itself is a tangible concept. We've all been affected by it directly and repeatedly, whether through family, friends, or our own experiences. It is the people affected by this disease that are less easy to understand. These people who have been lying on the streets for days, months, years, and perhaps decades. These people who lie in the darkness and sprint when they hear Kurt coming. This experience was clearly unique to us, but surely not to them. It's tough to feel optimistic after last night. My preconceptions would have me questioning why they don't go to shelters or orphanages or find jobs. The realities of these situations, however, prove that alterier circumstances exist. Many of the adults have jobs, they simply don't pay enough to get them off the streets or enough food. Some of the kids are unable to go to orphanages as they have parents but they are abusive or addicts. As I reflect on my night, two prayers come to mind. The first is that their situations improve. That the children return to the orphanages and that the adults do the impossible: find jobs or another way out. The second is that these people realize that these gifts did not come from us but from God. That he is thinking of them and providing. A verse comes to mind as I attempt to come to terms with what I saw. Jesus reminds us in Mark 10:31 that "Many who are first will be last and the last, first."

Feeling Inspired

Blog post written by Yvonne Khoury

If I could describe today in one word I would have to say "eventful".  This day was filled with so many memorable events and special moments and I feel so happy to be here. We visited two different orphanages and invited all the girls to the quinceanera.   The girls were so thankful and giddy as they chose their dresses and shoes.  Their smiles and hearts of gratitude were inspiring.  We were able to pray for some of the girls and this was one of the highlights of my day.

Three girls at the first orphanage asked to share their thoughts with our team after picking their outfits.  They described their shock, joy and exuberance over being included in such an eventful occasion.

We were amazed to learn that many of the girls had never had a birthday celebration, visited a restaurant or a hotel.  One of the girls didn't even know her birthday.   We learned that it will be a big deal for them to drive into the city of San Salvador.  We had no idea that eating dinner in a hotel in the city would be so special for these girls.  We take so much for granted.  Needless to say, the quinceanera will be an event to remember in each of their lives and our team is so honored to be a part of this eventful moment.

We spent a lot of time on our bus today traveling to the the orphanages.  The long drive not only allowed us to see the lush foliage of El Salvador, but some of our translators shared their inspirational testimonies of their relationships with Jesus and how they became involved with Sus Hijos (the ministry we are working with).

Their stories were filled with miracles and evidence of God's powerful hand on their lives.  Listening to their testimonies inspired me to ask them about their lives, and how they got involved with Sus Hijos.  I'm usually not a super social person but today I wanted to be social.  I loved being surrounded by so many incredible people who live their lives daily with undeniable faith.

Most of the stories I heard today were filled with heart break and sadness.  The tragedies that the girls in the orphanages have experienced are almost too difficult to even describe on the blog.  Many of our translators have also experienced great heartaches, trials and struggles.  But the hope of the gospel was evident throughout the entire day in every story.  I loved watching all of the teen girls stand and ask God to heal their hearts together in prayer.  They were reminded that God sent our team to throw this special event for them because his love is never ending and he has not forgotten them.

These stories of inspiration reaffirmed that God is in control of my life and he has a plan for me just as he has a plan for them.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Say Yes to the Dress!

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

We arrived in San Salvador at almost midnight last night after two delayed flights and a tiring day of travel.  We were greeted at the airport by friendly faces and miraculously loaded 46 bags into the back of a pick up truck and squeezed our team of 26 into the rental bus.  After a quick pizza dinner at the mission house, we sorted through the dresses, shoes, jewelry and hygiene bags and quickly collapsed in exhaustion and anticipation for the day ahead.

This morning we were thrilled to personally invite 40+ girls from the government center to the quinceanera (which is being held on Sunday evening).  While rumors had been spreading about a possible big event, they had not been told about the quinceanera or any of the details.   There was an undeniable energy in the air when the girls entered the meeting area and saw the dresses and shoes.   When we announced that we had come to celebrate their quinceaneras, the girls exploded into cheers.  I'll never forget that moment.

The girls giggled and squealed as they selected their dresses and shoes and were pampered with nail polish and eyebrow waxing.  The gratitude, awe and joy could be seen in the twinkle of each girls' eyes.  It was such a privilege to hand a professionally printed invitation to each one of these precious girls and to experience their smiles, hugs and words of thankfulness.

When the girls were finished being pampered, we had the opportunity to share our hearts and purpose for celebrating them.  Two team members shared testimonies of healing from sexual abuse and the hope they have found in Jesus.  We expressed the miraculous way in which God sent our team from the United States to celebrate their quinceanera out of his great love for each of them. They were  reminded that while their fathers or mothers may forsake them, the Lord will always receive them (Psalm 27:10).  Their faces lit up as we spoke truth into their lives about their value and worth as young women.   As soon as we finished sharing, I was approached by a girl who had tears in her eyes.  She told me that she will turn 15 next month and was grieved by the fact that she would not have a quinceanera.  She was overwhelmed that God had sent our team to make her dreams come true.

It's difficult to describe the emotions I felt in that moment.  Our entire team had the undeniable sense that we had been sent here for a very specific purpose.  There were many moments of awe and tears could be seen in our eyes throughout the day as well.  We are overwhelmed to be able to bring the hope and healing of our God to these precious girls "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). Tomorrow we will repeat this miraculous experience at two other girls' centers.  Most of the team is feeding the homeless this evening as I type out the blog.  Stay tuned for blog updates, we plan to post daily!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Countdown to Departure

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Yesterday the June team members from The Village Church of Irvine were commissioned during our Sunday morning service.  We also commissioned our Africa team members.  It was exciting to see so many people on the stage who will be serving in short-term missions this summer.  I especially love the fact that our teams serve in long-term partnerships and send team members who have long-term relationships with the missionaries and nationals.

In the evening the Village Church team members gathered for a team meetings and "packing party", where we sorted through (and even tried on!) some of the donations.  Needless to say, we had a memorable evening sorting through the gorgeous dresses, jewelry, shoes and gifts that were donated for the quinceanera.

If you are visiting our blog for the first time and don't know the history of our quinceanera trips, please click here to read highlights our first quinceanera (held in July, 2012).  The 2014 quinceanera will be held on Sunday, June 29 at The Holiday Inn in San Salvador.  Our team of 26 departs this Thursday, June 26 from LAX and we're so grateful for your prayers.  We will be visiting the girls on Friday to tell them about the quinceanerea (they will be so thrilled!!!) and to distribute the gowns.  We'll spend the entire weekend doing facials, nails, and getting ready for the big event.  We are so thankful for this incredible opportunity to remind these precious girls of their beauty, worth and value to their Heavenly Father as we celebrate their lives at the quinceanera.  Thank you for partnering with us through your prayers and support!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Preparing to Serve

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

June is a very exciting month as our two summer teams finalize their fundraising, collect donations and prepare their hearts to serve the beautiful children of El Salvador.  Last Sunday our June team had a packing party to prepare gifts for the teen girls who are participating in the quinceanera.  The girls will be receiving hygiene kits (provided by World Vision) along with make up.  

We also had a team training where we discussed how to do short-term missions well.  We have a very unique and gifted team of 23 women and 3 men!  It is the largest team I have ever led and I have been very impressed by the passion, dedication and hard work that I have seen in all of our team members.  We are definitely going to have an unforgettable week together as we serve from June 26-July 3.

Thank you so much for your prayers, support and donations! We are still accepting shoes, jewelry, hairpieces and dresses for the quinceanera.  Contact me at if you would like to donate!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Fundraising Journey

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

One of the highlights of the fundraising process is watching God supernaturally provide for our team members.  I love going to the mailbox each day, opening the envelopes and watching my Excel spreadsheet miraculously reach that ultimate, red goal.  One of our June team members received a large donation recently from some neighbors that she barely knew.  Needless to say, she was deeply touched and immediately went to the neighbors to thank them.  We are SO THANKFUL for the thousands of people who have supported our team members over the years.  We would be unable to serve the children of Central America without the generous support of family and friends.

Our June El Salvador team is currently short $3,000 and our July team needs $8,000 to serve this summer.  If you would like to support our team financially, tax-deductible checks can be written to "All Blessings Intl" and mailed to 95 Spring Valley, Irvine, CA 92602.

Lauren Ludovico is a member of our July team who is currently doing some creative fundraising.  She is a junior at Crean Lutheran High School and happens to live in our neighborhood (in Irvine).  We quickly learned that Lauren LOVES math and our boys were in need of a math tutor!  Our family has been blessed to support Lauren's trip through the tutoring costs and our boys are improving in math.   It's been a win-win! Lauren swims for Crean Lutheran High School and coaches with Riptide Swim Team.  She attended OCSA (Orange County School of the Arts) for four years and has a beautiful voice.  Lauren is available to tutor in math or English, provide swim coaching, vocal training, housework and loves to babysit.  If you would like to use any of Lauren's services and support her trip costs, please contact me at

Thank you for your support, prayers and encouragement!!!