Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014 Quinceanera Trip Video

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Last night we had an incredible trip report for our June 2014 team.  It was wonderful to see so many people gather together to hear how God moved so powerfully through our team of 26 volunteers.  We showed our trip video for the first time and the room was filled with laughter, tears and gasps as we viewed it together.  The video not only includes footage from the quinceanera, but also includes videos taken during meal preparations for the homeless and the visit to the Hernandez family home.   Our 2013 team built a home for the Hernandez family and 2013 team members contributed funds for a home expansion/electricity upgrade this summer.  Both 2014 teams were able to visit the Hernandez family (see blog posts below to read more about their amazing family).

Click here to watch the team video:

El Salvador 2014 Video - HIS HANDS / HIS FEET

We have already scheduled three weeks of El Salvador ministry teams for the summer of 2015 and will be accepting applications this fall:

June 27-July 4 - The Village Church of Irvine
July 4- July 11 - Young Women of Vision (quinceanera)
July 25-Aug 1 - Crean Lutheran High School

Feel free to contact me about our future trips at

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reflections from American Airlines Flight 1520

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

As I gaze over the luring, turquoise waters of the Caribbean from my passenger seat, I am overwhelmed with emotions.   This week was simply supernatural.  We experienced the undeniable hand of God on our team over and over again.  We felt His presence as we fed the homeless and were reminded that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40).  We fed Him this week and we all knew that He was proud.  We knew He was near when we cared for special needs children who were unable to feed themselves.  We were humbled as we shared our personal stories of faith and watched troubled teenagers living in government orphanages surrender their hearts to the God who created them and sent His son to suffer and die for them. 

Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near to the broken hearted.”  I know that everyone on our team felt His nearness this week.  We felt His love over and over again through the passionate commitment of the Sus Hijos ministry team of North Americans and Salvadorians.  We felt His Holy Spirit as we heard stories of trauma and understood the reality of a God who longs to heal and redeem the deepest wounds.   We experienced the true peace of Heaven as we grieved with a church whose pastor just entered eternity.  And we felt His strong presence this morning as we spent time affirming one another in the ways in which we’ve seen our team be the HANDS AND FEET of Jesus to the beautiful people of El Salvador.   

My personal highlight this week was when some of the women on our team gathered with some of the Sus Hijos missionaries, translators and the young women who are part of the transition program.  These girls have been given the incredible opportunity to live in the transition home for two years, where they are learning life skills like cooking, cleaning, laundry and managing money.  They are working at The States Diner and their futures are definitely bright.  We spent four and a half hours sitting on a hard floor in what felt like an intensive therapy session.  Valerie Anderlik led the women through a study on healing that she leads at home.  Many of our team members shared stories of God’s healing in their lives.  This allowed the girls to feel the safety and comfort of knowing that we “get it.”  We were able to hear their stories, weep, encourage and pray for one another.  We experienced an extremely supernatural moment at the end of the evening, which was yet another evidence of God’s tremendous power in the midst of intense darkness.  We were emotionally exhausted when we ended at 12:30 pm, but we knew that hearts had been set free that night.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36. 

Yesterday we spent our final day at a beach rental property processing the week, addressing the re-entry challenges that team members will face and encouraging the Sus Hijos team.  Our team members intentionally spent time affirming and praying for the Sus Hijos staff.  We were able to hear the founders of Sus Hijos, Kurt and Susan Ackermann, share their testimonies and were deeply challenged as they shared how God called them to leave their successful lives and comforts in the US to serve orphans in El Salvador.

We celebrated the end of our week together at a traditional pupusa restaurant, where we were entertained by a lively mariachi group.  The city lights near the restaurant were breathtaking.  It was difficult to say good bye last night to the Sus Hijos team and kids from the transition homes and there were many tears.  Our hearts have been knit together and deep friendships have been made.  

Needless to say, we have all left a piece of our hearts in El Salvador and we will never forget the miracles that God has done in our midst.  

Our team members read David Platt’s book, “Radical” in preparation for the trip.  Yesterday we re-read part of “Radical” and were especially struck by this quote:

“Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.  They are easier to ignore before you see their faces.  It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.” (page 139)

Please pray for our team members as they process the ways in which their hearts have been broken.  Pray that our lives will be different as we return home.  Be intentional as you listen to them share how God moved in their lives this week.  Re-entry can be extremely difficult.  Adjusting to life in a first world country is always challenging after having our eyes opened to third world poverty.  Pray that team members will consider how they spend their time, money, resources and gifts in light of all they have experienced this week.  

Thank you so much for your love, support and prayers of our team.  We are overwhelmed by the donations we received, the hundreds of people who prayed for us, followed our blog and went above and beyond to support our team.  Please continue to follow our blog as we share updates on the ongoing work in El Salvador.   

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Day at the Zoo

Blog post written by Jordan Bishop
Senior, Crean Lutheran High School

On Thursday we took the kids from HIV+ center to the zoo. I didn't know what to expect from them at first. Were they going to be like normal kids? Would I be able to tell that they were HIV+? Will there be a noticeable difference? With all these questions running through my mind, we left the adult disabilities center and picked up the kids for a pizza lunch. The kids were super excited to be able to visit the zoo for their first time. They were jumping up and down with smiles so wide. They were so happy to be able to go with us.  We weren't able to take photos of the kids, but took a group photo (above) with a tiger.

Once at the zoo, we separated into groups with one child, two of our team members, and a translator. Lisa Yamashita and I were paired with a twelve year-old girl. The girl was smiling the whole time we were at the zoo. She was running around and laughing just like any other kid on the planet. You wouldn't even be able to tell that she, or any of the other kids for that matter, were HIV+. We had a great time walking around and bonding with her. She couldn't stop laughing at Lisa and my horrible pronunciation of the animals' names in español. All of the worries I might have had at the beginning were all forgotten. It was an unforgettable day for all of us and I'm so blessed to have been apart of it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The States Diner

Blog pot written by David Anderlik
Womens' Basketball Coach, Biology Teacher
Crean Lutheran High School

Thursday we had a really cool opportunity to see Sus Hijos' care and love for their kids in action. Kurt and his team have been preparing to open the "States Diner", an American-style diner where kids who have transitioned out of the state-run centers because of age can gain job experience and earn money. They are not open yet, but our team was invited to come and have a meal and give the kids some experience serving, using their English language skills, and getting into the flow of operating a restaurant.

Our server was Victor, and as soon as we began interacting with him, he was all smiles. He really enjoyed serving us, and it was awesome to see him excited to be using his new skills to help us. He did a great job, we were one of the first tables to eat (way to go Victor!), and he was joyful during our entire stay. We were truly blessed to see Victor and all the kids working and taking pride in their work, and learning skills that will allow them to support themselves. Kurt and his team are doing great work with these young people and I was thrilled to be a small part of what he is doing in El Salvador.

Food in Their Bellies

Blog post written by Amanda Deal

Tuesday night was a very difficult night for our team. Our first trial was the change in the menu for dinner. We were excited for Taco Tuesday, but it was not Taco Tuesday night. John and Judy, the retired couple who run the mission house, decided to challenge us by serving our team the same meal we would deliver to the homeless that night. At first, I was disappointed. This would be the first dinner I could eat since I was sick with the flu on Sunday and Monday. I thought about how I didn’t particularly like the type of meat and cheese that was in the sandwiches we prepared and I was worried that the meal in the plastic bag wouldn’t be enough to fill me up. Suddenly, I realized how selfish and ungrateful my tendencies are. God quickly reminded me that this was enough; in fact, this was more than enough. After dinner we went through the normal routine of forming an assembly line, packing up the bags of food and loading them into the truck. We took our pre-feeding team photo in the back of the truck and set off into the night. 

This is my fourth time serving in El Salvador, and I am fairly familiar with Kurt’s homeless ministry. I recognize the streets, the conditions, and even some of the faces of those we give bags of food to. Tuesday was different though; that night God finally got deep enough to really break my heart. While we made our last stop, a large group of starving people rushed the truck in hopes of filling their bellies. Our team shared in that same hope. As a line was formed, we gave out our last bags one by one. I slowly drew away from gazing into the faces of the people, and instead transitioned my focus to the front of the truck. There was a young boy, no older than 14, standing at the driver’s side. I saw Kurt’s arm extended out and his hand placed on the young boy’s head. As I saw the boy speak, I saw Kurt’s hand gently touching the back of his head. I was suddenly overwhelmed with extreme emotion. I had a vision of how our Father God looks at his starving children.  He looks at them with immense compassion and unconditional love. His heart breaks for his people. God allowed me to see with His eyes and he allowed my heart to break the same way His does. My eyes suddenly were filled with tears, and as I looked to the back of the truck I realized at that same moment our team ran out of bags even though there were still men, women, and children who did not yet receive a bag of food. We yelled to the remaining people that we were sorry. Our team fell silent as we drove back to the mission house. We felt angry, confused, and defeated. That night we had time to debrief and discuss our difficult experience. We expressed our sadness and disappointment that we did not have enough bags to feed everyone. We shared our anger about the excess of materialism and waste we see on a daily basis in the states. This was such a challenging, yet precious moment that God used to change our minds and spark a passion in our hearts for his hungry people. After our meeting, God instilled an idea in Stephen: to have our team raise enough money to do a third homeless feeding on Thursday night. Jenni shared this with our team, and we quickly gathered up $250 and were able to purchase enough food to feed 230 people. 

Thursday night came, and we were so enthusiastic about getting back out there to pick up where we left off on Tuesday. The routine packing began and after, we were led to pray over all the bags of food. We asked God to bless each hand that received a bag. We prayed that the food would sustain them, but more importantly that their hunger for God’s truth and love be fulfilled. We squeezed into the truck and took off onto the streets of San Salvador. During our hour of handing out bags, we experienced God’s perfect plan. We saw more people fed; we saw another homeless ministry sharing in our same passion for feeding the homeless; and we heard the “amens” of those who received a bag and acknowledged it was straight from God. Although tonight’s experience provided us with a sense of peace and hope that we lacked on Tuesday, we still witnessed the pain of a pregnant teenager homeless and hungry, we still saw the children of the streets with despair in their eyes, and we still looked upon those who sleep on cardboard next to a busy street. 

Feeding the homeless is tough and it never gets “easy.” During the past four years serving in El Salvador, God has blessed me with so many incredible experiences. He has used me to pray over hurting young girls, participate in a Quinceanera, dance with the disabled, and build a home for a family. Through those experiences, God has taught me perspective. He has taught me that I can not fix the world. I cant not make the pain of abuse go away. I can not give orphans a family. I can not give the homeless a home. But I can share Jesus and that is worth more than anything I could ever do or say. Tonight I am reminded that God is bigger than the issues facing El Salvador and that He has a sovereign and mighty plan to redeem and save the people he so dearly loves. I know this to be true because his plan was to take a group of North Americans, bring them together, break their hearts on Tuesday, inspire them on Wednesday, and have his plan fulfilled to feed more of his people on Thursday. God is good. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dancing with the Stars

Blog post written by Chloe Smith
Senior, Crean Lutheran High School

This morning we visited a special needs center for adults. As we got off the bus it was evident this center was well-cared for. The grounds were well kept and the walls of the houses were painted with a pretty baby blue. We were given a tour of the grounds and caught a glimpse of life inside the center. The classrooms were bright and cheerful just like the students. We then made our way to the field where we participated in face painting, playing pass with a basketball, and having an epic dance party. Lilly showed off her DJ skills and we danced to the Macarena, cha-cha slide, "What does the fox say," and other great dance songs. The morning was filled with joyous laughter and smiles as we danced and sang along with the wonderful people from San Martin.

While photographing the event I was able to see the many awesome things that transpired throughout the morning through my camera lens.  It made me smile when I filmed Jake dancing with an older woman.  I'm sure he made her day. I was literally in tears of laughter as I witnessed Coach Anderlik and Orsy dancing to the Macarena.

The moment when Jenni asked me to take a photo of her and Amanda with a young girl they'd been looking for (at another center) earlier on the trip brought goose bumps to my arms.  They had met this girl on a previous trip and had told us her story of trauma.  They were so happy to see her and it was obvious that God had his hand over the situation.  The girl beamed with joy as they danced, held her and spent time just laughing together.  I was so thankful that God's blessings and protection were over her and she had a great new home at San Martin. The pure innocence and joy that radiated from these people was just so inspiring and heart-warming. There were some great dancers amongst the special needs adults, especially the man who stood in front the speakers and shook his hips even better than Shakira.

After dancing, we passed out juice boxes and cookies and they were well received. Even though communicating with them verbally was hard because of their situations, the love and gratitude was not lost.  As I watched today's events unfold, I was hit with the realization that I was truly the happiest I have ever been serving the Lord as we did today. God had intended for me and my team members to be here this week.  Although we have experienced some heart breaking moments and heard many stories of trauma, this morning reminded me that no matter what we face in the future we can truly find the utmost happiness when we're serving the Lord and lifting up his name.

Connecting Through Crochet

Blog post written by Valerie Anderlik

This morning we visited a girls' center. It was the same center that we had visited on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday, I had a hard time connecting with the girls, especially the teenage girls. I am a first grade teacher used to working with young children, and feel quite uncomfortable and intimidated by teenagers. I said hello to a few of the girls, but that was the extent of it. I am not an athlete and try to avoid sports at all costs, so I really had no way of connecting with them as they played softball and soccer all afternoon.

Today I was again feeling uncomfortable and intimidated. Until one of the girls pulled out the yarn and asked to be taught how to crochet. Now you're speaking my language! 

I remembered this particular girl from Sunday. She was very quiet and did not interact with the group. I asked her several times if she wanted to play. She always shook her head no, and just sat quietly and watched.

So I was thrilled today that she showed an interest in something. We sat together and I taught her how to crochet. She picked it up quickly and did a fantastic job! She had to stop to take a short break- crocheting is hard work! But she came back and finished. She made a turquoise headband and I added a pink, crocheted flower to it.

Once it was finished, I put it on her head and, in my broken Spanish, proclaimed excitedly what a great job she did and how beautiful she looked. She had a big smile on her face as tears rolled down her cheeks. We shared a heartfelt hug as she continued to wipe the tears from her cheeks, then she quietly walked away, still wiping away the tears.

My heart broke for her as I thought to myself that perhaps this girl has never had anyone in her life that has been proud of something that she accomplished, or told her how beautiful she is. It made me sad to think of what she has missed out on in her life, but happy that I could possibly shine a little light of Jesus into her life.

As one of our translators led the girls in a prayer to receive Jesus as their savior, she stood, along with many other girls. What an incredible, touching moment! These are the moments that make the heat, oppressive humidity, bug bites, and sleepless nights worth it. I love when God allows me to see Him work in such a mighty way among His people!

I was sad to leave her, but gave her a big hug and said, "Dios te bendigas!", which means "God bless you!". This young woman may soon forget me, but she left an indelible print on my heart, and I don't think I will ever be able to forget her, her precious tears, and her beautiful smile!

The Jersey

Blog post written by Jake Bishop
8th grade, Mission Hills Christian School

Today I played basketball for the first time. It was awesome playing with three of the boys from the teen boys' center. It was really exciting because the game stayed tied the whole time. My team won the tough match with a winning three-pointer by Alyssa Rikimaru.

One of the boys at the center was really good at playing basketball and surprised us with his ball handling skills. After the game ended, we played fútbol. He showed me different tricks and we had a great time even though I was not so good at the tricks. After we played with them for a couple hours, Coach Anderlik and Stephen shared their testimonies with the group of boys. One of our translators led the group in prayer and it was awesome to see how the boys were moved by it.

We had given the boys our donated soccer jerseys earlier in the day. As we were leaving, I was stopped the boy who impressed me with his basketball skills. The translator told me that he wanted to give me his jersey. It's traditional in soccer is to trade jerseys with player from different teams. This sign of love and respect really blessed me and I gladly accepted the jersey.

It was sad to leave and say our good-byes.  I didn't want to say "adios" to my new amigo. I will always remember him and the few short hours we spent together every time I see my jersey.

Sharing Our Hearts

Blog post written by Sammie Evans
Senior, soccer player at Crean Lutheran High School

We started the day off at the girls orphanage with everyone speeding out excitedly to pick an activity (we had brought different crafts and activities).  Some kids went to the play set, some played soccer or basketball, others drew with chalk and played jump rope and hopscotch. 

No matter where, or what, everyone was doing, we all ended up "on the same court."  We played soccer, boys versus girls (of course!).   Although the boys were greatly outnumbered, they still held their own. Playing soccer with kids in these centers is so much different than back home. They might not have crazy foot work or outstanding plays, but they definitely have fun. Nothing but laughter and smiles remained on the field... with a lot of sweat of course! 

After soccer, we played basketball and split up into teams . Once we picked our team captains, the teen girls huddled around me and all I heard was a bunch of people yelling, "conmigo! conmigo!" (with me) and pulling me in all different directions. I discovered that they had watched me play soccer and wanted  me on their team.   Little did they know I had about 1/80th of the basketball skills that I have in soccer. But that didn't seem to matter, they still wanted me with them on their team! That felt great!  They got split up and I had to choose a team to be on.   I picked a team that had one of the girls in it and she immediately ran to me and gave me a huge hug and held my hand. She gave me so much love for such a little gesture. 

After the sports we gathered around in the same area.  Lauren played a song other guitar, some of the girls led a cheer and then Amanda and Emily gave their testimonies. The girls were all ears and open hearts as they shared how God had brought them through struggles in their lives . Lilly then started speaking in Spanish, and although I didn't know exactly understand what she was saying, I caught a few words like "gringos locos."   She was preaching the hope of the gospel and asked them to stand up if they were willing to accept Jesus into their hearts and lives. You could sense the emotion in the eyes of the girls.  They then repeated after Lilly in a powerful prayer.  They began to understand that God wasn't judging them and He loved them unconditionally.  She encouraged them with God's constant forgiveness and ability to wash them clean of sin.  The team stood up and surrounded the girls with prayer.  One girl told a translator that when she wanted to stand up, she heard a voice say, "Don't stand up, sit down. This isn't for you." She ignored the voice, stood up anyways and accepted Jesus into her heart.  Praise God! 

It is truly amazing to understand how God has a plan for each of our lives, even in the midst of struggles and heart ache.  He is sovereign and He can redeem anything.   His love mends broken people and can truly wash us clean of sin.  It was clear that the girls were emotional as they heard how God never turns his back on us.  He never, ever will.  I'm so glad that we were able to see so many hearts touched today with the God's word. Days like these make me realize that there is a lot more to life than staring at a digital screen and just hanging out with my friends, enjoying summer vacation.  I'm so glad to be here.  We all need God and there is nothing as amazing as knowing His peace, grace and forgiveness.  I will never forget watching these precious young people giving their hearts to Him. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Special Needs Center for Children

Blog post written by the Dorren family
Wheaton, Illinois

Mia was particularly looking forward to helping the disabled children today. When I asked her how her time was she said she was thankful-- thankful for abilities we take for granted like walking and talking and feeding herself.  She really enjoyed face painting (see photo above).

Madeleine: Today I really realized how much I take communication for granted. I did my best to show a boy that someone cared about him and that he was not forgotten, but it was very hard. I hope that something I did or said stuck with him. As I was leaving, a team member mentioned that today was probably the best part of these kids' week or even month. It's still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that something as small as putting stickers on a piece of paper could make this boy's month. Sometimes it really doesn't take much to put a smile on someone's face and I hope when I go home, I will be more aware of opportunities to do it more often.

Visiting the center for disabled orphans was a new experience for me (Sherri). It was obvious upon entering that the children here were well cared for. The grounds and facilities were clean and well kept. The staff were friendly. But we were there for the children, and that was where the difficulties began.  We have visited orphans for the past couple of days, but even with the language barrier, I have been able to find ways to "speak child".  I know how to give hugs, let little ones sit on my lap and ask basic questions like, "What's your name?" "How old are you?" and admire their drawings. But these children were different. They were in wheel chairs. They couldn't form words. Many couldn't even hold up their heads or make eye contact. I had no idea what to do. As I wondered how in the world I could possibly bless these little ones, the Lord began to teach me. I simply had to try.  So when I was assigned to feed Carlita, I started with the what I knew. I smiled and said "Hola", but there was no response. I was hesitant, but I stood over her chair and started to stroke her hair. She tried to find me with her eyes. The connection began. As I continued running my fingers through her hair, she seemed to try reaching out to me from her chair. I took her hand in my free one. She pulled it close. I continued stroking her hair and smiling. She smiled back. Then I began to softly sing. She continued to smile. A translator came by, "I think she likes you," she said. I thought so too. "Please tell her I like her, too," I asked.  I was thrilled. We connected. And she was happy.

The best part was when she made songs of her own. No melody. No words. But a sweet sound somewhat like the purr of a kitten. And before too long, it was time to eat (which is another story). I still feel thankful remembering my time with Carlita. I have no idea what it is to live life as she does. But I saw God use me to bring Carlita some joy and in turn, I received joy back. And I also learned that all I need to do is try. Just as God empowered me to meet Carlita where she is. He is always willing to meet us where we are. Sometimes we think we need to do something or say something "right" in order to meet with God, but He's already with us, and willing to meet us right in the middle of our limitations and everyday life. Carlita may not remember me, but I will never forget her or the blessing she is just by being herself.

Michael: Although I wasn't sure about my expectations as we drove to the home for disabled orphans today, I don't think I was prepared for what I did see.  I wasn't prepared for just "how disabled" these children were.  Most were in wheel chairs and many seemed to be oblivious to the world around them.   I was at a loss as to how to connect with them on any level as their verbal communication abilities were minimal at best.  I tried different ways to speak with them with little to no response in return.  Feeling lost and a bit discouraged I prayed that the Lord would show me how to have some impact on this child's life, if but for a brief moment.  I then wandered to the craft table, grabbed some stickers and attempted to show one child, who was alone in a corner, how to place them onto a sheet paper.  The young boy quickly made eye contact with me and gestured, in his own distinctive way that he liked the activity and wanted to do it again...and again...and again.  I was eager to oblige as God had shown me a way to make a connection with him.  As satisfying as this was, I was also struck by how limited our "connection" had to be, at least in that moment.  I was filled with deep appreciation that my own two daughters are of such able body and mind.  So thankful.