Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeding The Homeless

Blog post written by Roberta Keenan
Village Church of Irvine, CA
First trip to El Salvador

After a full day and a tasty dinner for 20 prepared by our hosts at the Mission House John and Judy, our team started the process of preparing meals for the homeless.  After doing this for many years, the organizers have this process down pat.  An assembly line was created and 150 sack meals were prepared in about 1/2 hour.  Many hands make light work.  These bags were loaded into the back of Kurt's truck along with as many people as possible, and we set out to bless those much less fortunate than us.  

We were only on the road for a couple of minutes when we made our first stop.  Kurt honked his horn to alert us that he spotted a homeless person, and the guys on the back of the truck jump out to hand out the sacks.  My grandson Stephen was one of the guys in the back.  It was such a joy to watch him approach people with bags of food.  He wasn't shy at all.  He was not only blessing them with food, but gave many of them big bear hugs.  They weren't the most pleasant looking or smelling people, but it didn't matter.  He still approached them and placed his arms around them with a shout of "Dios the bendiga."  We were all there to be Jesus' hand and feet to bless these hurting, struggling people and it felt incredible.  

We continued this process for the next 30 minutes until all of our sacks were delivered.  One stop was at an abandoned train station.  Everyone in the back of the truck was able to get out and deliver the meals personally to people who were sleeping on cardboard boxes.  This was an eye opening experience, especially for first timers like me.  The people were so grateful and expressed their love and appreciation over and over again.  I'm so glad that I finally had the privilege of being part of such an amazing ministry after hearing about it for so many years.  

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for  me." - Matthew 25:35,40

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Katie Knepper's Quinceanera

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

"Arise, cry out in the night, pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.  Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children." - Lamentations 2:19

I am still marveling at the fact that the Lord brought me to El Salvador this week to celebrate Katie Knepper's quinceanera (15th birthday celebration).  In the summer of 2009 I met the Knepper family while serving at a Calvary Chapel sponsored orphanage in San Martin, El Salvador.  I had no idea that a lifelong friendship would blossom between our families.  The Kneppers were sent out as missionaries by Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa and they return to So Cal every year for a furlough.  We have been honored to partner alongside their family for many years in El Salvador and have also enjoyed precious memories during their furloughs in California.  In the summer of 2013, Kathy was able to attend our daughter Hailey's adoption finalization and I was so thrilled to be part of Katie's quinceanera this week.  

Kathy and I have shared many heartfelt emails, conversations and prayers over the years, crying out to the Lord for our children.  Katie suffered a serious injury in 2011 and served with my El Salvador team that summer with a smile on her face in her wheelchair.  The Lord has been faithful in many areas of her life and she has become like a daughter to me.  

As the dream to attend Katie's quinceanera began to develop last year, three dear friends decided to join me for the special event.  Valerie, Stephanie and Roberta were also honored to celebrate Katie's quinceanera and it was such a joy for the four of us to be there with the Sus Hijos ministry team.

Two moments from the quinceanera ceremony touched my heart.  The candle ceremony was extremely emotional.  Katie lit fifteen candles, representing fifteen significant people in her life. It was a beautiful expression of love and gratitude for the people who had impacted her deeply.  I was moved to tears when Katie called me forward to express her love and appreciation for my leadership in her life.  It was truly a moment that I will never forget.

I was called forward later in the ceremony to speak on purity and to sign Katie's pledge to remain pure for her marriage.  The Lord had given me a beautiful picture of Katie to share at the ceremony.  While praying for Katie, I saw a little cocoon that had fallen and broken on the ground. Although it had once been shattered, the butterfly emerged gloriously and it was breathtaking.  This image represented Katie's transformation into a beautiful, young woman.  I nearly burst into tears at the beginning of the evening when I walked into the event and saw decorate butterflies placed throughout the room.  As I shared this picture with Katie in the ceremony and admonished her in God's Word, she began to weep.  It was a powerful and emotional moment with an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit.  I am so proud of Katie and the challenges that she has overcome.  There is nowhere in the world that I would have rather been than celebrating her quinceanera this weekend. Congratulations Katie.  I love you!        

"Don't let anyone look down on you because of your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." - I Timothy 4:12

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friends, Food and Fellowship

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

The rest of the gringo team arrived today.  I was so thrilled to welcome Valerie Anderlik and Stephanie and Roberta Keenan as my mission house roommates.  Valerie and Stephanie have served with me in El Salvador and both have a deep passion for this country.  Roberta Keenan (Stephanie's mom) has served with me in Guatemala and is experiencing El Salvador for the first time.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the States Diner, which employs young people who are transitioning out of government orphanages.  There is often a sense of hopelessness when kids in these orphanages prepare to turn 18.  Tragically, they are kicked out of the orphanages and many of them end up on the streets on their 18th birthdays.  The States Diner and Sus Hijos transition programs have given these children hope, training, real life skills and the possibility of a future.  It has been absolutely incredible to watch the vision of the diner come to fruition and the restaurant is improving and gaining more customers each month.

The entire Sus Hijos staff joined us this evening to celebrate Stephen Keenans' 20th birthday. Stephen recently moved to El Salvador for a year of ministry and was sent out by our home church, The Village Church of Irvine.  We enjoyed celebrating Stephen together on the lovely Olive Garden patio at the "World Trade Center," San Salvador.

It has been such a gift to spend time with the Sus Hijos staff this week, partaking in their daily lives and ministry.  Without the intense demands of leading a team I've been able to sit, listen and observe many things.  I am so grateful for our long-term partnership with Sus Hijos and continue to marvel at the powerful impact they are having on the people of El Salvador.

Washing Feet

Blog post by Jenni Ramsey

"The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." - Psalm 34:18

Today is a day that I will never forget.  It's difficult to put words to the fulfillment and joy we experienced while serving at the national girls (ages 13-18) prison.  The Sus Hijos staff did their best to prepare me for the day.  I learned that all of the girls in this facility are involved in gangs. The inmates are separated in sectors by their gang affiliations and needless to say, they each have heart wrenching stories.  When we entered the prison we were frisked and asked to leave our ID's and personal belongings with the guards.  To be honest, I was a little nervous.  I had no idea what to expect as I entered the run down facility, but the presence of the Lord was strong.

My gang member stereotypes quickly dissipated as I met the girls.  They were sweet, friendly and generously offered me warm embraces.  As I began to share my testimony and purpose for coming, I was moved by how they responded through their smiles and even tears.  We talked about the fact that brokenness exists in every part of the world, whether in gangs, terrorism, famine, poverty or even affluence.  I shared how Jesus filled the holes in my heart as a teen and asked them to consider what's filling the holes in their hearts today.

We discussed the humility, gentleness and servant-heart of Jesus.  There is nothing else as powerful and transforming as the Gospel of Jesus.  I challenged them between the difference of joining a gang (which requires criminal activity) and "joining" Jesus (becoming a servant).  We read through John 13 and discussed how the King of Kings chose to wash his disciples' flithy, dust covered feet. When they realized that we were preparing to wash their feet, they began to giggle and squirm.   Suddenly they became nervous and I was completely at peace.  Many refused to have their feet washed at first.  However, we felt the strong presence of the Holy Spirit as we began to cleanse and caress their feet.  The director began to play worship music and a peace came over the room.  One by one they allowed us to wash them.  One girl even asked to be washed a second time.  The act of cleaning their feet was a powerful reminder of how Jesus can cleanse our hearts and make us new. We closed our time arm in arm, huddled in prayer, thanking him for forgiveness, hope and new life.

The girls also had the opportunity to write out prayer requests.  We prayed over their requests this evening and laid their burdens at the feet of Jesus.

"I only want to give you thanks for this and say many blessings and that God will bless you." 

As the girls left the room today, they thanked and embraced us.  I gazed into their eyes and saw glimpses of hope.  Please pray for these young ladies, who have many battles ahead with court dates, family issues and challenges unfathomable to those of us living in the First World.  Pray that they will always remember the cleansing power of the Cross and choose Him over darkness.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be set free." - Isaiah 61:6

The photos in this post were taken and approved by the prison psychologist 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Unexpected Miracle

Blog posted by Jenni Ramsey

Yesterday was beyond amazing.  I was exhausted, functioning on 24 hours without sleep.  I was invited to attend a program for teens called "Cambia Tu Vida" (Change Your Life).   I had no idea what the Lord had in store.  At the least minute the staff asked me to share my testimony.  It was an immense privilege to share my journey of healing.  These precious teens were clearly moved as I spoke and they were bursting with questions.  Many of them shared their stories and I was able to point them to Jesus over and over again.  We talked about the horrors of abuse and I urged them to stay away from pornography.  We also discussed the hope of forgiveness, healing and redemption.  This group typically meets for an hour and then they break for sports. But our 90 minutes flew by and we never left the room.  At the end of the program many of them thanked me for being "brave enough" to share my story.  I told them that they had blessed me more than they would ever know and that they were the brave ones, sharing vulnerably in front of their peers.  It was truly an unexpected miracle on my first day in El Salvador. 

Last night we had a "girls' night out" at Tony Roma's with some of the Sus Hijos missionaries.  I was so blessed by the laughter and silliness that filled our booth.  But I was even more blessed as they opened their hearts and shared their struggles and challenges of daily life in ministry.  We were able to encourage one another and it was a very special evening together.  Needless to say, I crashed last night and had a wonderful need of rest.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Posting from LAX

Post written by Jenni Ramsey

This post is being written from Gate 23 at LAX Terminal 2 as I prepare for my first red eye flight to El Salvador.  I'm flying two days ahead of my team.  My beautiful team members, Valerie Anderlik, Stephanie Keenan and Roberta Keenan will depart on the same red eye flight this Thursday evening. My heart is filled with anticipation as I prepare to serve in one of my favorite places in the world. This week has been crazy.  Honestly, it's been beyond crazy.  My days have been filled with nonstop preparation as I've shopped for groceries and pet food, completed bills and projects around the house, confirmed kids' schedules and prepared an extensive flowchart for Mike.  Leaving my family is hard. I'm so thankful that Mike and my mom are so supportive and that our kids are able to thrive while I'm away.  I've been reminded of my weaknesses this week over and over again.  The Lord placed this verse on my heart as I walked through the corridors of LAX...

"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I am well aware of my weaknesses tonight.  But I am even more aware of His power, His purposes and His unbelievable grace.  I carry these truths in my heart as I prepare to serve.

Please pray for our team this week.  We will be sharing the Gospel in a women's prison, ministering to young men and women living in transition homes, visiting government orphanages, feeding the homeless, speaking in a local church, celebrating Katie Knepper's quinceanera and encouraging our missionary partners.  It's going to be an incredible week and we treasure your partnership in prayer.